Casper’s First Five

“THE MOST INTENSIVE FIVE YEARS
OF MY LIFE”

Stanford’s president reflects on his first five years at Stanford

By Larry Gordon

Gerhard Casper was still provost at the University of Chicago in April 1992 when I traveled there to meet him for the first time. A few weeks earlier, he had been selected to become Stanford’s next president, and we talked a lot about the differences between two of the nation’s most respected intellectual powerhouses. One campus had an additional reputation for conservative thought, an ultra-urban setting and a somewhat dour and unathletic nature befitting the climate; the other was noted for its outdoor beauty, big-league sports and, at the time, serious troubles about federal research spending.

As if on cue, the Illinois sky began dropping piles of snow that spring afternoon. Palo Alto and Palm Drive seemed unreachably far away and I wondered a bit how this obviously sharp, capable and witty law professor with a pronounced German accent would fit into life on the Farm. At least he promised to study up on the rules of American football.

Flash forward to sunny August 1997 at Stanford. I came to interview Gerhard Casper again, this time at his presidential office. His craggy face, at age 59, looked a touch more lined and his hair more silver than I remembered. Otherwise, on the surface, he seems to have survived and even thrived through what he describes as “surely the most intensive five years of my life.”

In fact, I seem to detect more Northern California informality at the edges of his European courtliness. He still carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his suitjacket breast pocket but no longer needs a football rulebook. He remains a serious fan of Mozart and Bach, but delighted in telling how he warmed up the audience for Liza Minnelli at a charity fundraiser last year. Chilly Chicago now seems worlds away.

Casper’s First Five (Plain text)

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