Prepared text by President Emeritus Gerhard Casper at the inauguration of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
Following is the text of remarks by President Emeritus Gerhard Casper as prepared for delivery at the inauguration of Stanford's 11th president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, on Oct. 21, 2016.
Good morning, Ladies and Gentlemen!
On behalf of the university and, especially, on behalf of the three former presidents present here today – Don Kennedy, John Hennessy and me, Gerhard Casper – I warmly welcome all of you, and, in particular, our alumni who have come home for reunion weekend.
Today is a joyous occasion, because for the 11th time since David Starr Jordan took office 125 years ago, Stanford greets a new president. It is my very great privilege to welcome Marc Tessier-Lavigne as the 11th president of the university.
After the great Wallace Sterling, you, Mr. President, are the second person of Canadian origin to occupy the Stanford presidency. Indeed, both Wally Sterling and you were born in Ontario.
I will state that, by comparison with all of your predecessors – Jordan, Branner, Wilbur, Tresidder, Sterling, Pitzer, Lyman, Kennedy, Casper and Hennessy – your Franco-Ontarian name is the longest and hardest to pronounce. That may be to your advantage rather than disadvantage. It seems to me that it was easier to wonder publicly “What is Casper up to?” than “What is Tessier-Lavigne up to,” especially if you are baffled by the pronunciation.
I also warmly welcome Mary Hynes, Marc’s wife, like her husband, a neuroscientist. Of the three children who are all present here today – Christian, Kyle and Ella – Ella is a Stanford freshman. She was early admitted to Stanford way before her father. I hope, Ella, I will be the very last person who makes reference to the fact that you are related to the Stanford president.
We are very pleased to greet Marc’s mother, Sheila Tessier-Lavigne, and other members of the Tessier-Lavigne and Hynes families.
“More than ever do universities need to focus on … studies of humanity, in order to understand the human condition – human circumstances, thought, beliefs, values, as they find their expression in different cultural traditions, in different societies and at different times.”
—President Emeritus Gerhard Casper
Marc, I have just returned from a Europe-wide conference on how university governance can facilitate creativity. On the second day of the conference, somebody asked, “Why is everybody always talking about Stanford?” (I do not think the questioner had anything to do with Harvard.) You are becoming president at a time when Stanford ranks high in the world of higher education. When I say “Stanford ranks high,” I do, of course, not refer to university and college rankings which like, I hope, everybody else in this audience I abhor. I simply refer to the fact that all over the world people respect the seriousness and quality of Stanford’s work in teaching, learning and research, both undergraduate and graduate.
But, you are also becoming president when there is much political, religious, economic, military, social and intellectual strife around the world. Die Luft der Freiheit, the wind of freedom, is not blowing as strongly as many of us would hope. An era of what is identified as – perish the thought – “post-truth politics” seems to be upon us.
More than ever do universities need to focus on what in quattrocento Italy was called studia humanitatis, studies of humanity, in order to understand the human condition – human circumstances, thought, beliefs, values, as they find their expression in different cultural traditions, in different societies and at different times. Your university is superbly positioned to engage in the rigorous tradition and pursuit of knowledge, the rigorous search for truth, even contemplation. We thank you for having become a trustee of these values.