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A conversation with President Gerhard Casper

STANFORD -- Taking advantage of an opportunity to speak directly to University President Gerhard Casper, staff members on Oct. 20 questioned him on issues ranging from "majority culture backlash" and the threat of layoffs to the role that community input should play in helping shape internal policy decisions.

The event, titled "A Conversation with President Gerhard Casper," was the first program of this year's quarterly discussions sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Development. The "Noontime Series," co-hosted by seven staff groups on campus, drew a small but attentive crowd to Kresge Auditorium.

In his opening remarks, Casper outlined the major changes that Stanford has undergone in the past three years, then responded to questions from representatives of the staff forums and members of the audience.

"We rarely ever pause and ask ourselves what we have done together in the last three years," said Casper, who delivered a five-minute overview of administrative and financial changes that have taken place since he assumed the presidency in the fall of 1992.

Administrative offices were the first to undergo drastic reorganization, with a substantial reduction in the number of vice presidents, Casper said. The legal office was reorganized and the university's business practices are in the process of being streamlined.

These administrative changes have been accompanied by a change of academic leaders in the university, Casper said. In the last three years, a new provost has been appointed, new deans have assumed leadership in the schools of Humanities and Sciences, Education, Earth Sciences, and Medicine, and a dean's search is currently under way in the School of Engineering.

On the financial side, Casper said, the university introduced a new consolidated budgeting system, which takes into account both restricted and unrestricted funds; a revenue constrained system of budgeting, which means the university now budgets on the basis of projected revenues rather than on projected costs; and a "long overdue" policy on restricted funds that will help recoup some infrastructure costs associated with programs supported by private donations.

Last year, the university also reached a settlement with the Office of Naval Research regarding the indirect cost controversy. "Between the government and us, there are no disputes about the past," Casper said. "We all forget what a major preoccupation that was for all of us."

When Casper first arrived at Stanford, the university's development office had just ended its centennial campaign. One of Casper's goals was to make sure that the momentum gained from that campaign was not lost. "I think we have been quite successful in that respect," he said. Some of the changes that resulted from this effort include the creation of the Stanford Fund, which enables the university to solicit unrestricted funds for undergraduate education in general, and the development of new strategies to communicate more effectively with the alumni population, he said.

Casper's first priority as president has been to "refocus" the university on its "core academic tasks" so that when people ask what Stanford's mission is, "we can present a picture that is focused, not fuzzy." He singled out new admissions strategies to improve the yield of student acceptances and the implementation of many of the recommendations made by the Commission on Undergraduate Education as some of the noteworthy academic initiatives Stanford has launched in recent years.

Katrina Jaggears of the African American Staff Forum asked the president what Stanford's plans are to ensure that gains made in staff diversity over the past decade aren't reversed during "the current atmosphere of layoffs and majority culture backlash."

Casper said that the values upheld by Stanford leave "no room" for cultural backlash. He cited employment figures as evidence of Stanford's commitment to staff diversity. As of September 1994, 31 percent of Stanford's staff were minorities, a slight increase over the year before, he said.

In response to a point raised about recent layoffs creating a negative atmosphere among staff on campus, Casper said that "Stanford simply hasn't seen the kinds of layoffs that have now become routine in industry."

While there has been an increase in the number of layoffs at Stanford in recent years, the percentage has been quite small, he said. In 1993-94, about 205 people out of a total staff of 5,490 were laid off. Of those who were laid off, 10 percent were re-hired into new positions at Stanford. The university's employment office provides services for the 13 percent who are actively seeking employment, he said.

Sunny Toy, representative of Stanford Staffers, told the president that some employees feel "overworked, underappreciated and unrewarded." Casper acknowledged that changes in business practices at Stanford have "clearly resulted in greater workloads for staff," but he noted that Stanford is not alone in this respect. "Anybody who reads the newspapers these days or listens to television has the impression that almost everybody in this country feels, in your words, 'overworked, underappreciated and unrewarded.'"

