Letter from the President
CHALLENGE OF THE WEST
By Gerhard Casper
URELY ONE OF Stanfords distinctive characteristics is what one
might call a
Western spirit of pioneering, entrepreneurship, energy.
In his autobiography, Stanfords first president, David Starr Jordan,
quotes from an article by Ellen Elliott, a member of Stanfords early Cornell
Colony, as she relates life on the Farm to former colleagues in Ithaca:
Perhaps it is the spirit of the West, perhaps it is the vital breath of the
Pacific, coming in to us over the mountains, but whatever it may be, some
enchantment has blinded us to the crudities, the drawbacks, the limitations of
our state. . . . Christmas shall bring you, and the months of spring shall bring
you, critical, skeptical, curious, speering after our library, questioning about
our funds, and you shall return if you return at all chanting as
fervently and irrelevantly as we, Die Luft der Freiheit weht.
phrase by the humanist Ulrich von Hutten The Wind of Freedom Blows
already had taken root as Stanfords unofficial motto, and with good
reason. It constituted not only a statement about freedom of inquiry but also a
strong element of challenge. When Jordan decided to leave the Midwest to come to
Stanford, he wrote to his mentor, Cornell President Andrew Dickson White, that he
was prepared to take whatever came and quoted two lines from a poem by Hutten:
With open eyes I have dared, and cherish no regret. . . .