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Gerhard Casper records first interview with student radio station

STANFORD -- Three months into his presidency, Gerhard Casper has discovered that the Stanford community hangs on his every word - and his silence.

"I am much more a public figure than I ever bargained for," Casper said in an interview with student radio station KZSU recorded Monday, Nov. 30. The half-hour segment will be broadcast at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, on 90.1 FM.

Casper joked with student interviewer Sonya Crawford that his words are "thrown up into the air, looked at from below, turned around [and] squeezed" by a public and press eager to read policy statements into innocent comments and "even my silences."

The excess scrutiny has not made him back off expressing his views, he said, but "I have learned to shrug my shoulders a little."

However, he admitted getting "a little tense" during a recent interview when two student reporters arrived with a list of 25 "immensely complex" questions, and expected him to answer in "sound bites."

"That is not appropriate for a university," he said, praising academe as a place where difficult issues can be laid out in depth for community-wide debate.

"We are not a political party or a party convention," Casper said of his aversion to sound bites.

He said he is aware that some consider him "a mystery" or "enigmatic," but that comes from the notion that he or any other human being can be summed up in a simple formula.

"Most of us are pretty complicated" and cannot be reduced to easy labels, he said.

Casper has used dorm visits, he said, to explain who he is and "how some aspects of my prior education and experience are relevant to my beliefs."

Regarding the current speech-code issue, he cited his belief in the need for a "high degree of civility" in a multicultural setting such as Stanford or the United States generally.

"My insistence on that," he said, "reflects to some extent having been born in a country where not only there was little civility toward one group of citizens - the Jewish population - but indeed the very opposite: murderous instincts."

Casper emphasized his view that "the more free speech, the better," but said no changes in Stanford's speech code are needed because it tightly focuses disapproval on "fighting words," which the Supreme Court has ruled are not protected speech.

"It is not necessarily desirable to believe that the highest value on campus is the ability to engage in ethnic or racial slurs," Casper said.

In addition to free-speech issues, Casper discussed administrative reorganization, educational standards, teaching evaluation, and the balance between teaching and research.

He said that on the whole, reaction to the reorganization has been very positive. In September, Casper announced reduction in the number of vice presidents to four.

He said there would be further organizational changes at lower levels, and that "people may react more critically."

In the area of teaching quality, Casper said he had discussed with the seven-member faculty Advisory Board how to incorporate more relevant information on teaching in the faculty appointment and promotions process.

In teaching evaluation, he suggested more emphasis on peer review, although some will view that "as interfering with the autonomy of the teacher in the classroom."

Student evaluations can be valuable, but should not be the primary basis for judging teaching quality, he said. Students often put a premium on entertainment, but years later may realize that a professor's seemingly boring lectures laid important ground in their education, Casper said.

In other entertainment-related comments, Casper said he enjoyed performing in Big Game Gaieties.

"I always wanted to be an actor, and Stanford students were the first ones to give me an opportunity," he said laughing.

Reflecting his love of serious music, Casper joked that the most tempting offer he had received as president was an invitation by KZSU to become a classical music disc jockey.

"I immediately took it to all the senior staff in Building 10 and said, 'How about if I devote two hours a week to a show at the radio station?'

"They said I was out of my mind," he told Crawford with a laugh.



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