Statement on the Hoover Institution

Feb. 8, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

There is no doubt that the Hoover Institution has many resources that can be of great benefit to the University. But there is an issue that needs to be addressed if the Hoover intends to continue its interactions with the academic mission of the University. The issue here is not a matter of accommodating a different point of view — it is a matter of the mission of the Hoover potentially conflicting with the mission of Stanford University, or indeed any university.

On the one hand, the Hoover mission states its belief that:

“Both our social and economic systems are based on private enterprise from which springs initiative and ingenuity … Ours is a system where the federal government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves [emphasis added].”

On the other hand, while the Hoover’s apparent mission is to produce knowledge that re-confirms its pre-determined ideological point of view, our mission as an institution of higher education is to discover knowledge, no matter where that mission might take us.

The constraint of belief found in the Hoover’s mission statement would appear to be antithetical to the spirit of open inquiry that is a fundamental element of liberal education — for example, we would not approve a history department whose mission statement declared that it was committed to the idea that the 18th century was indisputably the most important one in human history. Such a department would be summarily drummed out of any scholarly association of historians because of its bias.

Recently, the bias of the Hoover was manifested in the academic mission of the University in disturbingly concrete ways.

In the debacle of Cardinal Conversations we found the ideological perspective of the Hoover enacted in extremely improper ways when the Hoover Fellow in charge, Niall Ferguson, urged his student allies to do “background checks” on those holding differing views and urged that they be “ground down” on the basis of that information.

The email exchange he had with his associates made it clear that in his mind Cardinal Conversations was not a discussion about free speech, but rather a battle to be fought, with, as he said, “eternal vigilance” against opposing points of view. There is nothing “free” or “conversational” in this mindset. It bespeaks loyalty to the Hoover and its particular beliefs and not to the mission of Stanford University.

Threats and plots against our students cannot be tolerated. If the Hoover is to be involved in Stanford’s academic mission then there must be accountability and University oversight.

Any effort to spy upon, malign or harm any student or any student group must be dealt with swiftly and transparently. We owe that to every member of our community. Every fellow of the Hoover Institute should be bound by exactly the same code of ethics as regular faculty members, and any breach of those ethics should be dealt with in exactly the same fashion.   

Ferguson has not been disciplined or censured, to our knowledge. Why is this? 

The revamped version of Cardinal Conversations has been charged to two long-standing faculty members known for their evenhandedness — Claude Steele and Deborah Rhode. But the third position on the advisory board is an ex-officio appointment, or it at least seems to be. It is the director of the Hoover who is the third member. There is no reason whatsoever that a regular faculty member, with a conservative perspective, could not be appointed to this position.

We urge the Senate to take today’s meeting as the starting point for a more robust discussion about the precise role that the Hoover should play at Stanford in the future, and the manners in which both entities can fulfill their respective missions to their mutual benefit without either infringing upon the other’s.



Cécile Alduy, Professor of French and Italian 


James Ferguson

Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor

Ford Dorsey Director of African Studies

Department of Anthropology


Estelle B. Freedman, Professor of U.S. History


Thomas Blom Hansen, Reliance-Dhirubhai Ambani
Professor of Anthropology


Jeffrey R. Koseff

William Alden and Martha
Campbell Professor of Engineering

Krista Lawlor
Professor of Philosophy

Helen Longino, C.I.
Lewis Professor of Philosophy


Stephen Monismith

Obayashi Professor in the School of Engineering


Andrea Nightingale

Professor of Classics


David Palumbo-Liu

Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Professor of
Comparative Literature


Rush Rehm

Professor of Theater and Performance Studies
and of Classics


Eric Roberts

Charles Simonyi Professor of Computer Science,
emeritus, Stanford University

Visiting Professor of Computer Science, Reed


Elaine Treharne

Professor of Humanities and of English


Barbara Voss, Associate Professor of Anthropology


Laura Wittman, Associate Professor of French
and Italian

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