Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Campus community bids many farewells to Casper


Upon his arrival in the fall of 1992, Gerhard Casper joked that, like the students he welcomed to Stanford, he, too, was a freshman. He just didn't know what year he'd be graduating. During this past weekend's commencement ceremonies, he became a ceremonial member of the Class of 2000.

"Since the red 1985 Chevy in which you so often spotted me is actually owned by the university, I must buy a new car," he told seniors at Saturday's Class Day luncheon. "Thus, with my usual foresight, I have secured a Class of 2000 license plate holder to reflect the fact that we will graduate together."

With Casper stepping down as president, tears were shed for more than just departing students. As the faculty and staff paid tribute to Casper, he found himself racing from one event to another in his honor. Between toasts, there was the inevitable roasting; he seemed to take the good-natured ribbing in stride, and he amassed a plethora of gifts that, in many instances, were a tribute to their givers' cleverness.

Dancing on the Quad

As the sunset shone pink on the Quad on Tuesday, June 6, about 500 faculty and staff honored Casper and his wife, Regina, at a dessert and dance gala featuring musicians from the Stanford Jazz Workshop led by James Oliver Nadel as well as a performance by the Ballet Folklorico de Stanford and Mariachi Cardenal de Stanford. Robert Simoni, professor of biological sciences, was the emcee.

"Gerhard, I think you've really deserved the title of the jock president," he said, noting the irony that Casper, who pokes fun at his own ignorance of sports, had become CEO of the Pacific-10 Conference this year.

With that, the conferring of gifts upon the president began in earnest, including, from Simoni, two framed Sports Illustrated covers, one with basketball star Arthur Lee on the cover and the other with women's volleyball star Logan Tom.

But the farewells had their serious sides, as speaker after speaker during the various events touched on Casper's lasting legacy.

Simoni spoke of some of the president's less well-remembered efforts and accomplishments, such as his strong defense of universities from outside pressures and interference, including onerous federal health and safety regulations and poorly conceived magazine rankings of colleges and universities. As a memento of the publicized debate in which Casper engaged with U.S. News & World Report over its rankings, Simoni presented Casper with a framed cover of the magazine's special college-ranking issue; it bore a special inscription from chairman and editor-in-chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman, saying he thanked Casper for his "continuing support."

History Professor James Sheehan presented a fresh copy of the Constitution to replace the weathered one Casper, the constitutional scholar, has always at the ready in his breast pocket.

"I speak for all of us. We'll miss Gerhard in Building 10. Perhaps there's some chance he'll occasionally miss the persistent agonies and intermittent joys of being in that office," Sheehan said.

As the proceedings continued, an answer finally came to the question on everybody's mind: Why had Gail Mahood, professor of geological and environmental sciences and one of the speakers seated front and center at the podium, brought her dog to the formal affair?

"To enrich your experience of the Dish Loop, I offer a rent-a-dog," she said. Casper gamely got up and began walking around the Quad with Flint, Mahood's well-coifed 5-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi.

"After eight years, you're entitled to the luxury of doing nothing," Mahood continued. But she warned Casper to "just make sure" he took advantage of the offer before Sept. 1, when, of course, dogs will be prohibited from the Dish area.

On a more serious note, Mahood bestowed upon both the president and Regina Casper geologist badges as a tribute to the trips the two had taken with Mahood and her graduate students to such places as Death Valley.

"Coming from the University of Chicago, Gerhard and Regina became students of Stanford, and through their questioning, we faculty learned something about ourselves and thought afresh about the core values of Stanford and the qualities that make us distinctive," she said, noting the keen interest the couple had taken both in geology and in the graduate students on the trips.

Later, Jacqueline Wender, assistant to the president, read from a letter directed to Casper by virtue of his leadership of a university whose nickname is The Farm. It posed such questions as "how to break a horse from biting" and "how to treat a horse congested in his lungs."

And so she presented Casper, on behalf of the university staff, a horse figurine "as a memory of your days presiding over The Farm."

Provost and president-designate John Hennessy recalled how Casper, during the announcement of his appointment as president, touched on the university's motto, "Die Luft der Freiheit weht" ("the wind of freedom blows"), and his ability to pronounce it correctly. The phrase was written by the 16th-century German humanist Ulrich von Hutten, whose writings are characterized by a questioning, critical spirit.

