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President Casper discusses issues with university managers
STANFORD -- President Gerhard Casper used a speech and question/answer session with university managers on Thursday, May 5, to discuss Stanford's mission and future challenges, the problem of budget cuts and their effect on staff, and his views on student protests and other student-related issues.
Speaking to a group of more than 300 university managers in Bishop Auditorium, Casper said that Stanford's basic structure would not change in the near future, but the university will contract out some services to save money.
He said that every member of the Stanford community, regardless of gender or racial or ethnic group, must be listened to and treated seriously.
On the subject of the Chicano student protest then occurring in the Inner Quad courtyard, Casper said staff could be helpful by engaging students in discussion of the issues.
He thanked staff who have "suffered tremendously" putting together a new consolidated budget that university officers will present to the Board of Trustees in June. "We had to invent new ways of looking at information," and in many cases that was a nightmare, he said.
He told the managers that they are part of a collective enterprise, "though occasionally it is the president and provost who have to make the final and tough decisions."
Stanford is much more decentralized than most institutions, he said, reminding the staff that many important decisions are made "that I never even know about. Indeed, there are sometimes rather important developments at the university that I read about in the newspapers.
"I am not always amused by that," he said to wide laughter, "but I'm always bemused by it."
In the area of contracting out - or "outsourcing," as some are calling it - Casper said that all plans will be reviewed for their affirmative action implications by the Office for Multicultural Development. The university has a strong external affirmative action policy, and potential outside suppliers would be reviewed with regard to affirmative action, he said.
Specifically addressing the Legal Office restructuring, Casper reiterated that Stanford stood alone among its competitors with the largest in-house legal staff. Contracting out in this area will help achieve budget savings and "give us broader capacity as we deal with legal issues thrown at us."
Casper said that everyone would prefer to preserve the status quo while cutting costs, but that is not possible.
The often-made comparison between the consumer price index and cost increases in universities is irrelevant, he said. University costs - including labor, improved technology and innovation - increase faster than family goods and services measured by the index.
The university needs to moderate its rate of growth, and "we have to think about these matters radically," he said in response to a question about his proposal for a three-year degree.
Many students have a lot of slack in their four years, he said, suggesting to a smiling audience that staff members "think back to your own college days." On the other hand, a streamlined curriculum may not work in engineering, he said, because of outside accreditation standards.
Responding to a question about his views of the Chicano student protest in the Inner Quad courtyard, Casper said it was difficult to deal with demands of students who do not understand how the university works.
It would fall to the School of Humanities and Sciences to propose a program in Chicana/o studies, he said. "I cannot autocratically tell the Humanities and Sciences faculty I have been persuaded in the Main Quadrangle and I want you to establish such a major." Control over curriculum rests not with the president but with the faculty.
Nor does the president control other areas about which the students made demands, Casper said. "Facts are bothersome, but facts are important," he said.
As for his role in the layoff of Cecilia Burciaga, associate vice provost for student affairs, Casper said he is aware that some think the action was politically motivated.
"There was no political motivation," he said. Administrators had concluded that Burciaga's duties should be transferred to the central Development Office, which has undergone its own streamlining, Casper said.
There are "tremendous human costs" during cutbacks, he said, but they are a direct tradeoff against tuition.
"We just have to be courageous and remind people that a university is not exempt from the world out there."
Students' intellectual experiences
Answering a series of questions relating to students, Casper said he would like to see students have more shared intellectual experiences.
Cultures, Ideas and Values, with its many tracks, does not provide a common experience for freshmen, he said. It tries to accomplish too much, with too many assigned textbooks, when it might work better to have fewer texts that are read more thoroughly.
"Our students cram by reading Cliffs Notes," he said.
Many, he said, have urged creation of an Asian American studies program, and this should be carefully considered because the curriculum neglects the discrimination against and contributions of Asian Americans. But the president said a better way of addressing that particular problem might be to require all students to take a course in American civilization "with all its warts, where all these things are pulled together."
To the extent that students have shared experiences, they are based on the residence system, Casper said. But their experiences often are not coherent because many of them spend each year in a different residence.
Of the reorganization in student affairs and residential education, Casper said that too little attention is paid to the fact that a faculty member will be named dean of residential education.
"We have to do a better job than we have done at integrating residential education into the academic side of the university," he said. The soon-to-be-named residential education dean and the dean of undergraduate studies will work together to make that happen, he said.
Discussing the university's mission, Casper told the staff that university trustees have asked him to develop a mission statement.
Stanford's ninth president said he admired the approach of Stanford's fifth president, J.E. Wallace Sterling: Find the best faculty and best students, give them all possible support, then see what happens.
Stanford became a leading institution after World War II because that approach was followed so vigorously, Casper said.
Stanford's tasks now are teaching and research, neither one with priority over the other, but treated as two sides of the same coin, he said. Staff provide support and create an environment in which students and faculty can challenge one another.
Stanford faces a difficulty in that its scope is broader than that of any other university. Stanford is trying to do too many things, and "that is where some of our problems lie," he said.
The challenge, he said, is to find comparative advantages and competitive strengths, and see what must be sacrificed to build on those. That is difficult, he said, because Stanford is good at almost everything it does.
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