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05/17/94

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Casper warns of political infringement; announces new technology group

STANFORD -- Warning against the infringement of politics - "sometimes internal, sometimes external" - on universities, Stanford President Gerhard Casper said Thursday, May 12, that "if universities make their substantive decisi ons for political, rather than academic, reasons, they have no particular claim to an untrammeled existence."

Casper added that comment to his prepared state of the university address after the Faculty Senate meeting less than an hour earlier had been disrupted by students demonstrating for an Asian American studies program (see separa te story). And he reiterated it in an impromptu closing to his speech, saying, "Let me repeat what I said earlier: If we want to claim our four freedoms, we must make our decisions on academic grounds."

Those four freedoms, said Casper, a professor of constitutional law, had been laid out by Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1957. Frankfurter wrote that a university must have the freedom "to determine for itself on ac ademic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught and who may be admitted to study."

In his speech, Casper also reviewed events of the past year and announced formation of a standing Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning, based on a recommendation of the technology subcommittee of the Commission on Undergraduate Education. He used his state of the university speech last year to announce formation of the undergraduate commission, which is expected to issue its final report next fall.

As examples of external political infringement, Casper discussed expanding government regulation in the form of the California Environmental Protection Agency's application to campus labs of hazardous waste rules designed for i ndustry, and the shift by the Department of Education and regional accreditation bodies from traditional accreditation into regulation.

The president identified as one form of internal infringement "the politics of ultimatum," which he applied to the previous week's three-day hunger strike by Chicano students demanding, among other things, a Chicano studies pro gram. Casper said that the students, "like all of us, feel the uncertainty and stress that inevitably accompany times of contracting, rather than expanding, resources." In meeting with the students and agreeing to establish committees to examine their concerns in depth, he said:

"It was crucial - crucial - to the provost and me that the university's constituted processes for making decisions be followed. Practically any issue is open to discussion at the university. When the provost and I can be resp onsive, we will be. But we cannot work for Stanford's future in an environment dominated by the politics of ultimatum. I should like to state in the most unambiguous terms that without faculty and student and staff support in this fun damental respect, we cannot perform our tasks.

"As we have again learned in the last few days, universities are very fragile institutions. If we shortcut argument and reason, we abandon the essence of the university. If universities make their substantive decisions for po litical, rather than academic, reasons, they have no particular claim to untrammeled existence."

Hazardous waste regulations

On the subject of government and the university, Casper said that California is now rigidly applying to universities hazardous chemical regulations developed for manufacturing and industrial processes, which create 99.99 percen t of the state's hazardous wastes.

More than 4,000 faculty, staff and students at Stanford work with chemicals in about 700 locations on campus, he said. Nevertheless, because of the small quantities involved, less than 0.01 percent of the state's hazardous wast es come from Stanford and other universities.

The university agrees with the objectives of the regulations - safe practices, sound management of waste and environmental protection - Casper said, but disagrees on paperwork, administration and organizational requirements.

He cited concern over rules that put Stanford at risk for something as simple as a graduate student's calendar watch being off by one day, leading him to write the wrong date on a label.

However, the most serious disagreements relate not so much to labeling, he said, as to such issues as authority over laboratory practices and requirements for supervision and storage of chemicals.

"Our dispute is not about whether these activities should be regulated; it is over the state's rigid interpretation of regulations designed for industrial processes and its insistence on applying those to university laboratorie s.

"It is the country that will suffer if the research enterprise is smothered by red tape.

"Transaction costs can extinguish scientific ardor as effectively as the inquisition, never mind that many regulators are behaving as if they were the inquisition," he said.

Accreditation dispute

In a second area, the federal government's actions are "avowed intervention" rather than just side effects, Casper said.

He described 1992 revisions to the 1965 Higher Education Act that provide for greater government control over accrediting associations.

To make the associations more accountable, the government is now requiring accrediting bodies to use in their evaluation process 12 standards covering curricula, faculty policies, recruitment and admissions practices, tuition a nd fees, and measures of student achievement.

In short, he said, government is contemplating intrusion on "the four freedoms" of a university.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), of which Stanford is a member, recently issued a proposal on "The Future of Self-Regulation." Casper called the title of the report "disturbing, marking a shift from accre ditation - WASC's traditional role - to regulation."

