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Gerhard Casper uses university motto to discuss freedoms

STANFORD -- Gerhard Casper officially swept into office on the "winds of freedom" Friday, Oct. 2, using Stanford's unofficial motto to discuss the freedoms and responsibilities that should guide universities.

Stanford's ninth president offered an audience of 7,000 gathered in Frost Amphitheater for his inauguration a scholarly lesson on the derivation of the motto, mixed with low-key, self- deprecating humor.

He said Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, and university founder Leland Stanford made a "splendid choice" when they informally adopted the German words Die Luft der Freiheit weht - "the wind of freedom blows" - for the presidential seal.

That wind must include the freedom to pursue knowledge, to challenge both established and new orthodoxies, to think independently and speak freely, and to find pleasure in the scholarly life, Casper said. Freedom knows no national or cultural boundaries and it "cannot blow in a closed and stuffy ivory tower," he said.

Teaching, learning and research must be constantly renewed with "fresh winds blowing," said the professor of law, whose scholarly message about the university's fundamental values was hailed by his fellow faculty members (see separate story).

Casper's speech was sandwiched by "two emeritus bookends," as President Emeritus Donald Kennedy said, referring to himself and President Emeritus Richard W. Lyman.

Pointing out that at Casper's request the inauguration doubled as the annual new-student convocation, Kennedy "introduced" his successor and the student body to each other. He told Casper that Stanford students "create something here by way of community that is extraordinary."

"Compared with similar groups I have known elsewhere," Kennedy said, "they care more for one another, and invest more heavily in the quality of their collective existence."

He also told Casper that the students "have a well- developed sense of whimsy, which you may find surprising and amusing at times and merely surprising at others, as when you discover that the Band's brand of political satire is often less than sensitive to the feelings of some of your constituents."

Lyman called on the Stanford community to help Casper succeed in a job he cannot do alone.

"If there is one truth about a university presidency today, it is that more is expected of a president than any one human being can possibly provide," Lyman said.

Casper will need "our energies, our patience, our best efforts at whatever we do for the university and, perhaps most of all, our capacity to cope with all of the vexing frictions among ourselves that can devastatingly divide and distract us," he said.

While new leadership does not require blind followership, Lyman said, he urged the community - in the words of Haas Professor of Public Service and former trustee John Gardner - to be "loving, nurturing critics."

Most parts of the institution are feeling some adverse impact from the "severe buffeting" of recent years, Lyman said.

"Generosity of heart and mind are not easily summoned by people and groups that are feeling threatened," Lyman said. Yet those are the qualities the new president "will need most of all."

Provost Gerald J. Lieberman introduced John Freidenrich, officially elected chairman of the Board of Trustees the previous day, and Freidenrich officially invested Casper as president, helping him don the presidential robe that was carried to the podium by Ron Brown, chair of the Associated Students' senate.

Confessions of a president

In his speech, Casper entertained the crowd, including about 500 faculty in academic robes, with the confession that he knew nothing of the Stanford motto until the evening before the public announcement of his appointment.

"I flunked" what might be called an "advanced placement test" administered by history Professor James Sheehan, Casper said. His interest roused, he "spent the intervening hours educating myself."

"It is obvious to me," Casper joked, that Jordan recommended the German words so Casper a century later could speculate at his first press conference that "trustees had chosen me because they wanted a president who could pronounce the original properly."

In the months since that press conference, Casper researched the motto's derivation, only to discover that the "original of the original" is in Latin: videtis illam spirare libertatis auram ("you see the wind of freedom is blowing").

"Since it is notorious that no two students of Latin the world over can agree on its pronunciation, there is no particular reason why my pronunciation should be preferred," he said.

Under the circumstances, if trustees "would feel it appropriate to renounce their contract with me I would understand perfectly," Casper said to wide laughter, asking only for "the opportunity to finish this speech."

A history lesson

Speaking to an audience that included presidents from 10 other California universities and colleges, as well as Casper's "fellow members of the first-year class and fellow transfer students," Casper explained that the words on the president's seal were written by the German humanist Ulrich von Hutten.

Hutten fled a monastery school at age 17, becoming a vagrant student in search of humanistic learning at universities in Germany and Italy.

"He had greater difficulties in finding the right place than you have had in settling on Stanford," Casper told the new students.

in 1521 when church reformer Martin Luther was called before the Diet of Worms "to abjure his beliefs and teachings," Hutten wrote three Invectives in Latin, warning his and Luther's enemies among the clergy that they should recognize that the wind of freedom was blowing.

Hutten was concerned with freedom from the Inquisition and church orthodoxy, Casper said. Hutten earlier co-authored a satire defending preservation of Hebrew literature against efforts by the emperor to destroy all Jewish books.

