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Future of King Institute remains uncertain despite continued support for its funding

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Despite the recent outpour of advocacy and support for the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute, including a petition with over 11,000 signatures calling for increased funding along with a more permanent location on campus, its future still remains uncertain. 

The Institute is home to Martin Luther King Jr.’s collection of published and unpublished writings and document-based lesson plans. It works with a $500,000 budget each year and is located in Cypress Hall D near the Engineering Quad, where portables are used as offices. 

Students and faculty have found this set-up to be disappointing, as well as insufficient, in carrying out the Institute’s mission of engaging in outreach, education and research efforts supporting Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy and the movements he inspired. 

University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne addressed these issues in an open letter sent out on June 30, writing that, “Stanford is fully invested in the Institute’s future success, including our commitment to continue its long-term efforts to assemble, edit and publish the King Papers.”

Joshua Adamson ’20, who started the petition because he believed the Institute wasn’t being properly valued, said their response was a good first step. 

“I think it’s a promising start, but more definitely needs to be done,” Adamson said. “I’m pretty sure it was intentionally vague.”

Joy Leighton, spokesperson for the School of Humanities and Sciences, told The Daily that the University is committed to supporting the Institute and its future endeavors. 

“The Institute remains a critical part of Stanford University’s mission to educate and prepare our students to be leaders in society and fight against racism and injustice in our world,” Leighton wrote. “The University supports the Institute in many ways, including providing it with ample office space at a time when space is severely limited on campus.” 

Much of the demands being made stem from concern among the student body in regards to combating anti-Blackness on campus. 

“We must recognize the stereotyping, stigmatization and marginalization of diverse individuals and communities that occur on our own campus and work to tackle them,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote.

Director Clayborne Carson, while happy with all of the attention the Institute has been receiving, feels more action can take place on the school’s part. 

“I know the work we’re doing is important,” Carson said. “I know that Martin Luther King Jr. is important. So, the idea of a more prominent space is about Stanford reflecting that importance. It’s mainly how the University wants to present itself to the world.” 

Carson is set to retire this August, but as of right now, it’s unclear when a new director will take his place. 

According to Carson, the pandemic-induced faculty hiring freeze might stall onboarding of a new director from happening anytime soon. His understanding is that he’ll “continue to be called back from retirement to serve as the Principal Investigator (P.I.) of the Kings Project and de facto director of the King Institute.”

Leighton confirmed that Carson will “serve as the principal investigator on the research grants,” even after retirement. While there is a general hiring freeze in the school, the search for a replacement will go on as an exception because of the role’s “unique importance.”

She added that whoever takes on the position next will “bring a vision for the Institute that will address [its] funding as well as [its] location.” 

Gregory Clark ’20, a former intern at the Institute, says the best way to ensure its relevance is to keep up the momentum by applying pressure on all-fronts. 

“I think having all Stanford affiliates, whether that be alumni or faculty, make donations towards the Institute would be a great step in the right direction,” Clark said. “When Stanford sees that the pressure is not going away, they can start to do something about it.” 

Contact Gabriela Calvillo at gabrielacalvillo1019 ‘at’ gmail.com.

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Gabriela Calvillo is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop.