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STANFORD -- Donald Kennedy, president of Stanford University since August 1980, announced Monday, July 29, that he would step down from that post in August 1992.
"At present we are talking too much about our problems and too little about our opportunities," Kennedy said in a Sunday, July 28, letter to the trustees that he disclosed to them at their Monday meeting. "And, to be quite frank about it, there is entirely too much speculation about my future at Stanford. It is very difficult, I have concluded, for a person identified with a problem to be the spokesman for its solution.
"We need to banish ambiguity and to look to the future as we resolve the problems of the past."
The 59-year-old Kennedy - who each year begins his Commencement farewell to the graduates by posing the question "Is there life after Stanford?" - said his plans for life after the presidency are to "help make Stanford the university of academic and policy studies" in environmental concerns.
That would follow Kennedy's recognized national leadership in advocating renewed dedication to teaching, public service, and greater diversity in student enrollment.
Kennedy's tenure as president also has been marked by the creation of major new facilities, with the value of the university's physical plant more than doubling since he took office. Acknowledged as an exceptional fund-raiser, he helped Stanford in June pass the $1.1-billion goal of its Centennial campaign. And during his decade, Stanford completed its emergence as a "world university."
"Don Kennedy has given Stanford brilliant leadership," said George P. Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State, and now a Stanford business school professor and Hoover Institution fellow. "The university today stands among the greatest in the world, and Don's contribution to that standing has been immense.
"I trust he will continue to be a part of Stanford and continue to be a major contributor, not only to Stanford but to higher education as a whole. I salute him for his great work."
John Gardner - former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, founder of Common Cause, and now a Stanford business school professor of public service - shared that opinion.
"Don Kennedy has provided more than a decade of outstanding leadership for Stanford University," Gardner said. "He has placed the university in a leadership position with respect to student public service. He has launched a significant initiative for emphasis on teaching. And he has carried through the biggest university fund drive ever attempted. The record is one of which he can be very proud."
That record has been overshadowed in recent months by the university's embroilment with the federal government on reimbursement for the indirect cost of research. The university has withdrawn more than $1.3 million in charges over the last decade that it said were errors - such as the depreciation on a 72-foot yacht donated to the athletics and recreation department - or inappropriate - such as a cedar closet for the university's presidential residence.
On July 22, Stanford announced a reform program to change fundamentally its financial systems and policies and strengthen its accountability for public funds.
Hard questions, loyal and candid conversations
In his letter, Kennedy referred to the problem and to the reform program Stanford announced a week earlier to help solve it.
"At this critical point, it will not be surprising to you that I have been asking myself hard questions about the institution's leadership," he wrote. "What actions on my own part are most likely to relieve ambiguity about our direction, to heal internal differences, and thus add to the momentum for change and improvement?
"I have used the time since our Commencement meeting to gather views on this subject. I have sought the advice of many thoughtful people, including especially some of my wisest colleagues on the Stanford faculty. I am deeply grateful both for the loyalty and for the candor that have characterized these conversations. The warmth in expressions of support and the astringent frankness of criticism have helped equally to form my views
"Over the past six weeks, as I reflected on this advice, my own thinking shifted. With great reluctance at first, but with growing confidence, I reached the conclusion that I share with you now: I intend to step down as President of Stanford University at the end of the academic year 1991-92."
As is customary, Kennedy made his resignation effective far enough in the future to allow the university to complete a search for his successor.
"In the meantime, there is much work to do," he wrote. "I want this to be a productive year, one that engages the difficult work of repair and finishes it, leaving a clear track for my successor. I do not intend it to be a lame-duck assignment."
An active final year as president would be fully in keeping with Kennedy's career since he joined the Stanford faculty in biological sciences in 1960. Except for two and one-half years as U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner, he has been a prominent figure on the campus ever since.
He became Stanford's eighth president on Aug. 1, 1980 - after exactly one year as provost, the university's chief academic officer - and was formally inaugurated on Oct. 12. The trustees, faculty, students and alumni who participated in the search for a successor to President Richard W. Lyman said that Kennedy was their unanimous first choice.
Kennedy's more than a decade as Stanford president gives him seniority over most of his peers. Among the chief executives of the 58 institutions in the Association of American Universities - the top research schools in the United States and Canada - Kennedy ranks 11th in length of service in his current post, and three of the presidents ahead of him on the list have previously announced their retirements. A 1986 survey by the American Council on Education found the average length of service for a college president to be seven years.
As he passed the 10-year mark of his presidency last fall, Kennedy reflected on the decreasing longevity of academic leaders and cited the cumulative effect of making tough decisions at a major institution.
He called it "the silver bullet theory of leadership. You start out with 10 silver bullets and over the course of years, you fire them all."
"You accumulate opposition," he said. "People don't like adverse decisions, and every decision you make is adverse to somebody. But nobody who is grown up is surprised or troubled by that. It's just a fact of life."
Among the issues on which Kennedy faced that fact were the indirect-cost controversy; his initiative to reemphasize undergraduate teaching; the "domestic partners" decision, which granted unmarried students in long-term committed relationships the same housing and other privileges as married students; the massive "Near West Campus" plan to build new science facilities; the expansion of the Western Culture curriculum into Cultures, Ideas and Values (CIV); and the relationship with the former director of the on-campus Hoover Institution, including the debate over a proposal to build the Reagan presidential library at Stanford.
