Skip to main content

Faculty Senate seeks future report on increased collaboration between Hoover Institution and Stanford

The Faculty Senate will receive a report on efforts to increase collaboration between the Hoover Institution and the rest of Stanford as a result of a sometimes contentious debate involving issues of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

The Faculty Senate has asked Provost Persis Drell and Hoover Director Condoleezza Rice to jointly report by the end of 2021-22 academic year about their efforts to increase collaboration between the Hoover Institution and the rest of the university.

From top left, David Palumbo-Liu, Condoleezza Rice and Jon Levin, and bottom from left, Lanier Anderson, Stephen Monismith and Persis Drell during Thursday’s Faculty Senate meeting. (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

With support from three-quarters of senators, the Faculty Senate on Thursday approved a resolution that essentially expresses confidence in Rice’s leadership and her commitment to better integrate Hoover into Stanford, despite disagreements that have simmered over this academic year.

Also at the meeting, the senate heard a presentation on the work of the Long-Term Recovery Task Force and approved the creation of an Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Legal Representation.

Drell also announced plans to mitigate the negative effects of disruption to faculty research and said that the 2021-22 budget will include a salary program for faculty and staff, noting that it is a priority for university leadership.

In calling on Rice to work with Drell in consultation with faculty members to improve relations between Hoover and the rest of the university, the senate presented a challenge to the Hoover director – one she readily embraces.

Although she has led the Hoover Institution for only five months, Rice asserted that her long career at Stanford provides her with the experience to enact change and improve an occasionally fraught relationship between Hoover and the rest of the university.

“If it is a matter of cooperation, of integrating more deeply into Stanford, working more effectively with Stanford, I am committed to that. And I do believe that I know how to do it,” she said.

Contentious debate

The approval of the resolution came after a presentation by senate members who outlined instances in which they believe Hoover fellows inappropriately used their association with Stanford to express partisan positions that are contrary to the university’s values and its commitment to the free and open creation of knowledge.

David Palumbo-Liu (Image credit: Andrew Brodhead)

The faculty presenters were David Palumbo-Liu, the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor and professor of comparative literature; Joshua Landy, the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French; Stephen Monismith, the Obayashi Professor in the School of Engineering; and David Spiegel, the Jack, Samuel and Lulu Willson Professor in Medicine.

In his presentation, Palumbo-Liu acknowledged that the Hoover Institution benefits the university through the research and teaching of many of its fellows and associates, citing the late economist George Shultz. In addition, he said, proposed initiatives creating more opportunities for collaboration between the university and Hoover are promising.

“But too much of what we have seen coming out of the Hoover has made a travesty of honest intellectual debate, because an excess of partisanship has led some Hoover fellows out of the realm of fact, science and good faith argumentation,” he said.

In a slide show, the four presenters pointed out instances in which Hoover fellows appear to have expressed views contrary to the university’s commitment to gender equality, diversity and to combating climate change. They also pointed specifically to viewpoints expressed by Hoover fellows about combating COVID-19, which they believe have damaged the university’s reputation.

The four had proposed that the senate create an ad hoc committee to further study and then report back about the relationship of Hoover to Stanford. But a majority of the members of the Faculty Senate failed to embrace the committee idea, with many expressing concern that the committee’s charge was unclear, that its establishment might create an adversarial relationship between Hoover and Stanford and that the unintended result might be an erosion of academic freedom.

The result of the debate was a disappointment to Spiegel, who said he was “troubled by what seems to me like saying, ‘Leave us alone. We’ll take care of it.’”

Among those challenging the establishment of the committee was Drell, who said she supports actions to create a more constructive relationship between Hoover and the university and to continue the evolution of Hoover as a premier research institution.

But, she said, “The senate committee, proposed in this resolution and introduced by this presentation we have just heard, is not going to accomplish that worthy goal.”

