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Casper 'preaches' at Founders' Day service
STANFORD -- President Gerhard Casper took to the Memorial Church pulpit on Founders' Day, Sunday, March 7, to "preach" the second installment of his inaugural address.
He noted apologetically that Jane Stanford once said only ordained ministers should take the pulpit to speak at services memorializing her husband (Founders' Day now honors both Stanfords).
"In accepting Dean [Robert] Gregg's invitation to speak today, I unwittingly committed a sin against one of our founders," Casper said. "I would rely on the good dean's power of absolution," he said to laughter. "However, since he seems a co-sinner, I am not sure that would be effective in this case."
Captivated last summer by historical research on Stanford's informal motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht," and its originator, Ulrich von Hutten, Casper added to the necessarily brief history lesson he presented last Oct. 2.
The words selected by the university's first president, David Starr Jordan, to guide Stanford - the wind of freedom blows - come from the third of the Invectives Hutten directed in 1521 at his own enemies and the enemies of church reformer Martin Luther.
And invectives they were, Casper said Sunday, quoting more fully from Hutten's original passage:
"Begone from the pure streams, ye unclean swine! Depart from the sanctuary, ye infamous traffickers!"
Referring to Hutten as a "humanist," Casper told an audience of 600, "suggests a pale scholar sitting in his study."
"In reality he was an unabashed man of strong emotions and also prejudices" who became so militant that his idol - Erasmus of Rotterdam - eventually refused to see him.
Hutten first achieved fame advocating preservation of Hebrew literature when the emperor ordered the collection and destruction of all Jewish books, Casper said, repeating a story from his inaugural address.
However, Hutten was not free of anti-Semitism, Casper said. When a Jew who had converted to Catholicism was executed for a variety of alleged crimes, Hutten praised the action, making accusations "of the stereotypical kind that later [were] used to justify pogroms," Casper said.
"Hutten, who was a hero to our first president, David Starr Jordan, today would fare much less well," Casper said. The freedom fighter "certainly was impatient. He tended to classify people into friends and enemies, angels and devils."
At universities today, "rendering judgment is a favorite activity," Casper said.
"We also tend to ask: 'Is he one of ours?' 'Does she belong to us?' "
If the answer is no, Casper said, "we are only too inclined to issue invectives, to call for excommunication. I urge us not to pose these questions, but to ask instead 'What does he have to say?' 'Where is she strong; where might she be right?'
"Sitting in judgment is necessary and unavoidable," Casper said. "But judgment, especially judgment at a university, that is not based on making every effort at understanding, including understanding the context, is no more than an exercise in arrogance."
These considerations also apply to the founders, Casper said. He quoted a member of the Central Pacific legal staff who said Leland Stanford had "the ambition of an emperor and the spite of a peanut vendor." Someone else suggested, according to Casper, that the arch above the university entrance should bear the legend: "With Apologies to God."
"I do not think we are unduly partial," Casper said, "when we conclude that what the Stanfords ended up doing for other people's sons and daughters strikes a balance that, as far as the university is concerned, does not call for an apology to God."
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