Mark Mancall, Stanford history professor emeritus and founder of Structured Liberal Education, dies at 87
A formidable presence at Stanford and in higher education, Mancall helped transform undergraduate learning by starting the Grove House residential learning project, establishing the vibrant residence-based learning academic program known as Structured Liberal Education (SLE) and re-envisioning the Overseas Studies program. Generations of students and colleagues remember Mancall not only for the breadth and depth of his fierce intellect but also for the spirit of generosity and compassion that animated everything he did.
“Over the half-century that I knew Mark, we sparred and partnered, laughed and argued, all in the context of our shared love for Stanford and especially for undergraduate education,” said David Kennedy, the Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus. “Countless students carry within them his enduring legacies, including his reconceptualization of the Overseas Studies programs and his lifelong nurturing of SLE.”
An expert on the history, religions, languages and cultures of Central and Southeast Asia, Mancall joined the faculty of the Department of History in 1965. He is the author, co-author or editor of six books, including Russia and China: Their Diplomatic Relations to 1728 and China at the Center: Three Hundred Years of Foreign Policy. He taught courses in Chinese history, Buddhist social and political theory, South Asian history, the history of socialism and Marxism, and Israeli history.
“Mark had a real and profound impact on my time at Stanford. He was the perfect blend of hard and gentle, challenging and supportive,” said Chelsea Clinton, BA ’01, who majored in history and served as a writing tutor for Structured Liberal Education. “He was also the most charming, lovely and loving curmudgeon I ever met. I could not imagine my time at Stanford without him and am so grateful for his mentorship in the classroom and in life.”
Revolutionizing undergraduate education
Mancall’s dedication to undergraduate education and livelihood was evident immediately after he joined the Farm. In his early days at Stanford, he played an important role in trying to temper student unrest of the late 1960s and guide it toward nonviolent, constructive directions. Upon learning of an empty fraternity house, Mancall helped establish the groundbreaking Grove House, the first co-ed residence on campus – and one of the first in the United States. Considered a daring venture at the time, Grove also hosted in-house seminars, a testament to Mancall’s aspiration of building communities that blended academic and residential life.
“Moving into Grove House as it opened midway through my freshman year transformed my Stanford experience,” said Philip Taubman, BA ’70, who is an affiliate at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation after a career at the New York Times. “Grove opened new intellectual vistas, put me in touch with faculty from across the university and other colleges nationwide who came to dinner, and gave me an exhilarating sense that longstanding conventions of campus life could be changed. Mark’s leadership of Grove made it all possible.”
Mancall’s pioneering of residential education at Grove, where he served as director until 1971, became a precursor for Structured Liberal Education (SLE), which he established in 1973. Designed to serve as a tight-knit liberal arts college experience within the larger university, SLE is an integrated program that combines the reading of foundational texts with writing instruction for about 90 frosh each year who live together in East Florence Moore Hall.
“I wanted to take … a group of students and educate them … according to a classic answer to the question of, ‘What is it important to know? What is it important to understand? What are the sine qua non of an educated human being?’” said Mancall in an oral history interview with the Stanford Historical Society.
Mancall’s vision grew into a beloved gem on campus, a thriving intellectual and social community that shaped the lives of thousands of students.
“It’s hard to exaggerate Mark’s importance in creating and maintaining a central space for a freshman-year broad liberal education at this university,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences. “A force of nature, he engaged students and colleagues on topics from Marxism to Bhutanese Buddhism and encouraged students to brush away platitudes and received answers and chart their own paths, informed by engagement with ideas that matter. Mark’s legacy will live on in the many lives that were changed by their engagement with his challenging teaching and erudition.”
In addition to directing SLE from 1973 to 2008, Mancall was one of the program’s discussion section leaders for decades and was infamous for pushing students o dig deep in the search for knowledge and understanding.