BY ELAINE RAY
Sriniketh Nagavarapu was at home in San Jose last week enjoying the last breezes of summer when President Gerhard Casper announced that he'd be stepping down as president in August of 2000. Nagavarapu, a sophomore, recalled that his most direct encounter with Casper had taken place a year ago at a reception for frosh at Hoover House. Casper had engaged him and a few other students in a conversation about press coverage of the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.
"I remember how open he was about everything and how he wanted to get everyone involved in the
discussion. He was really free about receiving opinions and throwing back ideas," Nagavarapu recalled.
What will likely make a more lasting impression on Nagavarapu, however, will be his experience as a President's Scholar and his participation in an economics seminar that was part of Stanford Introductory Studies. Both programs were initiated by Casper.
"I've had a different experience from people who came to Stanford five or six years ago," said Nagavarapu, noting that he remembers a time not long ago when undergraduates at Stanford and other elite schools weren't viewed as the priority. "He's sort of transformed that."
"Transformation" has been the term used often over the past week by those looking back on
"Stanford has been transformed under this leader," Robert Bass, chairman of the university trustees, told reporters who gathered to hear Casper's announcement Sept. 14. "We are better off physically. We are better off financially. We are better off administratively. We are better off spiritually," Bass added.
"I think what made him such an exceptional leader is that he was able to transform a strong sense of intellectual and moral values into a working vision for Stanford at the end of the century," said former Provost Condoleezza Rice. "Gerhard provided leadership for Stanford through some very difficult, challenging times," Rice said.
Those challenges included placing a once financially troubled institution back on sound financial footing by revamping the university's budget process. They also included restoring an earthquake-ravaged campus to its place as one of the nation's most stunning jewels. In announcing his decision to step down, Casper noted that this will be his 20th year of serving higher education in major leadership roles. Now it is time, he said, for "a season of refreshment and renewal." He said he plans to take a year-long sabbatical during which he will do a lot of reading and hiking in the foothills, then make preparations to teach undergraduates.
"Given the emphasis I have placed on the creation of Stanford Introductory Studies, I shall, in the years remaining, devote most of my efforts to our undergraduates," Casper said.
In the meantime, however, Casper has a great deal of work yet to do.
"I assure everyone that 'lame duck' is not a role that I have played in the past or that I have any inclination to play in the future," he said.
In addition to his regular duties, he said, he will focus on obtaining approval for Stanford's pending General Use Permit and will devote time to Stanford's relationship with the University of California-San Francisco "in the expectation that shortly we will determine our future course." Casper said he also will work toward "placing the Center for Bioengineering, Biomedicine and Biosciences on the Stanford map." He also will seek to launch a campaign for undergraduate education at Stanford.
Casper's academic legacy
Foremost on Casper's mind when he arrived at Stanford in 1992 was his vision of providing undergraduates with a more intellectually rich experience. Shortly after his arrival, he appointed the Commission on Undergraduate Education, which in 1994 provided the first comprehensive examination of undergraduate study at Stanford in 25 years.
"It was obvious from the very beginning that Gerhard cared very deeply about the quality of undergraduate education. Gerhard didn't just talk about it, he acted upon it," said Ramón Saldívar, who recently returned to the English Department faculty after serving for five years as vice provost for undergraduate education.
"He was able in very effective ways to convince the faculty that concern for undergraduate education
was not simply a part of what an intensive research university should do, but that it was very essential
for the creation of a premiere university," added Saldívar. "He understood that the
best kind of undergraduate education allows for a personal, interactive, dialectical conversation between
students and teachers. And that this kind of
learning needed to occur from the first days a student arrives on campus, not just for upperclass students but for freshmen and sophomores as well."
The President's Scholars program and Stanford Introductory Studies reflect that vision. President's Scholars are chosen upon acceptance and once matriculated receive research grants and assistance in developing close ties with senior faculty. Stanford Introductory Studies provides small-group seminars for freshmen and sophomores that are designed to encourage mentoring relationships between students and professors.
Casper also supported initiatives designed to bolster graduate education. In 1996 he launched a campaign
to raise a $200 million endowment for the Stanford Graduate Fellowships Program, which provides unrestricted
support for up to 300 graduate students in the natural sciences, the quantitative social sciences and
engineering. The Asia-Pacific Scholars Program brings graduate students from the Asia-Pacific region
for study in all disciplines. Scholars participate in a year-long interdisciplinary seminar that examines
the changing political and economic relationships in the region.
Other Casper initiatives include the Stanford Learning Lab and the Wallenberg Global Learning Center, which grew out of recommendations made by the Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning. Casper established the commission in 1994 to focus attention on applications of technology in higher education.
With an eye toward strengthening the humanities, Casper obtained support for four endowed professorships in those fields. In addition, his Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts series has brought some of the world's most distinguished scholars, artists and critics to campus for lectures, panel discussions and interaction with faculty and students.