Drell questioned whether the goal of the presentation and committee was actually to denounce Hoover scholars accused of voicing unpopular opinions or views, speaking untruths or opining outside their areas of expertise.

“Speaking as provost, that is not just a Hoover issue,” she said. “I get many demands to censure Stanford faculty for all sorts of things.”

She added, “It is the essence of academic freedom that we are not going to institutionally pass judgments of that sort. And censuring or noting issues related to speech only on one side of the political spectrum seems especially at odds with our academic values.”

President Tessier-Lavigne agreed. In speaking about the university’s policy on academic freedom he said, “We have to be very careful about eroding the policy, whatever the intention, even well intentions. I urge us to move with great caution and also be even-handed in exploring the issues across all academic parts of the university, including Hoover.”

Second of two presentations

The Faculty Senate’s discussion was prompted by a September 2020 petition, signed by more than 100 faculty members. The petition questioned whether the Hoover Institution’s mission statement gives it a “predetermined point of view” incompatible with the university’s academic research mission and commitment to the free and open pursuit of knowledge.

Thursday marked the second of two Faculty Senate meetings focusing on the Hoover Institution. Two weeks ago, Rice reported on the organization’s purpose and vision, infrastructure, funding, appointment process and research priorities.

During that presentation, Rice responded to criticism that the Hoover Institution is a partisan think tank that primarily supports conservative administrations and policy positions. She encouraged senators to move beyond consideration of partisanship when evaluating Hoover and, instead, to acknowledge that the institution, as she put it, “has a view” and a “set of values” that are neither Republican nor Democratic.

The two presentations come in the wake of Faculty Senate discussions that began in October in which differences of opinion about fighting COVID-19 raised concerns regarding academic freedom and responsibility at the university and about Stanford’s relationship to the Hoover Institution.

This is not the first time in the university’s history that the Hoover Institution, founded in 1919 by Stanford alumnus and former President Herbert Hoover, has been subject to debate. In her talk, Rice said her research suggests there have been about 14 faculty resolutions involving the institution and at least six committees charged with studying it in some way.

Faculty legal representation

In a separate action, the senate also approved the establishment of a short-term Ad Hoc Committee on Faculty Legal Representation to advise and report to the senate on issues related to representation of faculty members by the Office of the General Counsel (OGC).

The creation of the committee follows concerns raised by 98 Stanford physicians and researchers with expertise in infectious diseases, epidemiology and health policy, who wrote a public letter criticizing statements on COVID-19 made by Scott Atlas, the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and a former adviser to the Trump administration. Atlas, in turn, threatened to sue, calling the letter defamatory.

The physicians and researchers sought representation from the university. The OGC declined, but offered to find an external law firm that took the case on a pro bono basis, according to Faculty Senate member Blakey Vermeule, the Albert Guerard Professor of English. The incident prompted further questions from faculty concerned about under what circumstances they could request legal representation from the university.

The narrowly focused goal of the ad hoc committee will be to communicate faculty concerns and promote broader understanding among faculty, OGC and other university communities “of the considerations and principles at issue in cases involving requests for such representations.”

The committee will operate until June 15, 2021.

Long-term recovery

The university’s post-COVID recovery was also the subject of discussion at the Faculty Senate. Presenting recommendations on behalf of a task force created in May by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne were Lanier Anderson, the J.E. Wallace Sterling Professor in the Humanities and the senior associate dean for the humanities and arts, and Jon Levin, dean of the Graduate School of Business.

Among the task force’s overarching findings is that the COVID crisis created opportunities to renew Stanford’s public mission at a time of societal challenge, to leverage progress made in online education and services and to improve coordination and efficiencies within the university based on pandemic experiences.

While the pandemic amplified such societal challenges as inequality in race and socioeconomic status, revealed society’s hostility toward elite institutions and highlighted local community concerns about Stanford, Anderson said it also proved how the work of research universities in response to crises can increase understanding and innovation.

