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'To Every Thing There Is a Season'

Photo: Linda Cicero

By Gerhard Casper

A few months ago, an alumna wrote me a charming letter in which she referred to the "10 years" of my Stanford presidency. Given the pace I have maintained since coming to the University, 10 years is at least the way it feels. But the truth is that, when I step down on August 31, 2000, I shall have completed eight years of service as president.

I hope that, even among those who disagree with some, most, or all of what I have pursued, only a few doubt that I have worked for all of Stanford with complete dedication at all times. I feel not unlike Stanford's first president, David Starr Jordan, who quoted lines from a poem by noted humanist Ulrich von Hutten: "With open eyes I have dared, and cherish no regret." There is hardly an area of this complex and challenging institution that I have not tried to contribute to, for better or for worse. Indeed, it is among my greatest satisfactions that, contrary to many clichés about the contemporary university presidency, it is still possible for a president to concern himself with a wide range of institutional issues, from academic to structural and financial, even architectural, and make a difference.

The true university, however, as I have repeated over and over again, is a joint effort of a wide range of participants. It is the faculty, deans, chairs, students, trustees, senior officers, staff, alumni, parents, and local, national and worldwide friends whose active engagement makes Stanford a continuously renewed intellectual and moral effort. I understood this active engagement to be fact, not fiction, at Stanford when I met with the presidential search committee back in the spring of 1992. My understanding turned out to be right, and nothing that has been accomplished could have been done without the often unstinting collaboration of a great number of people. In an era of rapid change and considerable uncertainties, the University and I are much indebted to many for their strong commitment to the support of Stanford's core mission of teaching, learning and research. Jointly we have done and will continue to do the work of the University.

Having said that, I must stress that much is ahead of us. At a university, no time is ever an appropriate one to claim that tasks have been completed. I am fond of saying -- this, too, over and over again -- that all days of a university need to be first days. The work of the University is work that cannot be done unless it is continuously reconsidered. I believe it is about time to bring fresh perspectives to bear on the president's office. As the author of Ecclesiastes has put it: "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."

This coming year will be my 20th serving higher education in major leadership roles. As dean and provost at the University of Chicago and as president at Stanford, I have tried to maintain some intellectual presence through reading, teaching, speaking, writing and publishing. In the positions I have held, I have never ceased to consider myself as from the faculty and of the faculty. I need a season of refreshment and renewal. And it is high time for me to spend more time with family and friends.

In my last year, in addition to performing all my regular duties, I shall do my best to achieve a new general-use permit from Santa Clara County for the Stanford lands, giving Stanford the opportunity to change and grow in a manner consistent with its academic mission. I shall continue to devote much time and effort to the evolving relationship between Stanford and UCSF in the expectation that shortly we will determine our future course. I also hope that we shall make significant progress toward placing the Center for Bioengineering, Biomedicine and Biosciences on the Stanford map. Last, but definitely not least, I shall continue to do preparatory work for a campaign for undergraduate education at Stanford. If the Board of Trustees approves the campaign, I hope to play a role in the fund-raising effort.

I recently received an e-mail from the father of a senior, who shared an anecdote that was most poignant. He remembered his strong emotions when, at the Hartford airport, his daughter referred to her going back to Stanford from a summer on the East Coast, as "returning home." Like this student, I have spent most of my life elsewhere, but I have come to regard Stanford as my home.

Following a sabbatical, I intend to return to teaching at Stanford. In my years as president, I have taught four times within the undergraduate curriculum. Given the emphasis I have placed on the creation of Stanford Introductory Studies, I shall, in the years remaining, devote most of my efforts to our undergraduates.

There is much difficult work to do in the year ahead. I am looking forward to it, and I assure everyone that "lame duck" is not a role that I have played in the past or that I have any inclination to play in the future. As I said, jointly we have done and will continue to do the work of Stanford.

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