Recruitment and retention of exceptionally talented faculty members also has been a continuing priority for Casper. He established the Research Grants for Junior Faculty program in 1998 to provide up to $20,000 in unrestricted research grants to faculty who teach in the three schools that offer undergraduate degrees: Earth Sciences, Engineering and Humanities and Sciences. In 1994 the university inaugurated the Frederick E. Terman Fellows program to help young faculty scientists establish their own laboratories and recruit graduate students. The fellowships provide each recipient with up to $100,000 in unrestricted funds annually for three years.
"Gerhard Casper has shown that a university president can provide outstanding, dedicated leadership while maintaining the intellectual vitality that is at the center of university life," said Provost John Hennessy. "I particularly admire his active engagement with the academic programs of the university as well as his significant interaction with individual faculty and students."
In his own scholarship, Casper, who holds an appointment as professor of law, has written and taught primarily in the fields of constitutional law, constitutional history, comparative law and jurisprudence. His most recent book, Separating Power: Essays of the Founding Period, was published in 1997 by Harvard University Press. From 1977 to 1991, he was an editor of The Supreme Court Review. As president, Casper has maintained his ties to the classroom within his time constraints, teaching an undergraduate course in political science and a course on Constitutionalism in the Sophomore College program.
A leader in higher education
Outside the classroom, Casper has taken a strong interest in preservation and restoration of historic buildings. During his presidency, Language Corner and Geology Corner, two of the oldest buildings on campus, were restored and seismically reinforced; the severely damaged museum has been reopened and expanded; and the reconstructed west wing of Green Library offers innovative information services. Recent additions to the campus include the Science and Engineering Quad and graduate student residences. The university currently is building a Center for Clinical Sciences Research and a new alumni center.
"He took a real direct hand in reconceiving the architectural integrity at Stanford after the earthquake," Saldívar said. "Gerhard has taken a personal hand in ensuring that Stanford was once again the aesthetically beautiful place it was before."
The planned alumni facility reflects Casper's strong interest in strengthening ties with Stanford's
graduates. Under his administration the formerly independent Stanford Alumni Association has been integrated
into the university. Donations to the university also have increased under Casper's leadership. In
the last five years the university has raised more than $300 million annually, and in 1998-99 reached
an all-time high of $319.6 million. Casper placed particular emphasis on increasing individual contributions,
challenging the senior class and alumni to increase their support of the university. This past year,
76 percent of seniors made contributions, an all-time high. In 1993, only 45 percent had contributed.
Alumni participation rose to 34.8 percent in 1997-98, up from 25.7 percent in 1992.
Casper also inaugurated The Stanford Fund, which specifically supports undergraduate education. Contributions reached $6.86 million in 1997-98. His President's Fund, which provides support for initiatives selected by the president, raised $3.61 million in 1997-98.
Local and national controversies
Casper also faced difficult issues at Stanford and in the national arena. Those controversies included settlement of the indirect costs dispute with the federal government; approval of the Sand Hill Road extension; and a strong presidential endorsement of affirmative action. He also engaged in such issues as free speech on campus, college rankings and the role of athletics in higher education.
In 1995, over the objections of many students and faculty, the university approved the closure of the Food Research Institute, a teaching and research facility established in 1921 to investigate the production, distribution, and consumption of food, with an emphasis on economic analysis and marketing systems. More recently, the tenure process has come under fire as critics have questioned the university's commitment to promoting female and minority faculty members.
Even as Casper announced his plans to step down, the viability of the merger between Stanford Hospital
and the medical center at the University of California-San Francisco remained an open question.
"We did something that was perhaps more radical and more dramatic than the institutions could stomach," Casper said at the news conference where he discussed his decision to step down. "I think maybe we should have done it more slowly. If you do it more slowly there's always the danger that you lose momentum or you don't gain momentum," he said, adding that he remains deeply involved in seeing that the "appropriate relationship" between the institutions is established.
Trustee Pamela Rymer, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, called Caper the "preeminent American university president."
"He has been the spokesperson for the future of higher education in America," she said. "And he has done it all with an unimpeachable integrity, intellect, insight and vision."
Credit for the university's accomplishments over the last seven years must be shared, Casper insists. "The true university, as I have repeated over and over again, is a joint effort of a wide range of participants. It is the faculty, deans, chairs, students, trustees, the senior officers, the staff, the alumni, parents and local, national and worldwide friends whose active engagement makes Stanford a continuously renewed intellectual and moral effort."
Asked at the press conference for any words of wisdom for the committee that will be appointed by the Board of Trustees to search for his successor, Casper said that the university had set the standard the last time around by involving trustees and faculty as well as representatives from the alumni and student ranks. Most important, he said, would be the committee's ability to conduct a confidential search. "Without that confidentiality, I would not have come to Stanford," Casper said.
Eileen Walsh and Alan Acosta contributed to this story.