Faculty Senate debates role of Hoover Institution on campus

Feb. 8, 2019, 1:08 a.m.

The Hoover Institution’s perceived conservative slant and lack of diversity were the center of debate at Tuesday’s Faculty Senate meeting. The meeting, the second of the quarter, also included a presentation on the Graduate School of Business’s (GSB) mission by Jonathan Levin, dean and Phillip H. Knight professor.

‘Intellectually bankrupt’: Criticisms of Hoover

Several faculty members criticized Hoover for its alleged ideological bias. Classics professor Rush Rehm described the Institution as a “right-wing think tank.” Hoover Director and Senior Fellow Thomas Gilligan responded by saying that “that perception is partly true,” but qualified his statement with his own experience.    

“When I first got [to Hoover] I was struck by the amount of disagreement that existed among fellows over certain policy areas,” Gilligan said, citing discussions about education policy with advocates from “opposite sides of the spectrum.”

“I think there’s a bit more of a sense of diversity than what you think,” he added.

Philosophy professor Kenneth Taylor commented on what he saw as the Institution’s ideological rigidity.

“Why do we have an institution with an ideology idée fixe built into it on campus?” Taylor said. “To have that as part of the Institution’s foundational character seems intellectually bankrupt.”

Gilligan and Provost Persis Drell both defended the Institution in response. Gilligan called it “the nation’s preeminent research center dedicated to generating policy ideas that promote economic prosperity, national security and democratic governance.”

He asserted that Hoover is “part of Stanford University” and that “the job of the Board of Trustees is to ensure sure that the Hoover Institution’s policies are consistent with [those] of the University.”

Gilligan responded to accusations of ideological bias, stating that the perception that Hoover fellows are “uniform on opinion” is an “unclear characterization.”

“Senior fellows exercise their duties to discovery with a great deal of academic freedom [and] do not feel constrained by [the] mission statement,” he added.

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, who was placed on a conservative youth group’s “watch list” last spring, read a statement that took issue with Hoover’s mission statement stating that the Institution utilizes “ideas taken from classical liberalism.” His statement also touched on the Hoover Institution’s role in Cardinal Conversations, the speaker series that is currently being overhauled by Provost Drell.

Last spring, an email exchange between Hoover Fellow Niall Ferguson, then a member of the Cardinal Conversations steering committee, and Stanford College Republicans president John Rice-Cameron ’20 was leaked to The Daily. The emails revealed that Ferguson had asked Rice-Cameron to conduct opposition [research] on a Democratic student government candidate, an act that Palumbo-Liu termed a “debacle.”

“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,” Palumbo-Liu wrote.

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

Gilligan responded to the prepared statement by stating that, “We are trying to review and do Cardinal Conversations in a better way.” He maintained that Cardinal Conversations could be very useful for “enlivening civil debate about consequential issues.”

Drell, who is spearheading Cardinal Conversations’ restructuring, defended the Hoover Institution, calling it “an asset to the Stanford community.”

“It has become much more integrated into Stanford and has benefited the community and the country,” Drell said, describing Hoover as “ground zero for for some of the most enlightened arms-control policy in the past two decades.”

Members of the Faculty Senate also discussed the diversity of the Institute.

According to Gilligan, women constitute eight percent of the institution’s total fellows, and minorities constitute 19 percent.

Engineering professor John Dabiri asked whether the institution’s low female representation could be due to a “climate issue” within the Institution, a suggestion Gilligan denied.

“I don’t think it’s a climate issue,” Gilligan said. “It’s more of a pipeline issue … It’s a low number and we need to try to do better.”

He said that the Institution was “working on” issues of diversity, with a goal to raise female representation to 30 percent.  


Tuesday’s meeting also included a presentation by GSB dean Jonathan Levin on the School’s global research, future goals and diversity and inclusion efforts. Levin highlighted ongoing trends in management and leadership education alongside innovations in technology. He mentioned that “Data and AI will strengthen MBA education.”

Taylor questioned the success of the GSB’s efforts toward “transformative education,” in terms of motivating students to work toward “social good.” Levin responded by saying that the School “opens students’ aperture on what is possible in their careers and lives.”

Drell also notified the Faculty Senate of  her appointment of current law professor Jenny S. Martinez accepted as the new dean of Stanford Law School, succeeding Elizabeth Magill.


Contact Matthew Dardet at mattdar ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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