Hoover Institution director explains, defends appointment of Rumsfeld

L.A. Cicero Raisian

John Raisian discussed the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld at the Faculty Senate meeting Nov. 8.

L.A. Cicero Camarillo

Al Camarillo, below, was one of several professors who raised concerns about the appointment.

The director of the Hoover Institution told the Faculty Senate last week that he did not regret his decision to appoint former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a distinguished visiting fellow, but was sorry he had "blindsided" his bosses—Provost John Etchemendy and President John Hennessy—by not informing them beforehand.

John Raisian, director of the institution since 1989, had been invited to appear before the senate to explain the criteria he used to make the controversial appointment.

Speaking to the senate Thursday, Raisian said he was "saddened by the reaction of some of my Stanford colleagues." He said the appointment was "not intended to be provocative."

Nearly 4,000 faculty, staff, students and alumni have signed an online petition objecting to the appointment, saying it was "fundamentally incompatible with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested enquiry, respect for national and international laws, and care for the opinions, property and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed."

Raisian defended the appointment by saying Rumsfeld has "a remarkable record of accomplishments in public service" and noting that he served four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, as the U.S. ambassador to NATO, in the Cabinet of President Richard M. Nixon and as secretary of defense under presidents Gerald R. Ford and George W. Bush.

"Like it or not, he has had a distinguished career," Raisian said.

Rumsfeld has been involved with the Hoover Institution since 1989 and has served as a member of its Board of Overseers and as a member of the board's executive committee.

Raisian said he was surprised by the negative reaction to the appointment.

"I implicitly presumed that Stanford, as a truly great university, would not be fazed by the ongoing controversy of our times as it relates to a short-term visiting appointment," he said. "In retrospect I was naïve, as I did not imagine the angst that some of you would feel toward this action. But I say to you, I did not intend to offend. I simply wanted to exploit an opportunity to learn from an expert of his personal experiences—current and past—as related to the difficult times we have all endured."

Raisian said the process that led to the appointment began last April, when he addressed a regular meeting of Hoover's senior fellows and told them he was thinking of inviting Rumsfeld to join a task force on ideology, fundamentalism and terror. None of them objected, Raisian said.

He then told the 12-member executive committee of Hoover's Board of Overseers, which oversees the public policy center's strategic direction and financial health.

"They were quite enthusiastic about it," he said.

Raisian said he did not need the executive committee's approval to make the appointment. "That's done initially by me, with the approval of President Hennessy," he said.

Raisian announced the appointment in a Sept. 7 press release.

"My omission, truly discourteous, though unintended, was that I released the announcement publicly before discussing the matter with the president and provost, something that I have deeply regretted since the advent of the controversy sparked in early September," he said. "While not required as a matter of policy, I clearly blindsided them with this announcement of appointment."

At the conclusion of Raisian's presentation, Joshua Landy, French and Italian, was the first to raise his hand.

"At the time of the appointment, was Hoover aware that a war crimes complaint was filed against Rumsfeld in November 2006?" Landy asked, referring to a lawsuit filed in Germany by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights against Rumsfeld and other high-ranking U.S. officials for their alleged role in the torture of prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"Was [Hoover] aware of the result of the Hamdan versus Rumsfeld case, in which the Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 that the administration violated the Geneva Conventions?" Landy continued. "Does any of this affect in any way your glowing report of his—quote, unquote—distinguished career?"

Raisian said he was aware of those cases and decided to proceed nonetheless.

"I think his full career speaks for itself," Raisian said. "Certainly I'm aware he's had these difficult challenges as a result of the war."

Jonathan Bendor, Graduate School of Business, said historians would probably conclude that the most important part of Rumsfeld's career would be the six years he served as defense secretary in the Bush administration. "Do you think a poll of defense policy wonks from elite universities and think tanks would give him a very good score?" Bendor asked.

"No," Raisian replied.

Deborah Gordon, biological sciences, asked Raisian if others have been named to the task force.

"Some of them are identified," he said. "George Shultz [the former U.S. secretary of state and a distinguished fellow at Hoover since 1989] is likely the leader of the task force."

In response to another question, Raisian said Rumsfeld has a one-year appointment.

"It could be—strictly speaking—renewed," he said. "We do have some visiting fellows who have been on the rolls for some time. They're there because they continue to contribute significantly, and indeed, we haven't established a term limit associated with the appointment."

Lanier Anderson, philosophy, said that many distinguished visiting fellows have been associated with the Hoover Institution for quite a long time—some for more than a decade.

"Given that these appointments can be, as far as what you're saying is concerned, seemingly opened ended, it does seem to me that it would be reasonable for the institution to have some more substantial vetting procedures in place governing these appointments," he said.

Raisian said most distinguished visiting fellows do not stay for extended periods.

"I have not read or seen any guideline by the university academic process that suggests that there should be limits in this regard," he said. "If there are, I would be happy to review them. But these visiting appointments—non-teaching-line individuals—currently are unregulated."

Raisian said the idea for the task force came first, then the decision to appoint Rumsfeld.

"We wanted him to participate," Raisian said. "It's normal for us to give [task force members] some association. It's plausible that I could have asked for his participation without giving him an affiliation."

Raisian said it is a routine courtesy to give task force members who are not part of the university or the institution the title "distinguished visiting fellow"; he noted that Hoover bestowed the title on all of the outside experts serving on its task force on K-12 education.

Still, the use of the word "distinguished" remained a contentious issue for some faculty.

David Spiegel, psychiatry, said many people perceive the honorific title as an attempt at "reputation rehabilitation" for Rumsfeld, who resigned late last year after coming under increasing fire for his management of the war in Iraq.

Albert Camarillo, history, said the appointment had damaged the reputations of both Stanford and the Hoover Institution. Asked to elaborate, Camarillo responded by e-mail:

"As faculty of Stanford, we are informally entrusted with upholding the academic integrity of this great university. The reaction of so many of my colleagues to the Rumsfeld appointment must be viewed as a response from faculty who, like myself, were offended, not only because we believe the term 'distinguished' (a term for which we have a shared sense of understanding about its meaning in the academy) was inappropriately applied in the case in question, but because the integrity of the university was damaged. Although the Hoover Institution has the prerogative to appoint whomever it wishes to any task force, the designation of Rumsfeld as a 'Distinguished' Visiting Fellow is an affront to many of us."

Asked to make a concluding statement at the end of the meeting, Raisian said he was proud of his role at Stanford.

"What I can't discern is to what extent this negative opinion exists throughout the university," he said. "If it does, then it's certainly something to take into account."