Letter from the President

ON MAKING CHOICES

By Gerhard Casper


A dozen or so undergraduates and I, during an evening of milk and cookies at the house, got into a discussion of all the things there are to do at Stanford: choosing courses, taking courses, writing research papers, meeting requirements, learning a foreign language, electing a major, perhaps choosing a minor (or should it be a dual major?), attending an overseas campus, engaging in public service, hiking in the foothills, or deciding how best to train for the Olympics, what a cappella group to join, how to combine the demands of the Stanford Symphony Orchestra with the desire to co-term in electrical engineering, and on and on and on.

Gerhard Casper Finally, a student turned to me in utter exasperation: “You know, we have no time to go out on dates. You really need to do something about that!”

Ah, yes, that is what a university president is for. Alas, to this, and all our students, I can only say, “Welcome to adulthood!” Choices and trade-offs are unavoidable. I use the term trade-off here in the sense of a sacrifice made in one area to obtain a benefit in another.

At the university, students frequently are called upon to make choices. Stanford does impose requirements, and provide guidance and advice, but in the end, no one can tell a student what to choose. Still, this fall, I offered our new students a number of suggestions about how to think about making choices.

First, not choosing is in itself a choice. In some circumstances, like not voting, that means abdicating the choice to others. At a university, abdication is rarely the issue

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NOV/DEC 1996

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