By Larry Gordon
Gerhard Casper was still provost at
the University of Chicago in April 1992 when I traveled there to meet
him for the first time. A few weeks earlier, he had been selected to
become Stanfords next president, and we talked a lot about the
differences between two of the nations most respected intellectual
powerhouses. One campus had an additional reputation for conservative
thought, an ultra-urban setting and a somewhat dour and unathletic nature befitting the
climate; the other was noted for its outdoor beauty, big-league sports
and, at the time, serious troubles about federal research spending.
As if on cue, the Illinois sky began dropping piles of snow that spring
afternoon. Palo Alto and Palm Drive seemed unreachably far away and I
wondered a bit how this obviously sharp, capable and witty law professor
with a pronounced German accent would fit into life on the Farm. At
least he promised to study up on the rules of American football.
Flash forward to sunny August 1997 at Stanford. I came to interview
Gerhard Casper again, this time at his presidential office. His craggy
face, at age 59, looked a touch more lined and his hair more silver than
I remembered. Otherwise, on the surface, he seems to have survived and
even thrived through what he describes as surely the most intensive
five years of my life.
In fact, I seem to detect more Northern California informality at the
edges of his European courtliness. He still carries a copy of the U.S.
Constitution in his suitjacket breast pocket but no longer needs a
football rulebook. He remains a serious fan of Mozart and Bach, but
delighted in telling how he warmed up the audience for Liza Minnelli at
a charity fundraiser last year. Chilly Chicago now seems worlds away.