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Stanford apologizes for admissions limits on Jewish students in the 1950s and pledges action on steps to enhance Jewish life on campus

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne apologized on behalf of the university and pledged action on recommendations in a task force report confirming Stanford limited the admission of Jewish students in the 1950s.

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne has apologized on behalf of the university and pledged to act on recommendations of a task force report that identified efforts to limit admission of Jewish students in the 1950s.

In findings released Wednesday, a task force appointed by Tessier-Lavigne reported that Stanford administrators took steps to limit admissions of Jewish students in the 1950s and “regularly misled parents and friends of applicants, alumni, outside investigators, and trustees” who asked about such admissions practices.

The task force, consisting of faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and students, also provided a number of recommendations both to address actions by past administrators and to support the university’s Jewish community today, especially in light of the panel’s findings.

In addition to calling on the university to acknowledge and apologize for the admissions practices and subsequent denials in the past, the task force recommended enhanced education and training to address biases; greater attention to Jewish religious observances in university scheduling, housing, and dining; enforcement of an Undergraduate Senate resolution on antisemitism; and clarification of the university’s relationship with Stanford Hillel.

In a university-wide communication, Tessier-Lavigne apologized on behalf of the university and pledged action on the recommendations.

“This ugly component of Stanford’s history, confirmed by this new report, is saddening and deeply troubling,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote.

“On behalf of Stanford University I wish to apologize to the Jewish community, and to our entire university community, both for the actions documented in this report to suppress the admission of Jewish students in the 1950s and for the university’s denials of those actions in the period that followed. These actions were wrong. They were damaging. And they were unacknowledged for too long. Today, we must work to do better, not only to atone for the wrongs of the past, but to ensure the supportive and bias-free experience for members of our Jewish community that we seek for all members of our Stanford community.”

Tessier-Lavigne also announced the university will offer a webinar on the findings at noon PDT Thursday, Oct. 13. Professor Ari Y. Kelman, a social scientist and leading expert on Jewish life in America who chaired the task force, will present the task force report.

Tessier-Lavigne appointed the Advisory Task Force on the History of Jewish Admissions and Experience at Stanford University in January. The charge called on task force members to address lingering assertions, including a report in an online newsletter last year, about admissions quotas aimed at limiting Jewish applicants.

“Admittedly, this is a difficult undertaking because the efforts to suppress the number of Jewish students at Stanford in the 1950s do not map easily onto contemporary expressions of antisemitism,” the task force wrote. “There are, however, continuities, and they provide an opportunity for the university to learn from its history and to inaugurate new directions for addressing some of the core concerns shared by both the past and the present.”

Admissions practices

The task force identified a group of administrators who participated in and/or were aware of efforts to limit admissions of Jewish students. They included Rixford K. Snyder, who was admissions director for 20 years. “Snyder … played a central role in efforts to limit the number of Jewish students at Stanford,” the report states.

A crucial piece of the review was a university memo written in 1953 to then-President Wallace Sterling from his assistant, Fred Glover. The memo’s existence was first identified in the online newsletter last year and confirmed by the panel.

The memo focused on the number of Jewish students being admitted to Stanford. At the time, Stanford drew heavily from the West Coast, California in particular, for students. Glover listed two high schools in Los Angeles – Beverly Hills and Fairfax —whose student populations were “from 95 to 98% Jewish,” and said that accepting “a few” from those schools would be followed by “a flood of Jewish applications” the next year.” Glover cited Snyder’s concern “that more than one quarter of the applications from men are from Jewish boys” during that admissions cycle.

“Rix feels that this problem is loaded with dynamite and he wanted you to know about it, as he says that the situation forces him to disregard our stated policy of paying no attention to the race or religion of applicants,” Glover wrote.

Subsequently, the report states, Snyder ended recruitment efforts at those schools and “appears to have taken other steps that had more direct and measurable effects, visible only in a close analysis of the annual reports of the Registrar’s office.”

Task force members examined Office of the Registrar records and found a “sharp drop” in the number of students enrolled at Stanford from those schools – 87 enrolled during 1949-1952, but only 14 in 1952-55 – that was not seen in any other public schools during the 1950s and 1960s. (The panel said existing records did not specify the number of Jewish students, and records indicating the number of applicants and acceptances from that period were not retained.)

“The impact was immediate and striking,” the report states.

