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Casper announces initiatives to bolster humanities and arts

President Gerhard Casper announced a $12 million initiative to add four new faculty billets in the humanities and the arts during his annual State of the University address at Kresge Auditorium on Oct. 16.

During the hour-long speech, Casper also reflected upon his first five years as president and looked ahead to the future. He vowed that if Proposition O was defeated and a competing proposition is approved by Palo Alto voters on Nov. 4, Stanford would withdraw its offer to pay for the widening and extension of Sand Hill Road.

Strengthening the humanities and the arts

Each new professorship in the humanities and the arts will be supported by a $3 million "super" endowment that is being funded by the university, Casper said. The billets, he explained, will be held in the School of Humanities and Sciences and will be allocated to departments for the duration of the appointment of the chairholders.

An endowed professorship is usually supported by $2 million in endowment funds. The larger endowments for these new professorships will be used as a recruiting tool, Casper said.

"These professorships will enable the humanities departments to appoint the most distinguished scholars working in these fields today," he said. "The opportunity to make such appointments should encourage departments to think ambitiously and imaginatively about ways to strengthen the humanities as a whole."

The creation of these new billets is the first in a series of steps that the president and the provost are undertaking to transform the humanities and the arts into a "more visible and dynamic participant in shaping, enriching and challenging the intellectual agenda across the university," Casper said.

A second step is the establishment of a series of lectures to be known as the "Stanford Presidential Lectures and Symposia in the Humanities and Arts." The intent of the program, which Casper announced he will fund for two years, is to bring top-notch scholars to Stanford for two or three days to give a lecture and participate in panel discussions about the relationship between the humanities and other disciplines, such as the social sciences and engineering.

"The series should examine the appropriate tasks for the arts and the humanities as we look toward the future," said Casper, who has asked Hans Gumbrecht, the Albert Guerard Professor of Literature and a member of the departments of Comparative Literature and French and Italian, to direct this effort.

The Sand Hill Road project

Casper spoke in unequivocal terms when he discussed the fate of Measure O, the Stanford-backed plan to extend Sand Hill Road to El Camino Real.

Palo Alto residents will decide between Measure O, a city-approved plan which calls for about 1,000 new housing units and expansions and improvements to Sand Hill Road and the Stanford Shopping Center, and Measure M, a citizen's initiative ballot measure that calls for limited expansion of Sand Hill Road and the shopping center and a shift in housing location away from San Francisquito Creek to an undetermined area.

"Would Stanford consider spending, once again, its resources in relation to Measure M?" Casper asked. "After five years of hard work and $8 million in direct costs, my answer is an unequivocal 'No.' Our opponents seem to believe that Stanford stands for nothing in this dispute. I hope my record over the last five years has made it clear that I mean what I say and that I say what I mean."

Casper emphasized that the Stanford-backed, city-approved plan provides two items that are of critical importance to the university: a solution to the Sand Hill Road bottleneck that will also greatly improve access to the Medical Center, and new housing on land zoned for housing.

"The short supply of housing near campus is perhaps the gravest foreseeable threat to the university's future, because it severely handicaps recruitment and retention of the faculty and staff the university needs," he said.

If Measure O is defeated, Casper said Stanford will abandon its efforts to resolve the traffic bottleneck along a 2-mile stretch of Sand Hill Road between Santa Cruz Avenue and El Camino Real.

"As fiduciaries, neither I nor the Board of Trustees can agree to squander resources on a measure that brings no benefits by comparison with Measure O, but imposes unconscionable costs on the responsible use of the legacy that Leland and Jane Stanford created for the benefit of future generations and their pursuit of teaching, learning and research," Casper said. "I will not be a party to such an undertaking."

Looking back

Reflecting on his first five years as president, Casper said he has been guided by the strong belief that a university is "a place for teaching, learning and research. Its fundamental purpose is not the resolution of political issues ­ no matter how pressing or important."

One of his greatest regrets, he said, is that he did not appeal a court ruling two years ago that struck down Stanford's speech policy. In spite of his strong views that private universities should be permitted to set standards of behavior for their own students, Casper said he decided not to appeal the ruling because "it didn't seem appropriate to spend Stanford's limited resources of money, time and attention to fight a case that, given the superficiality of the debate in the media and public, was portrayed as involving only the legitimacy of what hyperbolically were referred to as 'speech codes.' "

On the academic front, Casper highlighted the substantial progress that has been made in recent years toward improving undergraduate education.

The freshman and sophomore seminars; the new science, mathematics and engineering core; and the newly revamped Introduction to the Humanities course were among the programs he singled out as being exceptional for cultivating an "unceasing process of inquiry" among students early in their undergraduate experience.

Casper also noted the success of the Stanford Graduate Fellowships program, which, when fully implemented, will provide financial support for a minimum of 300 graduate students per year. The first class of fellows was admitted this past spring, and the overall acceptance rate of the group was 56 percent.

"This figure was significantly higher than the faculty steering committee had expected for such outstanding students who had multiple offers from leading universities," Casper said.

Turning to the future, Casper said his top priorities include integrating information technology into the classroom, assuring the success of the hospital merger and raising additional endowment funds.


By Marisa Cigarroa

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