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Casper summarizes first-year projects and looks to future
STANFORD -- It was a hectic first year, but also "incredibly exciting and challenging," President Gerhard Casper said Wednesday, June 23, during an interview with the local news media in which he summarized the first 10 months in his job as Stanford's ninth president.
"To some extent, I can say that I had a ball," Casper told the small group of reporters. But coming home from a ball at 3 a.m. "you sometimes tend to be exhausted," he said, admitting the job at times had been tiring.
"There's no such thing as a free ball," he said laughing.
Casper listed projects undertaken in his first year, declining to take credit for any of them as "accomplishments." He discussed Stanford's reputation, his three-year-degree discussion- starter, multiculturalism, recent high-level appointments he has made and his priorities for next year.
His recent appointments of provost, dean of humanities and sciences, and general counsel were based on "quality, quality, quality.
That's the only thing I'm interested in," he said.
He praised the national newspaper USA Today for its headline about his appointment of political science Professor Condoleezza Rice as provost: "Stanford picks youngest provost ever." That headline "gave me vastly more pleasure" than one from another newspaper that said "Stanford appoints black woman as provost."
"Ms. Rice needs no affirmative action by anybody," he said. On the other hand, he said, her age was important. "I did want somebody of that generation in the leadership of Stanford," he said.
Casper said that Rice will have the traditional responsibilities of provost: chief academic and chief budget officer.
However, he said he also will view her as a deputy president, ready to "step into my shoes." In the contemporary university, leadership has to work as a team, Casper said. There is less separation than most people think between academic and non- academic affairs, and external and internal affairs, he said.
"Everything is a seamless, interconnected web these days," Casper said. "If I'm not available, I will call on her to represent Stanford to the outside world. She will obviously be very effective at it."
Casper said he was not worried about Rice's lack of experience with university budgets.
"When I became provost at the University of Chicago, I knew nothing about the budget," he said. "Condi is immensely capable. She will acquire all the necessary knowledge in no time.
"We also have a very good and very strong budget office, and a lot of professional support."
Stunning students; multiculturalism
One of his surprises in coming to Stanford, Casper said, is that the quality of the student body and the faculty is "more stunning than I was prepared for."
Each needs the other, Casper said. "We won't get good students unless we have a good faculty," he said. Students also depend on one another: They learn as much from fellow students as they learn from faculty, he said.
A measure of faculty quality, he said, is the fact that Stanford provided 15 percent of the U.S. scholars elected this year to the National Academy of Sciences.
Stanford is a lively place; and the students, particularly, are "very lively," he said.
Countering criticism that he has not spent enough time listening to students, Casper said he visits informally with students on his daily walks between the Lou Henry Hoover House and Building 10. He also has met with many students in 11 dormitory discussions, which he has found to be "exceedingly forthright. The students are very articulate. They certainly do not hide their views. That has been very refreshing."
Among the issues discussed is multiculturalism, which he said is defined by some people as simply affirmative action and by some others as diversity going beyond affirmative action. The latter includes the notion that to reap the benefits of affirmative action, "you should be ready to support the diversity you have brought to campus."
"One obviously has to be in support of that," he said.
Among major private research and teaching universities, Stanford "is clearly a leader. We have a more diverse student body" than any of our peers, he said.
He reminded reporters that he has given high priority to raising more money for Stanford's ethnic theme centers.
Beyond the two standard definitions, multiculturalism should also refer to greater appreciation for different cultures, he said. Knowledge of foreign civilizations - for example, India, most of Asia and aspects of Latin America - remains very superficial in the United States, Casper said.
A red herring emerged during spring quarter, Casper said, with the use of the word "transcultural."
"God protect us against this noun! It is a term I would not use. I don't like it," Casper said.
He referred to his inaugural remarks about an emerging world "culture of cultures," in which there will be more differentiation, but also more assimilation.
What the exact mix will be and what a university must do to continue hanging together as a unit are interesting questions that have not yet been addressed at Stanford or elsewhere, he said.
Casper said he would take time this summer to think more about the various elements that fall under the concept of multiculturalism. He also is scheduled to meet soon with a committee that will review the Office of Multicultural Development. And the Cabinet will review in the fall what recommendations of the University Committee on Minority Issues realistically can be implemented, he said.
Priorities next year
The single most important agenda item for next year, Casper said, will be the Commission on Undergraduate Education.
