TAYLOR: Stanford selling out on its students

Sept. 25, 2012, 12:40 a.m.

So Stanford finally sold us out. In the space of one summer it ripped out part of Tresidder Union and squeezed in a shiny new Starbucks.

I’m sure there are lots of you, both freshmen and returning students, who will disagree and welcome the addition of this Seattle-born behemoth, who welcome the installation of a familiar franchise that will provide you with a carbon-copy cup of coffee to transport you back to the identical Starbucks across the street back home. But you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why.

The first is that in selling out to Starbucks, Stanford took away one of the few safe spaces we soccer fans had here on campus. Many were the times that I would meet friends in the Tresidder lounge at lunchtime to catch a live UEFA Champions League game, and we were never alone. The tables were always full and all faces were inclined towards the flickering screens.

Now the TVs are gone and the options are more limited. The couches in Old Union are comfortable, but there aren’t many of them, and going to CoHo or Treehouse raises the moral uncertainty of whether we have to buy food there in exchange for the right to watch.

The second, bigger reason is that Stanford prides itself on being unique and quirky. It could have offered the site to a local company like Philz Coffee (echoing the arrival of Ike’s Place on campus two years back) or, even better, given the space over to a student-run enterprise. It could have also invested more time and resources in the existing coffee shop.

Is everyone a fan of the CoHo? No. Is the coffee and food always amazing? Maybe not. Is it a central and unique part of Stanford? Unquestionably yes. Instead of pasting in a bland, mass-produced copy of a Seattle coffee house, why not support a local institution that in various guises dates back as far as 1966?

Before ground was broken on this new store, there was no real coffee drought afflicting the Farm. Within a few minutes walk from Tresidder, you can easily find enough caffeine to keep you buzzing all day, from the three Coupa Cafes to the Bookstore, Bytes and more. And in the very same building as the new Starbucks, there was both a Peet’s Coffee (now closed) and Stanford’s very own CoHo.

If the powers that be had applied this selling-out strategy to the Athletics Department, you wouldn’t now be at a top-10 football school. Back in 2006, the Cardinal had a 1-11 season—without question, a terrible year. Meanwhile, USC finished 11-2 and won the Rose Bowl. The last time Stanford had won any major bowl game had been over 30 years before. If you could ever justify cutting a football program, maybe the Card was making the case.

Doing so, though, would of course have been unthinkable, and not just because of what we know now. Instead it knuckled down, made changes, brought in Jim Harbaugh and just a year later was already back on the upswing.

Five years later, No. 9 Stanford has the 2011 Orange Bowl trophy, memories of a narrow loss in the 2012 Fiesta Bowl and a 5-1 lead in the recent series with the Trojans. USC? In 2010 the NCAA imposed painful sanctions on the Trojan football program that have left their mark. It is by no means out of the championship race, but even dropping to No. 13 is a big fall for such a storied team.

Did Stanford launch itself up the rankings table by selling out? No. Unlike some football schools, academic standards still come first here, and from a purely athletic point of view this does hurt the Card. There are some great football players who just don’t have the smarts to get accepted here. The school also hasn’t deserted its other varsity sports in search of gridiron glory; winning 18 Directors’ Cups in a row is evidence enough of that.

And in doing all of this, Stanford hasn’t just stayed quirky; it has carved out a unique niche. A destination for those few high school students blessed with both athletic and intellectual genius.

However hard it might seem when times are bad, uniqueness should be celebrated, not sold out. The CoHo will never be Starbucks and Stanford will never be USC, but maybe that’s a good thing.


Tom Taylor’s editors think this column may be a veiled attempt to prevent The Daily from “selling out” on its own longtime columnist. Suggest some possible Frappuccino orders at [email protected] and follow Tom on Twitter at @dailyTomTaylor.

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