It’s time for Stanford to separate itself from Hoover

Nov. 23, 2020, 6:36 p.m.

The Hoover Institution’s status on Stanford’s campus has always been controversial. Founded as a library by Herbert Hoover, the Institution now exists as a right-leaning policy think tank. Although Hoover is not a Stanford department and has its own board of trustees, it does report to the provost and has a place on Stanford’s campus — and Hoover’s position on the Stanford campus and the co-appointments of several Hoover fellows have led to its de facto affiliation with Stanford. This relationship is listed on its website and mentioned by most of its fellows during their academic and media appearances. This relationship makes Stanford one of the only universities in the country affiliated with a partisan think tank.

Professors and students alike have spoken about this relationship for decades, calling attention to several concerning aspects of Hoover’s research. The Editorial Board is now adding its voice to theirs: We call for Stanford to disaffiliate from the Hoover institution. Not only should Hoover not share its campus with Stanford — it should no longer be able to use the Stanford reputation and prestige to bolster its affiliates.

Stanford’s founding charter describes a vision to foster “education, research, and creativity for the benefit of humanity.” Hoover consistently fails to live up to this intellectual and educational mission, producing research with a partisan lean that does not adhere to the academic standards the rest of the University does — its presence contravenes the very academic standards to which Stanford holds each of its academic departments. Further, the Institution has held consistently lower hiring standards than Stanford, and has failed to diversify both its fellows and academic opportunities.

When the Hoover Institution was formally incorporated into Stanford in 1959, Herbert Hoover said that he envisioned a role beyond mere archiving. “The purpose of this Institution must be, by its research and publications, to demonstrate the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx — whether Communism, Socialism, economic materialism or atheism.” In keeping with this mission, Hoover has hired fellows with predominantly right-wing policy opinions. Over the decades Hoover fellows have fought on the front lines of every major controversy, providing intellectual support for everything from overseas ventures in Vietnam and Iraq to climate change denial.

The current pandemic has illuminated a dangerous side of Hoover and its fellows, a side that not only has a partisan bent, but also deceives and misinforms.

Scott Atlas, the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at Hoover and a frequent Fox News commentator early in the U.S. COVID-19 response, has peddled unsubstantiated claims about the pandemic, including, as our news team wrote, “that children do not get sick or transmit the virus, that masks are not effective and that one of the best ways to ‘eradicate the threat of the virus’ was to allow for rampant community spread of the virus.”

Since then, Atlas has become a close COVID-19 advisor to President Trump, despite being an expert in neither infectious diseases nor epidemiology, and has continued to disseminate dangerously misleading information about the pandemic. In September, over 100 Stanford faculty members signed onto a letter addressed to Stanford University School of Medicine that criticized Atlas and his viewpoints. Just days ago, Atlas called for people to disregard epidemic orders in Michigan. This misrepresentation is not a issue of partisan lean per se, but rather a deviation from established science during a public health emergency.

And then there’s Richard Epstein who responsible for promoting several COVID-19 falsehoods, including that only 500 Americans would likely die of the virus, and in April published an op-ed containing numerous falsehoods, including that the state’s response to COVID-19 has been worse than the disease and that the death count is exaggerated.

Since Atlas and Epstein are among countless Hoover fellows, we might dismiss them as exceptional cases. But Hoover does not adhere to academic standards on par with any other Stanford department. Hoover’s process is entirely internal, with little transparency and, therefore, accountability. Hoover’s Core Governance Group weighs the scholarship and qualifications of candidates before submitting their names to the provost. The approximately 120 fellows appointed by Hoover, therefore, are selected with limited input from the rest of Stanford, raising serious concerns about accountability and ideological and demographic homogeneity.

Hoover has also failed to diversify its faculty and scholarship. Although the current director of the Institution, Condoleezza Rice, is a woman of color, the overwhelming majority of the Hoover fellows are white and male. By Hoover’s numbers, 19% of its fellows are from underrepresented minority groups, and only 8% of its fellows are women. This demographic homogeneity falls far below the expectations of any Stanford department, reflecting a deeply troubling failure of the Hoover Institution to live up to the University’s standards.

Hoover has somehow always been able to shield itself against criticism from the Stanford administration. Persis Drell, at an October meeting of the Faculty Senate, told Hoover critics, “In a very real sense, and I think this is important to keep in mind, they are, in fact, us.” But neither the Institution’s penchant for promoting conservative ideology nor the newfound propensity of fellows to peddle disinformation are reconcilable with the University’s values of impartial inquiry and rigorous pursuit of truth.

On Monday, Stanford’s official Twitter account tweeted that Atlas had “expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic,” and that his statements “reflect his personal views, not those of the Hoover Institution or the university.” That statement won’t cut it — Atlas derives his credibility from Hoover and Stanford, and his statements directly reflect both institutions. In our current information ecosystem, the distinction Stanford wishes to make between “personal” and “official” statements has no practical import.

We on the Editorial Board echo the thoughts of the late Ken Taylor, professor of philosophy, who asked, “Why do we have an institution with an ideology idée fixe built into it on campus? To have that as part of the institution’s foundational character seems intellectually bankrupt.” This year Hoover affiliates have not only intensified their partisan lean but done so disregarding established scientific consensus and academic standards. For an academic institution of Stanford’s caliber to continue to associate with the Hoover Institution is to betray its high-minded ideals of scholarship and public service. The University must disaffiliate from the Hoover Institution.

In a previous version of this piece Paul Sperry was listed as a Hoover fellow. Sperry is not a Hoover fellow. He is a former member of the Hoover media fellow program. The Daily regrets this error.

The Vol. 258 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Layo Laniyan ’22, Elizabeth Lindqwister ’21, Adrian Liu ’20, Patrick Monreal ’22, Megha Parwani ’21 and Cooper Ryan Veit ’22.

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