"I would expect that it would preoccupy all of us all year in various settings," he said.
He said he would not relax the announced deadline for the committee's work, although "I would have the surprise of my life if we have the report by the end of the academic year."
He predicted that the commission would discover that what it is taking on is "an even bigger task than we already understand," and that flexibility will be required. "Undergraduate education is much too important and has too many facets" to be unduly rushed," he said. On the other hand, "I think high expectations and pressure work very well," and those helped the recent Medical Center task force.
The undergraduate commission is expected to study, among other things, the possibility of instituting the option of a three-year undergraduate degree.
The State University of New York is giving serious thought to the issue, Casper said, and is organizing a conference on the subject this summer. Casper cannot attend the meeting, but is sending a Stanford delegate, he said.
Casper repeated the story that he began questioning the conventional four-year program while serving as provost at Chicago, where "nobody paid any attention to me."
He would have waited longer to raise the issue at Stanford, but after a page one story emerged from a meeting with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board, "I decided I might just as well push it now while the iron was hot."
Casper said he links the issue to the high cost of college, which can exceed $100,000 for four years. But he also thinks that "slack" has developed in Stanford's undergraduate program, citing as evidence the fact that about 20 percent of all undergraduates are able to graduate in four years with double majors, double degrees or co-terminal (bachelor's and master's degree simultaneously).
These students "already are practicing the three-year degree program," he said. They fulfill basic requirements in three years, then add some further value in the fourth year.
In some areas, such as engineering, three years would be "very, very difficult to accomplish, because there are so many accreditation requirements now imposed on undergraduate engineering degrees."
Casper also said he would get more involved in actual fund raising next year and that financial planning would be high on his agenda of important issues.
The president and law professor said he continues to dream of teaching a course, perhaps a winter-quarter senior seminar on constitutionalism that would compare constitutional developments currently taking place in Eastern Europe and the rest of the world.
However, his assistant, Ingrid Deiwiks, has told him that next year's calendar is "already looking forbidding, even now," he said.
Looking back over his past year's calendar, Casper said that in addition to routine administrative matters, he had:
Casper concluded his list expressing satisfaction with arrangements made to establish nine graduate student fellowships in the name of outgoing Provost Gerald J. Lieberman. This is both to honor him and to make clear that, although undergraduate education has taken up much of his time, "graduate student issues are very important indeed."
Casper said he had no serious complaints about news coverage of him, except "when I think facts are wrong." He has no difficulty, he said, with any assessments the news media might make about his performance.
On the other hand, there are some "amazing stories" out there, like his "famous office in Hoover Tower." He chided reporters from the Palo Alto Weekly and San Francisco Chronicle for reading deep political meaning into his tower office.
After discovering the magnificent view from Hoover Tower last fall, Casper said he asked Hoover Director John Raisian, "Couldn't you give me an office up there?"
It was the "stunning" view he was after, Casper said, which beats the dumpster he sees out the back windows of his Building 10 office. He has used the quiet second office only three times, he said, to work on his state of the university address and other speeches.
Over the course of his first 10 months, Casper has grown more accustomed to intense media interest in his words and actions, but he said his astonishment about it never ends.
He said he told the editor of the Chicago Tribune that the difference between Stanford and Chicago was that no one in Chicago would have even reported on his inaugural address, whereas Peninsula newspapers speculated on his speech before it was delivered.
Asked about his role in improving Stanford's image, Casper said he does not want to create false appearances or be motivated just by public relations concerns.
"That's not my style and that's not what I'm about," he said. "I obviously want the world to look at Stanford fairly, and I think the world has not looked at Stanford fairly."
To the extent that he has given speeches to alumni and talked to government officials, "you can say that I'm trying to improve Stanford's image," Casper said. But "I shy away from any terms having to do with public relations jargon."
Responding to a question about information and control, he said he had "no control" whatsoever over the crucial issues at a university - faculty appointments, curriculum and student admissions.
"I wish I had a lot. But I certainly don't. Nor is it my style," Casper said.
"Universities are basically wide open. There's nothing happening at Stanford that is a secret to anybody. I happen not to be secretive; but if you wanted to be, you couldn't," he said. Stanford is a "very open place."
He said that discussions at Tuesday morning meetings with his advisers are very "uninhibited and robust. There is genuine give-and-take."
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