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President’s prepared remarks to Faculty Senate against resolution directed at Hoover Overseers

I’d like to build on my comments earlier today and speak out against this resolution, which, in effect calls for the senate to act as an institutional body to censor two overseers.

I have strongly argued that the university must be a place that supports a diversity of views. Free expression of ideas is the lifeblood of the university and is essential to our research and teaching missions.

That position is enshrined in the Faculty Senate’s foundational statement on Academic Freedom, which holds that “expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion”.

The senate recently reaffirmed its bedrock commitment to that principle, even creating a committee to ensure the university administration does not run afoul of it.

The resolution that is being contemplated would be in direct conflict with that commitment. It would represent imposition of an institutional orthodoxy by the senate on the autonomy of one of the university’s units.

  • There are dozens of advisory boards across campus supporting schools, initiatives, and institutes, which engage hundreds of external advisors.
  • There is a longstanding practice that individual units can exercise their academic freedom when making appointments to these advisory boards.
  • There is no central litmus test for social and political views and actions of affiliates.
  • The resolution by the Faculty Senate that is being contemplated would have a chilling effect, and undermine the ability of units to make their own decisions, imposing an institutional orthodoxy.

It doesn’t end there. To be consistent, the senate could not cherry pick which appointments to evaluate. Every appointment would need to be scrutinized, on the left as much as on the right.  And it is hard to see why only advisory board appointments would be scrutinized. What about the hundreds of guest speakers who are invited to teach in classes or give special lectures?

  • Concerns about the views and actions of individuals would need to be evaluated, and, as a matter of fairness, we would need to have a due process where units could defend their proposed appointments.
  • Who will define the criteria for evaluation? Who will lead the evaluation? Who will adjudicate on appeal?
  • I can assure you that if the senate were to enact a systematic, central evaluation of university affiliates for their views and actions, we can expect a precipitous drop in interest to serve on boards and to participate in university life, with a chilling effect on our intellectual community.

Now, it is entirely fine for individual Senators, as faculty members, to express their views about persons who serve on advisory boards or who are invited to give lectures. They can do this in many ways, including by writing letters to our student newspaper, as some have done.

But for the senate as a formal body to adopt a resolution would have a chilling effect.

Make no mistake, the senate would be setting itself up as a thought police.

The senate recently moved to ensure that the administration does not function as a thought police. It would contradict its own actions in the deepest way if the senate itself were to take on that role. I urge the senate not to do so.