Part of the reason why staff at Stanford feel underappreciated, Casper said, has to do with the "peculiar" decentralized nature of universities compared to other employment entities, such as the government, industry or private business. "The appreciation that is due to you comes from a lot of people who are in many ways quite autonomous," he said. "Unless you want to turn the university into an unbearable, preachy place where everybody is always reminded of his or her feelings, you have to rely on lower level, lower unit interaction and feedback to bring about the appreciation that is due."

Scott Stocker, an alumnus who works at Overseas Studies and is a member of Out at Stanford, asked the president whether the university has specific goals to help the gay and lesbian community foster "a climate of tolerance and respect" on campus.

Casper reiterated that discriminatory practices and behavior are not acceptable on campus. Universities in general, he said, are ahead of the curve when it comes to accepting gays and lesbians into the community. Casper pointed to Stanford's introduction of employee benefits for domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees as an example of equal treatment.

Asked whether the university intends to include more gay and lesbian issues in its curriculum, Casper said current course offerings already analyze basic societal issues and prejudices in a way that is forward-looking and uninhibited. "We are not cowed by anybody, and I hope we can continue that way," he said. While America has a long way to go in accepting gays and lesbians into mainstream society, Casper said, universities "cannot single- handedly deal with deep-seated attitudes, prejudices or . . . deep religious convictions about these matters."

Turning to a question posed by La Raza Staff Association representative Hector Cuevas on the prospect of hiring more Latinos in higher management positions, Casper said recruitment of Latinos in top positions is important to Stanford. At the same time, the president said, the university cannot base its hiring practices on proportional representation. The highly specialized demands that the university system requires of management, he said, often make it difficult to find Latinos who have the proper qualifications for these positions. An additional problem, he said, has been a considerable reduction in the hiring of exempt positions in recent years. "To some extent, the opportunities are fewer now," Casper said.

Despite these difficulties, Sally Dickson, director of the Office of Multicultural Development, said her office's primary goal is to make sure that the university actively recruits candidates from a diverse hiring pool. "We are trying to use the Internet and [a variety] of technologies to really reach out more aggressively than we have in the past," she said.

The single most effective minority recruitment tool for the university, added Barbara Butterfield, vice president for faculty and staff services, has been staff recommendations. She urged staff members to encourage their friends and relatives to earn college degrees so that they can be qualified for positions in top management.

Responding to a similar question regarding the hiring of more Filipino staff, Casper once again stressed Stanford's commitment to diversity. This commitment, however, should not be translated into an expectation that the university "mirror the complexities of Asia or any other continent that is represented on the Stanford campus," Casper said. "I would consider it very unwise to go through ever smaller breakdowns in categories because then, indeed, the dangers that the efforts on behalf of one group will cancel the efforts on behalf of another group become very, very great."

Cathy Haas, who represented the Disability Staff Forum, asked what the university is planning to do to recruit more disabled staff and faculty in the coming years. President Casper said the question is a tough one to tackle because the government doesn't allow Stanford to keep records of its disabled employees. "What is more or less [hiring] is not easily answered until we have a relatively reliable system of voluntary self identification," he said.

One important change for the disabled members of the campus community, however, has been the recent hiring of Rosa Gonzalez as the associate director of the Office of Multicultural Development, he said. Gonzalez has been working with managers, the facilities unit and other departments on issues regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act , Casper said.

Pam Kwok of the Asian Staff Forum voiced concern about an apparent erosion of "budgetary and moral support" for staff to engage in volunteer activities. Both Casper and Dickson, a former resident fellow in Ujamaa, said such activities are important to the well-being of the university.

But Casper said that "everyone is being asked . . . to do more in less time" and that the university can no longer be as "accommodating" as it has been in the past. "Volunteer work is volunteer work and adults must make their own choices in the way they use their time," he said.

In closing, the president addressed two questions posed by members of the audience, regarding the need for greater input from staff regarding policy development.

"If you perceive that there has been a change" toward seeking less input from staff," Casper said, "this in part may simply reflect the fact that the university, like the rest of the world, is running at a more hectic pace. If people run at a hectic pace, they tend to consult less."



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