Whether the university took similar actions with other schools is unclear. And the task force report notes that there was no evidence that the Stanford admissions director who followed Snyder “employed a quota of any kind on anyone.” But the task force said that Snyder’s actions had “far-reaching effects” and that suspicions and speculation about quotas among the Jewish community, in Southern California in particular, had significant repercussions.

“Snyder’s actions, however limited they may have been, dissuaded some Jewish students from applying in the first place,” task force members wrote. “The impression of Stanford’s restrictions outlived whatever actions Snyder had taken.”

Suspicions and denials

The report states that Snyder “operated with the support, tacit and explicit, of others in the administration” and his “intentions with respect to Jewish applicants were not a secret among Stanford’s leadership.”

The university began receiving questions about an anti-Jewish bias as early as December 1954, just two admissions cycles after Glover wrote the memo. Over the years, inquiries came from a judge who was a Stanford alumnus, alumni, parents, trustees, and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.

The university consistently denied the allegations, including this response from Sterling to an alumna: “Stanford has no quotas of any kind, racial, religious or geographic. It follows, therefore, that there are no quotas for Catholics or Jews. Statements or rumors to the contrary are wholly false.”

Next steps

The recommendations of the task force focus on two categories: “acknowledge and apologize” and “explore, educate, and enforce.”

“In Judaism, the process of תשובה (teshuva) implies both reflection on the past and the initiation of different action in the future,” the panel wrote, referring to the foundational practice of the High Holy Day season. “Thus, our recommendations begin with an acknowledgement of the university’s past misdeeds to build toward a better future for the whole Stanford community.”

The task force called on the current university administration – as reflected in Tessier-Lavigne’s letter – to publicly acknowledge and apologize for actions to suppress Jewish admissions and mislead people who asked about them.

Recommendations for enhancing contemporary Jewish life on campus and the responses outlined by Tessier-Lavigne are:

  • Conduct a comprehensive study of Jewish life at Stanford today.
    Implementation: The university will commission a standing Jewish advisory committee of students, staff, faculty, and alumni that will work with the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity, Access, and Community and the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life to address Jewish community needs. Tessier-Lavigne said while this approach varies with the task force’s recommendations, it offers “a more dynamic, action-oriented, and sustainable means of addressing these needs than would be provided by a single study.”
  • Address bias against Jewish people in inclusivity trainings and programs.
    Implementation: A variety of anti-bias and related trainings are offered at Stanford and, as recommended, the university will include antisemitism as one of the areas in which anti-bias education is provided.
  • Enforcement by the Associated Students of Stanford University of an Undergraduate Senate resolution, adopted in 2019, that called on the university to recognize antisemitism on campus.
    Implementation: The ASSU has expressed its intent to take action and has been in touch with the task force regarding implementation.
  • Align the academic calendar so that the opening of classes does not occur on Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur in particular, as happened recently, including 2022.
    Implementation: As Provost Persis Drell communicated in August, the administration is working with appropriate Academic Council committees to address this issue, which will require Faculty Senate approval.
  • Accommodate students’ religious and cultural needs in housing and dining.
    Implementation: The university, through its Residential & Dining Enterprises (R&DE) and Residential Education units, has worked with Stanford Hillel, the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life, and students to seek to accommodate the religious and cultural needs of Jewish students, including creating resources such as the Glatt Kosher Dining Program. However, the university acknowledged more can be done to improve the resources the university provides and the manner in which students are made aware of those resources. R&DE and ResEd will work with a cross-functional group of stakeholders to explore other resources that may be provided to support Jewish students.
  • Clarify the university’s relationship with Stanford Hillel, the largest independent organization serving Jewish students on campus.
    Implementation: Discussions are already underway with Stanford Hillel to clarify this important, ongoing relationship.

Broader institutional history

The task force observed that the damage described in the report – students “unduly denied admission” in the 1950s-60s, the tarnishing of the university’s reputation, and “decades of denials” – “cannot be undone.” It also drew a link to other steps Stanford has taken to examine other aspects of the university’s history.

“This report has endeavored to establish and clarify this historical narrative and, hopefully it has succeeded in clarifying the historical record,” task force members wrote. “With this effort, Stanford’s leadership has demonstrated that it is prepared not just to meet the specifics of this particular case, but to do so within the larger historical context of the early 21st century.”