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Advisory Board marks 100 years of faculty power
After president forced professor to resign, group was established
to ensure academic freedom


Any group that has lasted 100 years at Stanford deserves a party.

But perhaps no one group deserves it more than the university's Advisory Board, born out of controversy a century ago to firmly establish the notion of faculty autonomy within the university's governance structure.

To that end, a who's who of the university community attended a low-key celebration in honor of the board's century milestone last week at the Faculty Club, where Provost John Etchemendy feted current and former board members for their service on the board.

"This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reiterate Stanford's commitment to academic freedom and the closely related principles of faculty governance," Etchemendy said. "Stanford is strong because its faculty are strong. Its faculty are strong because their selection -- and their rare dismissal, when necessary -- relies heavily on the judgment of other faculty qualified to advise the president."

Although the day-to-day operations of the Advisory Board mostly go unnoticed, it is one of the most important and esteemed groups on campus. The board is part of the Academic Council, which was formed in 1904 under the Articles of Organization of the Faculty with approval from the Board of Trustees. The articles gave the faculty a formal voice in university governance for the first time and made clear the supremacy of the Academic Council in academic matters.

All recommendations for appointments, promotions and reappointments, and for the creation and dissolution of departments, must be submitted by the president to the Advisory Board for review and approval. The board also reviews faculty dismissals and some disciplinary cases that are not satisfactorily resolved through typical university procedures, as well as matters submitted to it by the president or provost for advice.

Though the Advisory Board may seem obvious and essential to university governance, the notion of faculty autonomy wasn't adopted by university founders Leland and Jane Stanford because Leland Stanford wanted the president to wield most of the power and authority.

The university's first president, David Starr Jordan, exercised that authority to hire and fire faculty in 1900, when he forced sociologist Edward Ross to resign at Jane Stanford's urging. Ross had been an outspoken advocate of public ownership of utilities, as well as railroads, a position that was frowned upon by Mrs. Stanford because her deceased husband had made a considerable fortune as president of the Central Pacific Railroad.

The ouster backfired in dramatic public fashion, however, leading to widespread media coverage that embarrassed the university and prompted seven faculty members to resign in protest. One of those professors was philosopher Arthur Lovejoy, who went on to help create the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), a leading advocate for academic freedom and shared governance on university campuses.

Four years after the Ross affair, Jane Stanford delegated her power to the Board of Trustees and asked a board committee to reconsider the organization of the faculty and the procedures governing the appointment and removal of members of the faculty. The trustees created the Articles of Organization of the Faculty to institute a checks-and-balances system of power, which gave life to the Academic Council, the tenure system and what was known at the time as the Executive Committee (now the Advisory Board).

Etchemendy said that many consider the Ross affair a black mark on the history of Stanford. "Certainly, it was embarrassing at the time. But I don't see it that way. Good universities face adversity head on and emerge from crisis stronger," he said.

The university's new governance structure caught on with other universities, many of which were embroiled in similar controversies. After the formation of the AAUP, Charles Osgood of Princeton University wrote a 1914 letter to Lovejoy that said: "I should think perhaps no more important question could be investigated now than that of the faculty's power to govern the purely academic functions of the college or university. This power, which is properly that of the faculty, declines in many institutions to almost nothing, and is, I believe, more gravely menaced every year."

Although its responsibilities have changed little in 100 years, the Advisory Board has left an indelible mark on the university. Nearly every faculty member currently at Stanford has been reviewed and approved by the board, and a small handful have been dismissed or suspended by the board after a hearing.

Sociology Professor Emeritus Sandy Dornbusch served a three-year term on the board beginning in 1971 and said the board's existence reassured faculty that they weren't being ignored. He said his work on the board was typically without controversy but that he enjoyed handling cases that raised questions and required difficult decisions.

"Ninety-eight percent of the time, everything was fine," Dornbusch said. "But you lived and died for the two percent."

Although the board occasionally disagrees with recommendations or faculty appointments, it rarely finds itself embroiled in controversies because, according to current chair Ramon Saldívar, "By the time we see a file, the really egregious and problematic issues have been solved."

The few controversies the board has had to weigh in on have usually involved faculty dismissals or disciplinary action. One of the most recent cases involved psychiatry Professor Adolf Pfefferbaum, whom the board, in 1998, suspended without salary for three years and fined $20,000 for neglecting his academic duties.

One of the more controversial chapters of the board's history was its decision in 1972 to uphold a recommendation from then President Richard Lyman to dismiss Professor H. Bruce Franklin for giving a speech that allegedly served as a "catalyst" for a student occupation of the university's Computation Center in February 1971. The board found that Franklin had intentionally urged and incited students to disobey police orders to disperse and had tried to "disrupt university activities and injure persons and property" with his speech.

The decision was not popular and Lyman recalls the board hearings as "the only time they had been put through the meat grinder. I was relieved that they came out and supported [Franklin's] dismissal."

Despite the occasional controversy, faculty members who are elected to the board step up to the assignment fully aware of their responsibilities and the time commitment the job requires.

Only full-time professors can be elected to the board by their peers. Terms last three years. Saldívar said the board meets once a week for two hours, and board members typically spend another six to eight hours per week reviewing files. It's a lot of work on top of the typical demands of research, teaching, departmental responsibilities and family lives, but it is worth it, he said.

"You're honored by the esteem and confidence of your colleagues," Saldívar said. "Most everyone who is elected serves because it's a great honor and it's an opportunity to give back to the university and, for your colleagues, to give back some of the respect that's been shown to you."

John Etchemendy

Sandy Dornbusch

Richard Lyman

Ramon Saldívar