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07/29/91

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This is the text of President Donald Kennedy's resignation letter to the Board of Trustees. July 28, 1991 To the Board of Trustees Stanford University

Dear Friends:

Our meeting tomorrow finds Stanford at an important historical moment. We face many problems, some of which -- like earthquake repair and administrative organization -- were recognized a year ago. We knew that the solutions to these would take time and concentrated effort. And entirely new difficulties have burst upon us suddenly, with unexpected ferocity and potentially severe consequences.

As a result, we face formidable challenges: to reshape the institution and rebalance its budget, to restore the faith of its several publics, and to replace confusion and doubt inside the Stanford family with the usual confident energy. As you know, we have been working very hard at these challenges -- and as you also know, much remains to be done.

The announcement last week of our reform program on the indirect cost issue will move us inexorably forward to resolve our problems with the government on Stanford's accountability for Federal funds. The resolution of these problems will be neither swift nor easy, but I believe it will be sure.

As we have engaged these problems during the recent months, I have been acutely conscious of how distressing and difficult it is for my colleagues to labor constructively in an environment that is so uncertain and so permeated by critical outside attention. I have also been fully aware of the pain and uncertainty felt by members of this Board, and by so many others to whom this institution is so important. The Stanford family is an inclusive and nurturing congregation, and during the past months it has suffered. You must know that I have shared this pain in a very personal way.

At this critical moment, it will not be surprising to you that I have been asking myself hard questions about the institution's leadership. What actions on my part are most likely to relieve ambiguity about our direction, to heal internal differences, and thus add to the momentum for change and improvement?

I have used the time since our Commencement meeting to gather views on this subject. I have sought the advice of many thoughtful people, including especially some of my wisest colleagues on the Stanford faculty and members of this Board. I am deeply grateful both for the loyalty and the candor that have characterized these conversations. The warmth of the expressions of support and the astringent frankness of the criticism have both helped to form my views.

Over the past six weeks, as I reflected on this advice, my own thinking shifted. With great reluctance at first, but with growing confidence, I reached the conclusion that I share with you now: I intend to step down as President of Stanford University at the end of the academic year 1991-1992.

I believe in change -- and the refreshing excitement that follows the recognition that change is coming. At present we are talking too much about our problems and too little about our opportunities. And, to be quite frank about it, there is entirely too much speculation about my future at Stanford. It is very difficult, I have concluded, for a person identified with a problem to be the spokesman for its solution.

We need to banish ambiguity and to look to the future as we resolve the problems of the past. The prospect of new leadership for our new direction will help lift our gaze and renew our spirit. And, knowing the lead-time that it takes to select new leadership and make an orderly transition, I think we should begin that process at once.

In the meantime, there is much work to do. I want this to be a productive year, one that engages with the difficult work of repair and finishes it, leaving a clear track for my successor. I do not intend it to be a lame-duck assignment; I am going to make it a labor of love, and I ask your enthusiastic support in ensuring that it produces the results we all expect.

When that is done, I plan to begin another venture about which I am very excited. You probably know that in my career as a biologist, in government, and in my few pro bono commitments outside Stanford, environmental concerns have loomed large. I want to help make Stanford the university for academic and policy studies in this arena -- a realistic prospect given the extraordinary human resources already represented on this faculty and the enthusiastic interest of its student body. It is a great opportunity.

I look forward to realizing that ambition -- after I have done my best to help form a new Stanford, trimmed and reconfigured for its second century, imbued with new optimism, and faithful to its traditions of excellence, of innovation, and of community.

Sincerely yours,

Donald Kennedy

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