Freedom for Hutten also included "intellectual freedom, the freedom to engage in fearless inquiry and the freedom to speak your mind robustly and without inhibition," Casper said, foreshadowing the principles that he said should guide modern universities.

University principles

Casper suggested nine "winds of freedom" for Stanford:

  • Freedom to pursue knowledge. The unfettered pursuit of knowledge is taken for granted by many, Casper said, but Hutten and his humanist friends "had to fight for it and others must still do battle for it even today."
  • Freedom to challenge established orthodoxy. "The main task of the university is to question and to challenge fundamental assumptions and practices - that is, by implication, to favor change if these assumptions and practices prove to be wrong," Casper said.

A university's commitment must be to knowledge and research for their own sake, not to specific results, he said.

"Only in one respect must the university be rigidly conservative: It must protect the openness, the rigor, the seriousness of its work in education and research," Casper said.

  • Freedom to challenge new orthodoxy. "Just as traditions should not be embraced merely because they are traditions, the newest intellectual fashions should not rule just because they are new," Casper said.
  • Freedom to think independently. Faculty and students in a university must be free to think and speak for themselves. "A university must not have dominant ways of thinking," Casper said. "Hutten was, in Jordan's words, 'intolerant of intolerance.' No university can thrive unless each member is accepted as an autonomous individual and can speak and will be listened to without regard to labels and stereotypes."
  • Freedom of speech. Members of the university community must be free to "speak plainly, without concealment and to the point - that is, without endless hedgings and escape clauses."
  • Freedom to take pleasure in the life of the mind. Casper quoted a statement from Hutten about his own student days: "It is a pleasure to live. . . . Studies blossom and the minds move."

Education - a two-way process benefiting both teachers and students - is still "primarily about 'studies blossoming' and 'minds moving,' " Casper said.

He is often asked whether teaching will be a priority in his administration, Casper said.

"Of course it will. As will be research," he said. "The question is well meant, but ill conceived. In the best universities - and you are at one of the best universities in the world - teaching, learning and research are all equally important elements of the all- embracing search to know."

  • Freedom knows no national or cultural boundaries. Few universities are better positioned than Stanford to "become a place of learning with a truly inter-national and inter- cultural character," Casper said.

"We need to understand, appreciate and value differences, while realizing that without a common thread holding us together we shall be lost," he said.

  • The wind of freedom cannot blow in a stuffy ivory tower. University community members should not shy away from social and political issues. "Public service is their freedom, indeed their obligation," Casper said.

But Casper quoted his late Chicago colleague Harry Kalven as saying that a university "cannot take collective action on the issues of day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness." To do so would inhibit the "full freedom of dissent on which it thrives and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints," Kalven said.

  • Teaching, learning and research benefit from fresh winds blowing. Universities, including Stanford, will be "doomed," Casper said, unless "we remain committed to the support of original investigation of the first rank, and the investments in education and training that go with it."

A "substantial measure of freedom" in setting research priorities is necessary for high-quality research.

"I worry that as we attend to the shortcomings of universities, we as a country are losing sight of the conditions that create good work and good institutions," Casper said. "We should also remember that burning the midnight oil, hard work in study and laboratory, remains the rule at Stanford and its sister universities even if those who see only shortcomings will not admit it.

"The research enterprise can easily be smothered by internal and external politics, pressures and red tape. The wind of freedom has been a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for making our great universities the envy of the world. Without that freedom, that greatness is imperiled."

Casper closed by encouraging students to seize opportunities so they could experience "all the pleasures that come from studies blossoming and minds moving."

At the ceremony's end, senior music major Amy J. Lieberman directed the singing of the Stanford Hymn, and University Carillonneur Timothy Zerlang played the carillon atop Hoover Tower.

The department of music played an important role in the ceremony, reflecting one of Casper's cultural interests.

Pieces the department chose to represent the range of its program included a prelude composed and performed by Kwame Yao Anku, a junior in African and African-American Studies; processional music composed and conducted by Arthur P. Barnes, professor of music and director of bands, and performed by the Stanford Brass Ensemble; a fanfare composed by Jody D. Rockmaker, assistant professor of music, composition and theory, and performed by organist Kimberly Marshall, assistant professor of music; and Mendelssohn's Festival Song: To the Artists, performed by the combined Stanford choral organizations, conducted by Gregory A. Wait, senior lecturer in music. The Stanford String Quartet performed Haydn's Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4.

Also taking part in the ceremony was Patricia L. Ryan, senior lecturer in acting, who read from the writings of Jane Lathrop Stanford.



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