AFTER accepting the presidency of Stanford University,
German-born Gerhard Casper joked that he was hired for his ability
to pronounce the university's informal motto: Die Luft der Freiheit
weht (the wind of freedom is blowing).
Yet Mr. Casper, who is known for his good-natured humor and
engaging charm, is well aware that the job will require more than
Last summer, following disclosures that Stanford overcharged the
goverment for the indirect costs of federal research, Donald
Kennedy announced his resignation as president of the Palo Alto,
Calif., campus. The controversy has left the university in turmoil
for more than a year. Casper, who has been provost at the
University of Chicago since 1989, is a respected administrator and
legal scholar. On Sept. 1, he takes over as the ninth president of
In an interview at the University of Chicago, Casper spoke about
his new position and the state of American universities in general.
Why are you willing to take on the presidency of Stanford,
despite the difficulty of the times?
I came to the conclusion that the fundamentals at Stanford are
very good indeed....
The last two years have been very tough on Stanford, in the
sense that Washington has focused on Stanford, the press has
focused on Stanford. But, of course, the focus has all been more or
less on what went wrong in terms of accounting controls.... Very
little was ever said about Stanford's contributions to what you
might call the national welfare....
As the provost at Chicago, I still was thinking of Stanford as a
very major competitor. There have been no dramatic changes.
But there has been an erosion of trust. How do you expect to
regain public confidence in the university?
First ... by completing whatever will remain to be completed ...
to make sure that Stanford has appropriate controls in place.
Second, by pointing out that Stanford is an institution of
higher education that has very few equals. That it would be very
easy to destroy. But that it is infinitely more important to keep
going.... It takes decades or sometimes centuries to build up
institutions of this quality. It takes almost no time to destroy
them, and the costs of that to the country would be tremendous.
Now, how would I as president of Stanford get that message
across? Well, in part, my accent helps. I am in the United States
because I was captivated by the best in the United States. I was a
student at Yale, I was a faculty member at the University of
California at Berkeley, I have spent more than a quarter of a
century at the University of Chicago. I am in the United States
because I think the best American universities have no equals in
Are you concerned that American universities are losing their
I am concerned that they are losing their luster, and I'm
concerned because if we get into the habit of university bashing we
will make everybody lose confidence.
University bashing is not the same as criticizing universities.
Universities make mistakes, and the mistakes should be criticized.
But it's quite a different thing to bash, and I think we have seen
a fair amount of bashing in the last year or so.
We have come to expect an awful lot of universities.... The
demands are increasing all the time, and one of the dangers I see
is that we are ... going to divert universities from what they are
primarily about, which is to teach the next generation and to do
research. And those two things go together. I have never seen a
conflict between teaching and research. I think they are just two
sides of the same coin.
But there is a great deal of tension between teaching and
research. How do you plan to alleviate that at Stanford?
Yes, the tension is there.... When I became provost here I
thought we should monitor the quality of our teaching performance
more than we had, and I established a standing committee of the
faculty called the Council on Teaching that is to help in all of