Do conservatives belong at Stanford?

Opinion by Ben Esposito
Feb. 11, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

No one has ever doubted that the Hoover Institution, a think tank and research center named after Republican president Herbert Hoover, leans conservative. Its fellows have shaped American domestic and foreign policy under nearly every president for the past 50 years. Despite this prestigious service to our University and our country, several members of the faculty senate suddenly decided they had had enough of the sole conservative institution on campus. Professor Kenneth Taylor called the Hoover Institution’s conservative ideology “intellectually bankrupt.” In a published statement last Friday, over a dozen Stanford professors described Hoover’s commitment to its mission statement, as “constraining” and “antithetical to the spirit of open inquiry that is a fundamental element of liberal education.”  

It should be noted that the Hoover’s mission statement focuses upon supporting “the Constitution of the United States, its Bill of Rights and our method of representative government in the U.S.” Hoover’s methodologies include using its research to show America “the road to peace, to personal freedom and to the safeguards of the American system.” The professors provide no evidence that the quality of Hoover’s work has been negatively impacted by following their mission statement. The lens through which others see and define truth and knowledge is to some extent always constrained. Such criticism reflects an unwillingness on the part of the professors to recognize their own ideologies and how it might affect what they define as truth. Their statements suggest that among Stanford students and professors there is a profound misunderstanding of how the Hoover Institution benefits Stanford and its students. These professors’ comments betray a surprising lack of tolerance towards a well-regarded and intellectual foundation with a conservative label.

While Provost Drell thankfully came to the defense of the Hoover Institution, calling it an “asset to the Stanford community” that “has benefited the community and the country,” the uninformed criticisms of Hoover demonstrate how troublingly little the Stanford community knows about the Hoover Institution. It is incredulous that the intellectual weight and prestige that the Hoover brings to Stanford University can be simply dismissed. Not only does the Hoover add ideological diversity to Stanford, it also strengthens Stanford’s prowess in economics, political science and international relations. Influential scholars in these fields, such as John Taylor, Michael Boskin, Condoleezza Rice, Amy Zegart, Thomas Sowell and HR McMaster are all fellows at Hoover and participate in the Hoover National Security mentorship program benefitting undergraduates at Stanford. Indeed, Hoover affiliations within Stanford include the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) fellows, such as former Ambassador Michael McFaul.

Lastly, an ideological lean should not render a research institution irredeemable. Even if Hoover’s mission of supporting the U.S. Constitution, free markets and peace is exclusively conservative, nearly all think tanks have an ideological lean. Other research institutions at Stanford demonstrate opposing political beliefs and co-exist on campus peacefully with Hoover. For example, both the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the GSB direct an average of 96 percent of their campaign donations to Democratic candidates. No one would suggest that the liberal inclinations of the CISAC and GSB taints all of their research.  

Hoover’s presence at Stanford maintains the intellectual integrity of our campus and compels Stanford’s students and professors to go beyond present-day academia’s confining intellectual bubble. The research of Hoover Fellows reminds us that there is often more than one side to public policy issues. The title of this op-ed, then, poses the question of whether or not conservatives belong at Stanford. The existence of the Hoover Institution on campus and Provost Drell’s defense of it makes it seem so; it is worrisome that some Stanford professors seem to believe that a single center-right institution on campus is one too many.


Contact Ben Esposito at bespo ‘at’ 

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