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Casper encourages input on housing issues, disciplinary procedures
STANFORD -- President Gerhard Casper has announced he will appoint a task force to explore a broad range of issues regarding undergraduate housing.
"I believe there is a whole range of questions concerning undergraduate housing that are worth reexamination," Casper told students at a town hall meeting on Oct. 17. The statement came on the heels of an announcement he made at the student senate on Oct. 15.
The task force will look at the housing draw, the annual lottery system that determines campus housing for the following year. It also will take a fresh look at all-freshman dormitories, where student demand exceeds the supply by about 300 beds.
"These are very complicated questions that we can answer only with a lot of student involvement beyond the three students sitting on the committee," Casper said. "I am sure that the task force will hold hearings and I want to call that to your attention."
While the draw and freshman housing were the only areas of concern that the president mentioned, the review also may explore the larger role of residential education at Stanford and the way student housing is configured on campus.
Ramón Saldívar, vice provost for undergraduate education, will chair the task force, which will be composed of three faculty, three staff and three students.
Casper, flinging his jacket on a plush chair next to the lectern, opened the informal meeting by stating his desire to get through the evening without being interrupted by forces beyond his control.
"I am beginning to feel very paranoid," he said. "Whenever I try to speak, something interferes."
Last month, his "carefully thought-out" convocation speech to freshmen and their parents was repeatedly interrupted by the loud rumble of a helicopter training session above the Main Quad. More recently, a power outage on campus foiled a speech he was getting ready to deliver to about 600 alumni.
"My enemies are clearly at work," he joked.
Fortunately for the president and about 100 students who gathered at Tresidder Oak West, the evening went smoothly. In fact, so many questions were raised at "Tea and More Cookies with Gerhard Casper," a continuing series of dialogues between the president and students, that the hour-long discussion was extended by 30 minutes.
In his opening remarks, Casper emphasized the importance of student input in reviewing the university's disciplinary policies. The Committee of 15 a panel appointed by Casper last spring to review Stanford's Legislative and Judicial charter will report its preliminary recommendations to the student senate on Nov. 5 and the Faculty Senate on Nov. 7.
After considering feedback from the community, the committee will present a new judicial charter to the student and faculty senates in early January. But before any changes can be made, the student senate, the Faculty Senate and the university president must be in agreement.
"I would hope that all of you would get engaged and get involved and see that out of this comes a [disciplinary] process that is both fair and has a substantial amount of student [involvement]," he said.
Casper also informed students of a four-page letter that he sent to James Fallows, the editor of U.S. News & World Report. The letter, dated Sept. 25, outlines his concerns about the methodology used in the magazine's annual rankings of universities.
When Casper opened the floor to questions, a number of graduate students immediately jumped into the discussion, which is usually dominated by undergraduates.
"This is a very interesting evening," Casper said, 20 minutes into the discussion. "I must say that none of the questions I have gotten so far I would have predicted."
About 10 graduate students voiced concerns, ranging from whether Casper thought departments should tailor their doctoral curricula to help students learn practical skills that can be applied outside of academia to the lack of easy access to food in certain graduate departments.
Responding to the question about doctoral programs, Casper pointed out that there is a danger in tailoring curricula to the marketplace. If departments develop graduate curricula around very specific careers, he said, students could be shortchanged because those careers may no longer exist come graduation. "The marketplace tends to change very rapidly," he noted.
Later, when a graduate student in the sociology department suggested the university set up a pre-registration system for classes, Casper asked Roger Printup, the university registrar, who also attended the session, to address the issue.
According to the student, there were a number of reasons why a pre-registration system for classes would be an improvement over the current system, where students can shop around before deciding what courses to take.
For one thing, the student said, it would make it easier on departments to determine how many teaching assistants they will need to hire for the upcoming quarter. "As it stands, teaching assistantships aren't assigned until the fourth week, so I haven't gotten a paycheck yet and I won't get one until next week," he said.
Faculty also would be able to determine how many syllabi they need to distribute, he added, and students would be able to purchase their books before classes start.
Printup, who acknowledged that he tends to support the idea of a pre-registration system, said the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement is the group in charge of examining such matters.
On the undergraduate front, the most pressing issue for students at the meeting seemed to be the status of campus parties.
Several students, citing new party-planning guidelines and a few highly publicized incidents in which police have intervened, said they believe the university is cracking down on these social events.
But Casper, together with Dean of Students Marc Wais, assured them that this is not the case. "To my knowledge," Wais said, "no university official has given any directive to Stanford police to crack down. . . . The real intent [of the party guidelines] is to provide safe and successful parties. Nothing more, nothing less."
Casper, in turn, refuted rumors that the university is cracking down on fraternities.
"Indeed, if the administration were to crack down on fraternities, it would have to come from me, and I have not told anybody to crack down on fraternities," he said.
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