"So, in thinking about a gift from the faculty for Gerhard, we reflected on his passion for Hutten's work, his love of books and the ample time he will have available for reading," Hennessy said, presenting Casper with one gift after another -- each of them volumes by and about Hutten, including his complete writings.

Adieu from the Faculty Senate

On Thursday, Casper attended his last meeting, at least as president, of the Faculty Senate. He still had plenty of business to attend to, announcing that John Etchemendy would be the next provost.

He called the senate "the most important vehicle of [university] self-governance. . . . If I were to engage in an assessment here, it would be very positive indeed," he said, thanking the faculty for their "tremendous spirit of professionalism and cooperation."

At a Faculty Club reception immediately following the meeting, the a cappella group Fleet Street Singers provided the entertainment, including an original ditty written by Brad Osgood, professor of electrical engineering and next year's Faculty Senate chair, who joined in on the singing:

G is for the gigabucks you raised for

E the education that we pride.

R is for the Rose Bowl that you won us.

H is for at least how hard you tried!

AR are you proud of hours spent on

D just where Die Luft der Freiheit went?

Put them all together they spell GERHARD

Our one and only wondrous president!

Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics and chair of this year's Faculty Senate, assembled six of the senate chairs from the last eight years to present Casper with a framed work of art by Lynne Glendenning, which, in ceramic and parchment paper, depicted the senate chamber as well as the Stanford Arch. Stars were placed on the eight different assigned seats Casper held in the senate during his presidency -- his place, as well as those of the other senate members, normally being dictated by alphabetical order. On the parchment paper, in Latin, read the following:

Est Praeses. Ubicumque Vult Considet.

It is the Latin rendition of a statement made early on this year in the senate by economics Professor Roger Noll in reference to Casper's desire to sit in a different place than that assigned to him so as not to have his back to most members.

When Casper was stymied by the Latin phrase, classics Professor Susan Treggiari was on hand to provide the translation -- conveniently, quite similar to the phrase Noll had used: "He's the president, and he can sit where he damn well likes."

Dinner in Memorial Court

A short while later, the Board of Trustees held a dinner for Casper in a heated tent in Memorial Court. With trustee Pamela Rymer as the emcee, the presentation included a toast to Gerhard and Regina Casper in the form of a poem written and read by trustee Peter Bing:

Veni, vidi, vici was your style,

A silken, Teuton conquest of the west.

Chicago stockyard luft that weht so frei,

Brought Kultur, grace and charm: the very best!


Presidential scholars, SIS,

Consolidated budget, reasoned ways;

Three billion gladly given for all this:

Your endless new succession of first days.


From Sand Hill Road, to sports, to Nobels rare,

Eight jobs you held to run these product lines.

You've made The Farm the object of your care;

For Stanford these have been the best of times!


To us your term of office never ends;

For now we'll always have you both as friends!

Another highlight of the dinner was a 17-minute videotape produced by News Service associate director Jack Hubbard, edited by Elizabeth Johnson and directed by Tamsin Orion of MediaWorks. The film weaves the serious with the humorous, providing a summary of Casper's presidency that will surely take an important place in the university's archives. It begins with tape from the press conference announcing Casper's appointment and includes visuals of important physical improvements to the campus during his watch, such as the renovation of the museum.

"I knew when I came here from the University of Chicago four years ago, I would have strange and unusual duties," Casper says as he celebrates the opening of Bloomingdale's in the shopping center. Tape of other activities he might not have imagined -- rooting for the basketball team as a member of the Sixth Man Club and taking to the stage in Gaieties to perform the Macarena -- are also included. Former Provost Condoleezza Rice, Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, University Archivist Maggie Kimball, University Architect David Neuman and others provide commentary.

Rice says Casper always thinks of himself as a professor first. "When we would sit in the Faculty Senate together, he thought that the greatest thing was that sometimes the chair of the senate would slip and call him Professor Casper. There was no greater title to him than Professor Casper -- researcher, teacher, lover of knowledge."

Undergraduates surely will be clamoring to enroll in his next seminar. SR