The committee members recommend that the university pursue an “intentional recommitment to the public mission” of the university, organized around specific initiatives, including those already included in the Long-Range Vision. Among the many other suggestions is that Stanford better communicate the crucial public role of universities, telling Stanford’s story of contributions that benefit society.

The committee also encouraged the enhancement of robust civic service opportunities that should be made “unmissable” for both graduate and undergraduate students. They also applauded the work of the new Office of Community Engagement and encouraged continued investment in the university’s relationship with the local community.

They also noted that the demands created by social distancing have created chances to build a stronger and expanded online presence for Stanford in areas ranging from the workforce to education to telemedicine. Levin noted that what can be done virtually has been an extraordinary discovery, even as members of the campus community long for in-person experiences.

“Our faculty – all of us – have become much more capable, and the world has gained familiarity with being online,” Levin said. “We have seen, across the university, tremendous enrollment for some of the things we have been doing during the pandemic.”

Committee members see growth potential for online education for professionals worldwide, high-potential and underserved pre-bachelor’s students and lifelong learners. Students, they said, should be provided with a seamless digital journey beginning with admission and culminating in alumni engagement. They recommend investments in technological infrastructures and improved digital platforms.

In addition, the committee recommends that the university consider both an on-campus and remote future for Stanford’s workforce that can help address challenges around affordability, commuting and campus space. Stanford Medicine, they noted, has been a primary beneficiary of the expansion of online capabilities and is now conducting 40 percent of its visits remotely.

“That’s an opportunity to better serve some patients and to potentially extend our health care reach and to take a leadership role in that area,” Levin said. “As a broader university effort, we might think about working to improve the technology to support virtual medicine.”

As the university recovers from the effects of the pandemic, committee members also see operational opportunities to improve coordination and efficiency across campus. Committee members noted the opportunity to increase coordination within Stanford’s otherwise decentralized schools, departments and offices, given the accommodations made during the pandemic. Specifically, they recommend a rethinking of summer quarter, which they see as an ideal time for undergraduate research and service-learning programs.

The committee also sees areas for further study, including the medium-term financial effects of COVID on the university, improvement of pedagogy and in-person education based on pandemic experiences and a review of the university’s crisis response plan to prepare for the next emergency.

Faculty research support

In her report at the senate meeting, Drell addressed disruptions to faculty research as a result of the pandemic, announcing plans to mitigate the negative effects by extending the tenure clock for untenured faculty. Junior faculty who have not received tenure by Sept. 1, 2021, also will be eligible for a Post-Pandemic Research Quarter, in which they will be exempt from teaching or service obligations to give them additional time to get their research back on track.

Under the plan, which Drell has outlined in an email to faculty members, all sabbatical-accruing Academic Council faculty who will have begun their appointments at Stanford prior to Sept. 1, 2021, will automatically receive an additional three-quarters of service in their sabbatical accrual for the 2020-21 academic year. Similar programs will be available for Medical Center Line faculty in the School of Medicine.

At this point, Drell said there are about 6,800 students living on campus, including 5,100 graduate students and 1,700 undergraduates.

Student testing and compliance on campus, which has been problematic in the past, has increased. Nine new COVID cases occurred during the week starting Feb. 1. The university’s testing of employees also revealed nine new cases. The university is still assessing whether to bring back undergraduates to campus for the spring quarter and plans to announce an update to its plans by the week of March 1.

Drell also assured faculty that the 2021-22 budget will include a salary program for faculty and staff. Such a program, she said, is a priority for university leadership.

Other action

The senate also heard from a report from Tessier-Lavigne, who noted the recent passing of George Shultz, the Thomas W. and Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Shultz, he said, “was a giant in public policy and world affairs, as well as a dedicated scholar and educator. He served three presidents and played a transformative role in American economic and foreign policy in the late 20th century.”

The senate also heard a memorial resolution for Richard Brody, professor emeritus of political science.