Professors push for stronger response from Stanford on diversity training Trump order

Nov. 30, 2020, 6:57 p.m.

Professors voiced unease about Stanford’s response to a Trump administration executive order on diversity training, pressing for clarity from Stanford about how and whether the University will ensure compliance with the order in the future at a Monday panel.

The discussion comes two weeks after the University released a memo that included guidelines advising departments to modify their diversity training programs to comply with the order by omitting references to structural or systemic racism and certain types of unconscious bias. The memo, which drew backlash from educators and students, was taken down from University websites just days later. On Nov. 18, Provost Persis Drell apologized for the “disruption and concern” caused by the memo and explained that it had been released before receiving necessary final approval in an email to the school community.

During the panel discussion, law professor Michele Dauber said that the University’s continued willingness to comply with an order that places limits on academic freedom is concerning, citing that Drell had written in the email that the University “abides by its legal obligations and will continue to do so.”

“This is an occasion on which there is no room for spin or nuance or legal niceties,” Dauber said. “Compliance with this order is complicity, and complicity in this case is an existential threat to Stanford and to the entire purpose of academic institutions, as well as to anti-bias and anti-racism issues that we all care about.”

Though the University removed the memo from its websites, Dauber said Drell did not specify whether it has been rescinded. Dauber said she worries that the University may continue using a version of the memo to evaluate training programs that are seeking approval. 

University spokesperson E.J. Miranda wrote in a statement to The Daily that “the order has been rescinded and should not be used.”

Physics professor and Physics Department Equity and Inclusion Committee chair Bruce Macintosh said that regardless of whether the University uses the memo, the executive order could still prove harmful to departmental diversity efforts. Macintosh said that his committee normally offers training programs on systemic bias to the graduate admissions committee, but that these programs may now be subject to scrutiny and restrictions over the next two months. 

Though experts expect the Biden administration to rescind the order early next year, Macintosh said that any federal contracts that the University signs before then may be impacted by the order.

“If Stanford signs a contract with the federal government in the next two months, this language is going to be built into that contract unless we argue really hard not to get it in there,” Macintosh said. “And then it will take time to amend the contracts to take the language back out, so this could really linger.”

On Nov. 25, the University joined an amicus brief supporting a legal challenge to the order alongside seven peer higher education institutions. The brief contends that the order is a restriction on academic freedom and a violation of the First Amendment. Macintosh said that, while issuing the brief was a good step, the University still has not displayed adequate resistance to the order.

He said that, relative to other institutions, Stanford was late to the game in opposing the executive order. Though Stanford is part of the American Council on Education which submitted a petition for the government to reverse the order, the University did not independently condemn the order.

“Many peer institutions have written much stronger statements from the moment the executive order came out, saying this is a terrible order and that either they are not complying with it or they are going to comply with it as narrowly as possible as opposed to our overly enthusiastic adoption of it,” Macintosh said.

“I think we all feel this is nowhere near enough of a response,” he added.

Contact Tammer Bagdasarian at tbag ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Tammer Bagdasarian '24 is a Desk Editor for the Grad Student beat at The Daily, and is planning to major in Communication and Political Science. In his free time he likes to hang out with University Desk Editor Benjamin Zaidel. Contact the news sections at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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