On November 11, 1885, Leland Stanford and Jane Lathrop Stanford formally established the University with a Founding Grant. The language of this original grant clearly reveals the Stanfords' intention. Indeed, the first section of the Founding Grant sets out the University's object and public service-related purposes:
"Its object, to qualify its students for personal success, and direct usefulness in life; And its purposes, to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government."
In the years after Leland Stanford's death, Jane Lathrop Stanford prepared several amendments to the Founding Grant, and one of those, the amendments of November 1, 1901, reinforced the public service aspects of the University's purpose. Stanford wrote, "While the instruction offered must be such as will qualify the students for personal success and direct usefulness in life, they should understand that it is offered in the hope and trust that they will become thereby of greater service to the public."
In 1983, Stanford University President Donald Kennedy challenged graduating seniors to dedicate some of their talents to serving society and humanity. As former Commissioner of the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), he knew the value of a life in public service. He appointed Catherine Milton as Assistant to the President to evaluate the state of public service at Stanford. Milton found numerous public service efforts by students, but a lack of institutional support and chronic leadership challenges. On her recommendation, Stanford officially established the Public Service Center in Owen House in 1985, with Milton serving as founding director. In 1987, the Public Service Center became a featured objective in the university’s Centennial campaign.
The Public Service Center became the Haas Center for Public Service in 1989, honoring the $5 million contribution of the Haas family of San Francisco to create a founding endowment. A $1.2 million gift from the Miriam and Peter Haas Fund simultaneously established the Miriam and Peter Haas Centennial Professorship in Public Service with statesman, author, and Haas Center National Advisory Board (NAB) co-founder John W. Gardner becoming the first chairholder. The Haas family’s generosity towards and involvement in the center has endured; Miriam (“Mimi") Haas has served as an active member of NAB since 1989, and received an Outstanding Achievement award in 1997 from the Stanford Associates for her dedication to public service and volunteerism.
In 2001, new endowment goals were incorporated into the Campaign for Undergraduate Education’s (CUE) $1 billion endowment initiative. In response, Peter and Mimi Haas endowed the Peter E. Haas Directorship of the center, and created a new service-learning program endowment. With its 20 staffed programs and its many student, faculty, community and alumni collaborators, the Haas Center is known as a national model for an integrative approach to public service education.
Over three decades later, the Haas Center continues to engage Stanford students and faculty in public service.