Faculty Senate votes to put University Provost, Hoover Director in charge of reporting on relationship between University, Hoover

Feb. 12, 2021, 12:23 a.m.

At its Thursday meeting, the Faculty Senate passed an amended resolution putting Provost Persis Drell and Hoover Director Condoleezza Rice in charge of “increasing interaction” between the Hoover Institution and the University — at a time when many faculty and students are calling on Stanford to sever ties with Hoover altogether.

Drell and Rice, both stated supporters of the Hoover Institution’s ongoing relationship with the University, will consult with faculty and present a report on their progress at the end of the 2021-22 academic year.

Originally, the resolution presented by psychiatry professor David Spiegel, comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, environmental engineering professor Stephen Monismith and comparative literature and French professor Joshua Landy would “convene an Ad Hoc Committee to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of the current relationship between Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, and report its findings to the Faculty Senate for a full and comprehensive discussion.”

Upon pushback from several faculty and central administration members, it was amended twice before passing in its final form.

The Hoover Institution has become a point of controversy this year after multiple senior fellows expressed dangerous views on the COVID-19 pandemic. Hoover fellow and radiologist Scott Atlas supported a scientifically unsubstantiated herd immunity strategy, and Richard A. Epstein, a legal scholar, predicted in March that U.S. deaths would reach about 5,000 at most, adding that this estimate “could prove somewhat optimistic.” Almost 500,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in the United States. 

“The steady stream of COVID misinformation material coming out of Hoover penned by non- experts has arguably done real reputational damage to Stanford University,” Spiegel said.

Many of these opinions, Spiegel added, “are directly linked to alt right media.” 

In the aftermath of the 2020 election, Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson falsely claimed on Tucker Carlson Tonight that “Orwellian convergence” rendered Election Day into “an abstraction.”

“The dangers are not limited to COVID infections and reputational damage,” Landy said.

Central to the presenters’ argument is their belief that Hoover is a “partisan think tank” that does not espouse “a politically neutral value endorsed and promoted by the University,” said Monismith. For example, Hoover’s mission statement is “to limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals,” while the Freeman Spogli Institute’s website states that it “explicitly separates itself from ideological commitments.” 

Shortly after the presentation, though, Drell said that she was “left quite confused” about their goal because the governing relationship between Hoover and Stanford is already documented and “doesn’t require a special committee to rediscover that documentation.” 

Director of the Hoover Institution Condolezza Rice said that she would agree to a proposition that would allow Hoover to more effectively work with Stanford — but not, she cautioned, if the resolution’s purpose were to silence and censor Hoover fellows.

“We have just given away one of the most precious freedoms we have” when we begin to second guess “our right to express an idea no matter how controversial or unpopular,” she said, quoting a previous statement given by Palumbo-Liu.

John Etchemendy, a former provost and current philosophy professor, proposed an amendment to the original resolution. His amendment, which passed with an overwhelming majority, designates the University Provost and Hoover Director, instead of an ad hoc committee, to work towards “increasing interaction between Hoover and the rest of the university” and “to present a joint report on plans and progress toward achieving this goal at a Faculty Senate meeting prior to the end of the 2021-22 Academic Year.” 

Etchemendy said that he offered the amendment not because of his political views, but rather because “my understanding of the purpose of the university has matured and become more sophisticated.”

A second amendment, proposed by Monismith, specified the consultation of faculty in the report and passed unanimously. 

Other business

The Faculty Senate unanimously passed a resolution for the creation of a committee to consider issues pertaining to faculty legal representation. This resolution was created in response to the libel lawsuit from Scott Atlas against a group of medical faculty who circulated a letter critical of his stance on the pandemic.

Drell also announced that faculty tenure has been extended by a year to “mitigate negative impact” on junior untenured faculty. Untenured faculty are at a “particularly vulnerable moment in their careers” due to the pandemic, Drell said. Additionally, faculty will be eligible for a post-pandemic research quarter that can be taken in any pre-tenure year, and the University will also grant an additional three quarters of sabbatical to Academic Council faculty. 

Regarding spring quarter plans for undergraduates, Drell said the “hope continues to be to allow juniors and seniors to be in residence spring quarter if they wish.” The University will announce finalized plans for spring quarter housing for juniors and seniors by March 1st.

This article has been updated to clarify that Rice quoted a previous statement given by Palumbo-Liu.

Contact Victoria Hsieh at vhsieh02 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

Victoria Hsieh '24 is a Desk Editor for the Business and Technology Desk looking to major in Computer Science and minor in Political Science. She is from Seattle and thereby a caffeine and hiking fanatic. Contact The Daily’s News section at news ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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