He said that the Western Association wants to guard the public's interest "by ensuring that institutions measure teaching effectiveness, hire and promote faculty on the basis of their abilities as teachers, dedicate appropriate financial resources to teaching and require their governing boards to involve themselves directly in the review of educational quality."

Objecting to this puts a university president in a delicate position, Casper said. "We stand to be accused of not valuing teaching and of favoring research, or of not wanting to be accountable for our institutions or our facult y, or - to use that all-purpose insult of the day - of being arrogant."

Little evidence exists, he said, that the outcome of undergraduate education can be measured. Students attend college for a variety of reasons and with a variety of expectations; they have a variety of experiences and leave wit h a broad range of outcomes, he said.

"As someone who has been engaged for decades in discussions with college and professional school alumni, let me assure you that 'the public' whose interest the would-be regulators would like to protect has not arrived at any ag reement whatsoever as to what precisely it wants its universities to provide."

He said that requiring institutions to gather "costly, yet trivial, statistics" to satisfy WASC guidelines would take away from resources that could be devoted to "thoughtful and careful evaluations of our educational programs. "

Casper said he hoped that the proposal, which is now being debated among the Western Association's membership, would be significantly modified.

The nation should not stand by and allow the educational system to slip toward uniform standards and academic policies, he said. "To do so would be to risk bringing an end to the breadth, diversity and quality of our system of higher education.

"With all the authority conferred upon me by my accent," he said, "let us not 'Europeanize' American higher education."

New technology commission

In announcing formation of a standing Commission on Technology in Teaching and Learning, Casper said he was acting on the recommendation of Professor John Bravman's technology subcommittee of the Commission on Undergraduate Edu cation.

"I believe we have a window of opportunity to put Stanford in a position to adapt to - indeed, to lead - innovation in educational technology, whether it be programmed computer instruction, global electronic networks, interacti ve multimedia or other possibilities," Casper said.

The commission will provide advice on infrastructure investments that Stanford should make in coming years, he said.

Casper drew laughs when he said that despite his interest in pursuing technology, he does not want to see Stanford "become a 'virtual' university."

"Paradoxically, I believe the way to adapt to the technological challenge is to strengthen those aspects of the university that we have carried over from the Socratic gymnasium or the Platonic academy, that is, small-group inte raction and debate."

Casper said the commission's members would be named soon and would begin work in the fall.

Review of year

Reviewing the past year, Casper said that in "the lifeblood of the university - faculty recruitment - we have had a good year" with 91 new faculty members. Although the appointment cycle for 1994-95 is not over, another 90 to 1 00 newcomers are expected, he said.

He also discussed faculty and student success winning national honors. Closer to home, he said that the first group of Gerald J. Lieberman Fellows has been named. It includes six current Stanford students and five minority appl icants to Ph.D. programs in the School of Humanities and Sciences who will come to Stanford in the fall. The new fellowships honor the former provost by supporting graduate students who intend to pursue careers in university teaching a nd research.

Casper reminded the audience of various events of the past year, such as the federal government's selection of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center to build a new $177 million particle collider.

He also reviewed fund-raising successes, while warning that the university could not rely endlessly or solely on a small group of major donors. "The support of the full array of Stanford alumni and friends - whose donations may be in the hundreds, rather than millions, of dollars - is vital to Stanford's future." Casper noted to laughter after comments about large gifts to athletics that "I shall soon complete my second year as president and Stanford still h as a football team."

Preceding Casper's talk, Faculty Senate Chair Patricia Jones, biological sciences, reviewed deliberations of the senate since last year's Academic Council meeting. In addition to conferring degrees, receiving annual reports and certifying that courses fulfill distribution requirements, the senate renewed degree-nominating authority for various programs and approved changes in procedures for renewal and termination of interdisciplinary programs.

Among its more significant activities, the senate endorsed a new sexual harassment policy and a new policy on conflict of interest and commitment, and is now considering proposals for changes in the grading system.

The senate also endorsed a major report on the recruitment and retention of women faculty and opposed a proposed statement on diversity by the Western Association of School and Colleges.

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