Cardinal Conversations replacement seeking students for oversight committee

March 7, 2019, 12:05 a.m.

The committee overseeing a replacement for the controversial Cardinal Conversations speaker series is accepting student self-nominations until March 18, an email from the Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA) announced Wednesday.

The committee, helmed by three faculty advisors, will be responsible for soliciting proposals from Stanford community members to choose the series’ topics, speakers and formats. It will also have the power to pursue partnerships with other organizations, seek community feedback and “experiment with different formats” for series events.

Between 10 and 15 undergraduates or graduate students will be chosen by peers drawn from community centers, student government, the Stanford Political Union, Stanford in Government, the First-Gen Low Income Partnership and Stanford Law School, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris. The search committee will seek to select a group with a “wide range of ideological and demographic factors,” Harris told The Daily.

Students chosen via self-nomination will join a student government representative, students nominated by voluntary student organizations (VSOs) and students nominated by faculty members, according to a Jan. 14 VPSA announcement.

In Wednesday’s email, Hoover Institution director Thomas Gilligan, Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode and Graduate School of Education dean emeritus Claude Steele — the faculty members on the committee — alluded to the “mixed success” of last year’s five Cardinal Conversations events.

Cardinal Conversations, which according to the email aims to be a “forum for thought leaders … [on] important social issues,” was criticized for a lack of diversity among its speakers, who were predominantly white men, as well as for the discussions’ conservative lean and leadership. The series’ second event, featuring social scientist Charles Murray whose work has been blasted as racist pseudoscience, sparked peaceful student protest and drew visibly low attendance.

The program also made national headlines after leaked emails revealed that its co-director, Hoover Institution fellow Niall Ferguson, had been collaborating with conversative student activists John Rice-Cameron ’20 and Max Minshull ’20 to introduce a right-leaning slant to the discussions, as well as to conduct “opposition research” on a liberal student activist. Ferguson resigned from his co-director positions after the emails were publicized.

Last September, Provost Persis Drell announced that the conversation series would be restructured to allow for greater student input on the program’s structure and content.

“There were definitely some missteps and missed opportunities with the inaugural Cardinal Conversations series,” Drell wrote in a Sep. 21 Notes from the Quad post. “We don’t always get everything right at first. However, I think it makes us stronger when we are willing to acknowledge that we tried, it didn’t work the way we wanted, but the goal is so important that we are willing to try again.”


Contact Erin Woo at erinkwoo ‘at’

Erin Woo '21 is The Daily's Vol. 259 Editor-in-Chief. Born and raised in Atlanta, GA, she is studying communications and creative writing at Stanford. She has also reported for The Mercury News and WNYC. Contact her at eic 'at'

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