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If Peter Thiel Thinks Students Should Drop Out of School, Why Is He Teaching at Stanford?

Thiel has been a harsh critic of higher education, but he'll be teaching a startup-centered computer science class.


Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of PayPal and the first major investor in Facebook, believes so strongly that college is unnecessary that last April he launched "20 Under 20," an experimental fellowship that pays students from some of nation’s most elite universities $100,000 each to drop out and start their own business. But despite his well-documented disdain for higher education, Thiel's headed back to Stanford, his alma mater, to teach a class this spring.

According to the university's course catalog, Thiel's class, "Computer Science 183: Startup", will teach the "conception, launch, scaling, and growing of a successful tech company." One major selling point is the promise that Thiel and his friends will share insider accounts of the early days of Silicon Valley's most successful startups, including PayPal, Google, and Facebook.


Mehran Saham, associate chair for education in Stanford's computer science department, told Reuters that given Thiel's history, many faculty were "not sure of his motivations" for wanting to teach the class—was he coming to campus to recruit students for his companies or the fellowship? After all, Thiel is on record alleging that schools artificially limit the number of students they'll admit and jack up prices in order to create an aura of exclusivity. He also believes entrepreneurially minded students simply don't need to rack up mountains of student debt because they don't need a degree to work. Yet the university decided learning from Thiel's expertise would be beneficial to students and is consistent with its mission.

Thiel's class, which is capped at 250 students, has proven so popular that it already has a waiting list. But not all students are enthusiastic about Thiel's return to campus. "It's hypocritical, but I'm not surprised," said Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford's Rock Center of Corporate Governance. "The same people who go around bashing education are the most educated. What's he going to do? Tell students, 'When you graduate from my class, drop out right after that?'"

Maybe. After all, Thiel was quoted through a spokesperson saying "If I do my job right, this is the last class you'll ever have to take."

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

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