Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investment guru who last year offered students $100,000 each to drop out for two years to test their entrepreneurial mettle, is going back to college himself -- to teach a class at Stanford University called "Computer Science 183: Startup."
And on a campus that serves as a veritable metaphor these days for the valley's innovative spirit, it's not surprising that the course Thiel is teaching at his alma mater is already oversubscribed.
"It's puzzling to us what he has to say," said electrical engineering senior Nruthya Madappa, who jumped at the chance to sign up for the class. "He's famously known to make people furious with his views and the way he questions things. But he's challenging us to look at our education here in a different way."
The apparent irony of Thiel's current embrace of academia, of course, is not lost on some in the Stanford community who see the uber-investor's message as a bit hypocritical.
"If he's opposed to higher education, why would he be a part of it?" wondered Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford's Rock Center of Corporate Governance. "On the one hand, he's telling these kids to 'drop out, you're wasting your lives.' But then he comes back to teach. The question to ask him is: Will he pay students to drop out of his class on the first day?"
Thiel was not available for interviews Monday. But his associates say his foundation's offer of $100,000 each to 20 students under 20 years old to temporarily leave school does not contradict his desire to share some lessons of his own in the classroom. Jim O'Neill, head of the Thiel Foundation, now in its second year of awarding the stipends, said Monday that Thiel's main goal is to shake up what he sees as "stagnation in some areas of tech innovation."
"Peter's very concerned about this," O'Neill said, "and he's trying to encourage as many smart people as he can to get involved in tech innovation, whether that's by encouraging students to take time off school to explore their entrepreneurial dreams or by teaching a course at Stanford. It's all part of the same focus on solving this problem."
Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689.