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Stanford Report, October 22, 1997

Text - Casper's State of Univ. speech:10/97, II

Casper's State of the University address

(continuation of speech)

On February 27, 1995, the Santa Clara County Superior Court held that the Grey explication of the Fundamental Standard was unconstitutionally overbroad, that it did not proscribe all fighting words and was thus an unconstitutional viewpoint-based rule, and that the Leonard Law was constitutional.

It is ironic that while opposing the university's rule on First Amendment grounds, the court endorsed the Leonard Law. I thought the First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of association was about the pursuit of ideas. Stanford, a private university, for better or worse, and I actually believe for worse, had the idea that its academic goals would be better served if students never used racial epithets to vilify fellow students. I say, I think this was a rule adopted for worse only because it was predictable how the reaction would be, and Stanford in the end suffered tremendously.

The California Legislature apparently did not like, however, that idea that students should never use racial epithets to vilify fellow students, or that Stanford should be free to enforce it, for it prohibited private secular universities and colleges from establishing their own standards of civil discourse. Religious institutions alone in this state can claim First Amendment protection in this regard.

In spite of my strong views, I decided not to appeal this decision. It did not seem appropriate to spend Stanford's limited resources of money, time and attention to fight a case that given the superficiality of debate in the media and public was portrayed as involving only the legitimacy of what hyperbolically they refer to as "speech codes." I am sometimes asked which decisions of the last five years I regret. Not appealing the Corry decision in the interest of defending Stanford's right to set its own values is a prime candidate for that [short list of] regrets.

The First Amendment seems to have become a club to hit people on the head with. It is interesting to relate the Corry case to the recent controversy concerning the Stanford Band. The Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band. The Stanford Band's performance at the stadium does not raise a free speech issue as such because the First Amendment certainly does not guarantee the right to perform in the Stanford Stadium before football crowds. The issue there in the Stanford Stadium was civility. We should not invite guests to our own home and then insult them. The charge of elitism for once seems justified to me. The band lacked the plain civility of ordinary people. However, if the band had uttered its inanities about the Irish and the potato famine in White Plaza, there would have been no question of their right to do so. I hope they don't treat this as an invitation. Indeed, the Grey interpretation of the Fundamental Standard would protect them if it were still in force. It was all about explicating the fact that a general attack, general expressions, would indeed continue to be protected at Stanford.

In connection with another dispute, this one involving the Stanford Daily in recent weeks, I received an e-mail from an alumnus ­ let us call him Jones. I want to quote from this e-mail: "It is my belief [this is a rather typical e-mail message one gets in the course of the day] ­ that you as president should take an active position to encourage that exchange of ideas as did Wallace Sterling and Donald Kennedy rather than to hide behind the office of the president. Perhaps if you are unwilling or unable to support academic and press freedom, you would be better suited for some position other than as the president of a great university which prides itself on its motto, Die Luft der Freiheit weht.

Well, it is often tempting to take Mr. Jones' advice.

I should like now to turn to review of some of the most important aspects of the last five years. And some of them I will just kind of use as references and not deal with in any detail; most of them, as a matter of fact.

Among the academic initiatives, of course, one of the most important and one that had the most consequences was the appointment of the Commission on Undergraduate Education and the implementation of almost all of its recommendations in subsequent years. From my point of view, the reform of academic requirements that has taken place independent of the commission's work is also relevant to the context. Out of the commission's follow-up came the Science, Mathematics and Engineering Core, a great and interesting experiment that I hope will be beyond the stages of an experiment, and of course, a new core requirement that replaces the old CIV, and the new one is Introduction to the Humanities. Robert Musil, the great writer, once said, "If I want a world view, then I must view the world." Viewing the world is not the same as surveying the world. It has been the case for much longer than a century that we cannot cover Western civilization, let alone all other civilizations and all aspects of the human condition, in the freshman year, in all four years of college, in a lifetime. Depth is more helpful than breadth. What is important is that our students do not lose the art of reading ­ reading texts, pictures, human artifacts. To read, to read carefully. Less is more. To re-read, to read in dialogue, to interpret, to interpret in context. It is also important that students become part of the unceasing process of inquiry, and also acquire the capacity of reflecting about the human condition across cultures. We need to introduce freshmen to the intellectual habits necessary for a lifetime, and aim at developing an understanding of the human condition in history and diverse cultures ­ to a complete understanding, but a probing one that stresses different ways of looking at the world within the humanities.

We think of the new Introduction to the Humanities; the Science, Mathematics and Engineering core; the re-defined distribution requirements; the Freshmen Seminars; Sophomore College; Sophomore seminars; dialogues and tutorials as part of a whole, as an integrated approach to the first two years of college at Stanford. Therefore, we have given the name Stanford Introductory Studies to the new initiatives and related programs in the freshman and sophomore years.

Speech continued