Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, October 25, 2000
'John understands what the search to know involves'

This is the prepared text of President Emeritus Gerhard Casper's speech at the inauguration of John L. Hennessy as Stanford's 10th president on Friday, Oct. 20, 2000.

I warmly welcome you to the inauguration of Professor John Hennessy as Stanford's 10th president.

Michael Polanyi, the Hungarian-British scientist and philosopher, once referred to the "apostolic succession of scientists." By this he meant, I assume, that those who participate in the search to know constitute continuity in a manner that is reminiscent of the supposedly unbroken line of succession of Catholic and Anglican bishops over almost two millennia. While the solemnity of today's inauguration may remind some of you of the investiture of a new bishop (and university presidents do, at least, have the preaching in common with bishops), the point of the metaphor, for me, is a different one. All teaching and scholarship builds on past scholarship and teaching, and the present generation is responsible for assuring the future of the scholarly enterprise, the search to know in its broadest sense.

Today is a joyous occasion as Stanford celebrates the willingness of a member of the academic community to succeed to the responsibility for the success of the "apostolic succession" of learning at our university. This succession comprehends more than mature teachers, scientists, scholars. Stanford is second to none in believing in an intellectual partnership between faculty and students in which the unroutinized minds of even the freshmen can "test the boundaries that convention has laid down."

In a way very few people do, John understands what the search to know involves, under what conditions it flourishes, how to maintain both breadth and depth and how important the academic integrity of university decision-making is.

I recently came across a newspaper cartoon in which an elderly man with glasses sits in an armchair reading a book. A woman, perhaps his wife, explains to a visitor: "Neville has an enormous store of knowledge, none of which is in any way relevant to the knowledge economy." As we work for and support Stanford in the second century of its existence, we do so acknowledging with pride and pleasure the Nevilles in our ranks and the fact that "techies" and "fuzzies" among faculty and students are united in their commitment to a university that is necessarily and relevantly concerned with all aspects of the human condition, its many layers that reflect and determine the quality of life.

Your presence here today is an expression of your own appreciation of Stanford's extraordinary role in the worldwide republic of learning and your appreciation of what has been, if I may stay with the canonist metaphor, the "holy spirit" of the search to know at Stanford: die Luft der Freiheit, the wind of freedom.

Even those among you who might otherwise give me the benefit of the doubt, recognize, of course, that the main reason I worked our motto into these welcoming remarks is my desire to provide you with one last chance to hear it pronounced properly.

Let us pledge our support to John in a task that has few matches as to difficulty, complexity and satisfactions. I trust that you feel, as I do, that Stanford is privileged in having persuaded this eminent academic to lead us.