Controversial appointment prompts senate vote to meet with Hoover director


The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace currently has 14 distinguished visiting fellows.

Debra Satz

Debra Satz

Russell Berman

Russell Berman

The Faculty Senate last week approved a motion to meet with John Raisian, director of the Hoover Institution, to discuss the criteria used to name former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a distinguished visiting fellow.

The discussion preceding the 25-12 vote touched on a variety of topics, including titles, academic standards and freedom of speech, and the misinterpretation of the appointment as a university endorsement.

Debra Satz, philosophy, said it was "very hard" to understand the reasoning that could lead to a distinguished appointment "of any kind" for Rumsfeld—not because of his views or his support of the war in Iraq but because of his performance as defense secretary, for which he has been widely criticized across the political spectrum.

Describing herself as a "First Amendment absolutist," Satz said she would welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate issues with Rumsfeld. "Nobody wants to suppress any opinions on the campus," she said.

However, Russell Berman, German studies and comparative literature, described the motion as a "political statement hiding behind a procedural issue."

"I do think there's a freedom of speech issue here," he said.

Berman defended Raisian, who has been the institution's director for nearly 20 years.

"It is my recollection that John Raisian has come regularly to senate at invitation by the steering committee, and has responded with cordiality and congeniality to the questions—sometimes adversarial—by senators," he said. "I don't think that he, as a colleague, deserves the threatening language of the motion. Indeed, it's a threatening language that has a kind of a HUAC [House Un-American Activities Committee] feel to it, which is why it has been described in press discussions as a kind of McCarthyism. I believe that's what's at stake."

Before the vote, the senate amended the motion, deleting the phrase calling for "the possibility of reevaluating the existing relationship" between Stanford and the institution.

The motion that was approved said: "The Faculty Senate shall hold part of a regular meeting to discuss criteria used by the Hoover Institution for its various types of appointments. At that meeting, we will ask John Raisian to answer questions about the criteria used for Hoover appointments in general, and about the specific criteria used in the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld to a distinguished visiting fellowship."

The institution, founded in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, is a public policy research center, with a $43.3 million budget, a $437 million endowment and a board of overseers. Funds from Stanford, which will total $620,000 in fiscal 2007-08, are used to support the institution's library and archives, which attract more than 3,000 visitors and researchers from around the world every year.

Raisian, who reports directly to President John Hennessy, last appeared before the Faculty Senate in 2003.

Raisian appointed Rumsfeld to a task force on "issues pertaining to ideology and terror" in early September. The group is expected to meet several times a year—spending a day or two on campus each time—to discuss issues and possibly develop policy recommendations.

Currently, the institution has 14 distinguished visiting fellows, including retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of the U.S. Central Command; Alejandro Toldeo, former president of Peru and the Payne Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies; and Pete Wilson, former governor of California.

Lanier Anderson, philosophy, questioned whether the Rumsfeld appointment met the "high standards of excellence appropriate to policy-oriented appointments." He said the fact that Rumsfeld has served on the institution's board of overseers raised questions about the process.

"We have a right to expect that other people are not going to appoint people just because they're friends with them or they're fellows travelers with them—or something like that," Anderson said. "This appointment creates the appearance that that's what happened. And they should be anxious to come and explain to us why that's not so."

Jeffrey Koseff, civil and environmental engineering, said if Rumsfeld had simply been appointed to a task force, no one would have objected. But giving Rumsfeld the title "distinguished visiting fellow" implies a "certain amount of endorsement" by Stanford.

"And that's what people outside the university, whether we explain it 50 different ways or not, are going to understand it to be," Koseff said. "And you saw the way it was reported—Stanford appointment."

Koseff said he could understand why Raisian would want the former defense secretary's point of view represented on the task force.

"But I would ask [Raisian], 'Why did you need to attach this title?'" he said. "That's simply the question I would ask. And that's the only thing that's really bothering me about this. And I suspect that's probably what's bothering most people."

Provost John Etchemendy said he gets three or four complaints a year about visitors invited to speak on campus, or about conferences held at Stanford, from students, alumni and faculty who say the invitations are tantamount to endorsements.

"And I always answer the same thing: It is not a university endorsement," he said.

Etchemendy said Stanford does not oversee the thousands of visitors invited to campus every year or the titles they are given. Nor should the university begin to do so—even if the general public misinterprets a visitor's presence or appointment as an endorsement, he added.

"The damage that is done to the university by that—the sort of transient damage that is done by that alleged endorsement or misinterpreted endorsement—is far less than the damage that would be done if we centrally tried to regulate visitors to campus," he said.

President John Hennessy said general questions about how Hoover makes appointments are legitimate. But he warned that delving into the rationale behind a single visiting appointment could lead to requests for the senate to scrutinize others—some as short as a week—and asked "whether or not we want to take a step which would open that door."