Kennedy said his experience in the public arena as U.S. Food and Drug Administration commissioner had thickened his skin and made him well aware "that if you are making decisions, you are going to be criticized for them, and that you should listen to the criticism but not resent the critics."
He may have outlasted many presidents, in part, because of a decision early in his tenure. In a March 1981 interview on student radio station KZSU, Kennedy vowed not to let the job pressures narrow his perspective.
"The president is ultimately the person to whom the problems come," he said. "It's terribly easy some weeks to get the idea, three 12- hour days into the week, that everything's going badly, because all you've heard about, all you've dealt with or planned about, are things that are in trouble.
"What you need then is to walk around or visit a dormitory or to give a class or to meet a student who wants to come in and talk about a career choice.... I find those occasions very uplifting because they're not automatically negative. They're not the kind of problems that are programmed for the president's desk because they haven't been solved by anybody else. Instead, they're the kinds of things that go on around here day by day, and make this a terrific place.
"One of the things I've learned in the first six months is that I've simply got to plan my life so I see that 98 percent at least as much as I see the 2 percent."
Indeed, Kennedy sees some of the greatest achievements of his administration in several of the very issues that drew criticism - such as the teaching initiative and the construction of "desperately needed" new facilities.
Supporting those have been Kennedy's accomplishments as a gifted fund-raiser. In June, Stanford passed the $1.1 billion goal of its Centennial campaign, and during his tenure its endowment tripled to almost $2 billion.
Tied into both of those has been Kennedy's active support for the Stanford University Medical Center, which is credited as a major reason for its rise. Among his contributions there are separation of the Stanford University Hospital into a more autonomous organization, and its $153- million physical renovation; leadership in the Medical Center's fund- raising campaign and facilities growth, with results such as the $53- million Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic medicine; and being a prime force behind the creation of the $100-million Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
Along with his friend, former Harvard President Derek Bok, Kennedy advocated and nurtured public service among students, and faculty and staff members. His initiative led to the creation of the Haas Center for Public Service, numerous fellowships for students to design and carry out public service projects, release time for staff members to do community service ,and the 1989 establishment of the Haas Centennial Professorship of Public Service, whose first holder is Gardner.
During Kennedy's tenure, Stanford completed its emergence as a "world university" through new research and teaching programs, such as Stanford in Washington in the nation's capital; extension of the overseas campus program to Kyoto, Japan, and Oxford, England; and the creation of the Institute for International Studies, with President Emeritus Lyman recruited to return as its director.
Former Secretary of State Shultz returned to the Stanford faculty in 1989. Shultz helped forge university ties with such leaders as Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Candian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, and helped arrange the Stanford visit of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev on June 4, 1990.
The Gorbachev visit, Kennedy said, both confirmed Stanford's status as "one of the really great, extraordinary institutions in the country," and laid the foundation for new cooperation between American and Soviet institutions. It also, he said, gave Stanford students the opportunity to "touch history."
During Kennedy's term, Stanford students also have had an extraordinary number of opportunities to touch the president. Kennedy personally advises several students each quarter and regularly makes himself available to students - individually, in groups, and through the student newspaper and radio station.
"Kennedy is not someone whom students hear once when they arrive and then once when they graduate," said an April 12, 1991, editorial in the student-run Stanford Daily. "Whether speaking on KZSU radio or participating in a panel discussion or a symposium, Kennedy has made a habit of keeping in touch with the students."
The editorial cited "Kennedy's positive attitude and the forthright and charismatic manner in which he has kept in touch with us." The president also is noted for his spirit and ready sense of humor.
When the Stanford men's swim team won the NCAA championship in 1985, they had a team picture taken with Kennedy - them in swimsuits, him in his normal business suit. Kennedy promised that if they repeated, they would reverse attire. Sure enough, the Cardinal took a second- straight national title in 1986, and Kennedy now has on his outer office wall a picture of 24 athletes in coats and ties surrounding one president wearing nothing but a smile and a Speedo.
One of the few university presidents - or, for that matter, persons over 50 - who could dare allow such a photo, Kennedy is a lifelong athlete. Students, faculty and staff have a standing invitation to join him Tuesdays and Fridays on his morning runs, and he often can be seen - with suit, tie and briefcase - racing his bicycle across campus. He was a member, and later coach, of the ski team at Harvard University, where he earned three degrees in biology - bachelor's in 1952, master's in 1954 and doctorate in 1956. In 1977, he completed a term on Harvard's board of overseers.
At Stanford, he was chairman of the department of biological sciences from 1965 to 1972, and headed the program in human biology from 1974 to 1977, helping build one of the university's most popular undergraduate majors. He received a Dinkelspiel Award, the university's highest honor for outstanding service to education, in 1976.
In 1977, President Jimmy Carter named Kennedy commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There, he played a central role in the proposed ban on saccharin and in other health issues.
Upon Kennedy's completion of his term at the FDA, a New York Times editorial said: "Morale has been raised and the FDA's reputation is decidedly one of independence. One measure of the respect that Mr. Kennedy won is that spokesmen for both consumer and industry groups, who seldom agree on anything, rate him equally high."
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