Letter from ASSU presidents: Investing in the King Institute is an imperative

June 9, 2020, 8:23 a.m.

The following letter, authored by several previous ASSU presidents, expresses the urgency and necessity of providing appropriate funding and support to the King Institute. The Daily Editorial Board lends its full support to this letter and stands with the authors in demanding the King Institute be allowed to fully live up to its potential. The board generally writes independent statements, and we had intended to do so on this matter. However, we hope that in signing onto this statement, it will help demonstrate to the administration the overwhelming support this has among students and organizations on campus. We encourage our readers to learn more about the #StandWithKing initiative and donate to the King Institute at bit.ly/StandWithKing.
The Stanford Daily Vol. 257 Editorial Board

Letter from ASSU presidents: Investing in the King Institute is an imperative

Dear Stanford Trustees,

In 1985, Coretta Scott King entrusted Dr. Clayborne Carson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Centennial Professor of History, to edit and publish the papers of her late husband. Stanford was given this prestigious mission for free

The King Papers Project — aided by hundreds of Stanford students over the years — has given Stanford the honor of hosting a unique and critical body of research on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Moreover, the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute, which Dr. Carson established in 2005, curates high-quality educational materials — including K-12 curricula and a podcast — that help new generations learn about Dr. King’s vision for a more just and peaceful world. 

One would think that such a singularly important resource would have immediately become Stanford’s crown jewel, an embodiment of the University’s commitment to social justice. After all, the Hoover Institution, which was also founded by a gift from a noted American leader, has become a richly-endowed think tank and an instantly recognizable symbol of the University. 

However, over the last two decades, the King Institute — which occupies a small, 1960s-era portable structure in the shadow of the Engineering Quad — has seen this University pour hundreds of millions of dollars into science, technology and engineering programs while receiving far less support. Some of these new STEM centers have endowments that are orders of magnitude larger than that of the King Institute. Stanford has never made the King Institute a top priority for investment and fundraising; its small endowment was funded initially by a pledge from Ronnie Lott, a donor who has no Stanford affiliation. Many of Stanford’s preeminent donors — including Black alumni — may not even be aware that it exists. 

This history of sustained institutional neglect is more than just unfortunate. It fails to honor Dr. King’s legacy and suggests that Stanford’s commitment to racial justice rings hollow. Coretta Scott King entrusted Dr. Carson with her husband’s papers — Stanford simply had the good fortune to have Dr. Carson on the faculty at the time of Scott King’s decision. However, the University has yet to provide the financial backing that this precious resource deserves. As Dr. Carson plans to retire this year with no replacement as of yet to head the King Institute, Stanford must assume responsibility for investing in this part of Dr. King’s legacy — something it should have done years ago. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Stanford moved quickly to mount a response, becoming a national leader for medical research and innovation related to the disease. This week, we have heard increasing talk of “second disease” threatening America — the brutal systemic racism that robs Black Americans of their lives, wealth and human dignity every day and that will continue long after COVID-19 subsides. We have heard messages from University leadership promising an institutional response to this second disease, and yet nothing concrete has materialized.

Investing in the King Institute is a concrete, obvious and long-overdue way for Stanford to make a commitment to eradicating systemic racism and advancing social justice. The research and educational materials produced by the Institute keep Dr. King’s voice alive — a voice that we desperately need during these dark and divided times. Furthermore, as student leaders, we have seen this University struggle for years to recruit, obtain, and retain Black students, scholars and faculty. If the King Institute were to become a well-funded Stanford symbol like the Hoover Institution, Stanford could become a veritable magnet for the best and brightest Black minds who are seeking to study issues of racial and social justice.

Finally, we have heard many trustees bemoan the social and political divisions that exist in Stanford’s student body, asking, “What can we do to fix this?” Dr. King’s precise vision is one of overcoming social and political divisions to achieve a more just and equitable future. Stanford’s neglect of the King Institute speaks volumes to where the University actually stands on achieving this future. Imagine a Stanford where Dr. King’s legacy is tangible as soon as you reach the end of Palm Drive — a Stanford where interactive exhibits on the King Papers rival the exhibits at Cantor Arts Center, and where a significant portion of students and faculty are using Dr. King’s work as a platform to deeply engage in some of the most important moral and political questions of our era. It is not difficult to understand how this reconception of Stanford would have a more effective understanding of how to heal its own community divisions, not to mention those of the nation at large.

As current and former student leaders — and many of us, African Americans — we are appalled by this state of affairs, and we call on Stanford to improve by simply making the most of the resources that it already is privileged to house. We join the call to action from over 5,500 members of our community who have signed a petition asking the University to provide increased institutional support to the King Institute. Specifically, we urge the Board of Trustees and the President’s Office to make the King Institute’s endowment one of Stanford’s top external fundraising priorities. The University has made clear that the permanence and value of initiatives are demonstrated through endowments. The King Institute deserves an endowment that is commensurate to King’s centrality to this nation’s future, an endowment that can ensure its permanence and prominence. 


Erica Scott 20, 2019-2020 ASSU President
Shanta Katipamula 19, MS 20, 2018-2019 ASSU President
Munira Alimire 22, 2020-2021 ASSU President
Vianna Vo 21, 2020-2021 ASSU Vice President
Isaiah Drummond 20, 2019-2020 ASSU Vice President
Rosie Nelson, 2018-2019 ASSU Vice President
Justice Tention 18, 2017-2018 ASSU President
Vicki Niu 18, 2017-2018 ASSU Vice President
Jackson Beard 17, 2016-2017 ASSU President
Amanda Edelman 17, 2016-2017 ASSU Vice President
John-Lancaster Finley 16, 2015-2016 ASSU President
Brandon Hill 16, 2015-2016 ASSU Vice President
Elizabeth Woodson 15, 2014-2015 ASSU President
Logan Richard 15, 2014-2015 ASSU Vice President
Dan Ashton 14, 2013-2014 ASSU Co-President
Billy Gallagher 14, 2013-2014 ASSU Co-President

Contact Erica Scott, 2019-2020 ASSU President, at erica98 ‘at’ assu.stanford.edu.

The Vol. 257 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Malavika Kannan ’23, Layo Laniyan ’22, Adrian Liu ’20, Jasmine Liu ’20 and Willoughby Winograd 22.

The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com. 

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The Daily is committed to publishing a diversity of op-eds and letters to the editor. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Email letters to the editor to eic ‘at’ stanforddaily.com and op-ed submissions to opinions ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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