Faculty Senate divided: Should Hoover cut ties with Murdoch and Mercer?

May 11, 2023, 11:33 p.m.

The Faculty Senate ultimately failed to come to a vote on a resolution that asks to remove Fox News co-founder Rupert Murdoch and Parler founding investor Rebekah Mercer from Stanford’s Hoover Board of Overseers, following a contentious and prolonged debate at its meeting Thursday.

The resolution, brought forward by Joe Lipsick, professor of biology, calls for the Faculty Senate to terminate “the association of Rebekah Mercer and Rupert Murdoch in all positions of responsibility or honor at Stanford University.” Murdoch and Mercer currently sit on the Hoover Board of Overseers.

Two months ago, 90 Stanford faculty members signed an open letter to the Director of the Hoover Institute, the President, the Provost and the Board of Trustees, asking them to question Rupert Murdoch’s association with Stanford. 

“Let us be perfectly clear — in this letter we are not asking that you remove Murdoch from the Board,” they then wrote. “What we are asking of you is that you each publicly account for your acquiescence to Rupert Murdoch’s prestigious appointment to the Board, one which reflects not only on Hoover, but also on Stanford.”

But now, members of the Faculty Senate are urging the removal of Murdoch and Mercer’s affiliation with Hoover entirely, though the passage of the resolution would be purely symbolic. The Senate does not have the power to remove Murdoch and Mercer from the board — such a move would need to go through “a long standing process,” according to former Secretary of State and Director of Hoover Institution Condoleezza Rice.

“Our primary concern is that speech promoted on platforms controlled by Murdoch and Mercer has violated clearly demarcated lines beyond which Stanford University’s President has promised action,” proponents of the resolution wrote in their letter to the Senate Thursday morning.

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne urged the senate to vote against the resolution, calling it “chilling” and an imposition of “institutional orthodoxy” during the Faculty Senate meeting.

“The Senate just reaffirmed its commitment to [academic freedom],” Tessier-Lavigne said, referencing a previous faculty senate meeting. “For the senate to adopt this resolution would be to set itself up as a thought police.”

Professor of comparative literature David Palumbo-Liu immediately disagreed.

“I don’t care what Rupert Murdoch says, I care what he does,” Palumbo-Liu said. “And he broke the fundamental commitment of a university, which is to spread true information. What value does Rupert Murdoch bring to Stanford that overrides the damage he has brought to our country?”

Murdoch, the business magnate best known for founding Fox News, has recently come under scrutiny for the outlet’s continued endorsement of the “replacement theory,” which posits that non-white immigrants are brought into the U.S. to replace white voters — a conspiracy theory multiple mass shooters have cited as a motivating factor behind their killings. 

Last month, the media outlet settled a lawsuit brought against them by Dominion Voting Systems, which alleged that Fox News knowingly peddled lies related to the 2020 presidential election, fueling the Jan. 6 insurrection. Days later, prominent Fox News host and far-right commentator Tucker Carlson was fired from the organization. 

Mercer is a founding investor of the social media outlet Parler, which was used by President Donald Trump’s allies to push claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent. When a co-founder of Parler raised concerns regarding the use of the platform by extremist groups, he was fired. 

Rice opposed the resolution, characterizing it as a matter of free speech and press.

“This has been an attack on Hoover,” she said. “If you do this with Hoover Institution, I certainly hope you will do this with every advisory board and the Stanford Board of Trustees.”

In her remarks, Rice also referenced a private email exchange between herself and proponents of the resolution, saying that proponents of the resolution accused them of being in the “thrall of extremists” if they do not agree to remove Murdoch and Mercer from the board.

Professor of theater and performance studies Branislav Jakovljevic objected to her reference to the private email. “I think it was highly unethical to quote Professor Lipsick’s private correspondence without permission,” Branislav said. “I guess that’s what you get from associating with people like Rupert Murdoch.”

Lipsick said Rice took the email’s contents out of its original context, where he wrote that the resolution “would demonstrate to the Stanford community and the world at large that the Hoover Institution is not in thrall to extremists who actively undermine democracy and promote racist hatred, presumably in exchange for their continued financial support.”

Previous faculty senate meetings have involved contentious debate over Stanford’s commitment to academic freedom following the law school protest, which some believe the Hoover resolution would be antithetical to. 

“The senate’s foundational statement of academic freedom holds that expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal and or external coercion,” Rice said.

Professor of mechanical engineering Juan Santiago, who also opposed the resolution, argued that the head of a news company is not directly responsible for the statements it makes.

“This resolution implies that owners of the news service are personally responsible for everything said by the news service,” Santiago said. “It seems to ignore the principle of journalistic freedom.”

However, in a deposition for the Fox News defamation lawsuit, Murdoch admitted under oath that he had some control in prohibiting certain content or guests.

“I could have,” Murdoch said in the deposition. “But I didn’t.”

In a heated exchange following the meeting, Rice expressed her concerns regarding the resolution to Deborah Hensler, vice chair of the senate and professor of dispute resolution at the law school.

“You have been a problem this entire time,” Rice said to Hensler.

In a statement to The Daily, Hensler called Rice’s characterization of the resolution as an attack on Hoover “unfortunate.”

“My focus was on President Levigne’s [sic] statement that seemingly anyone, no matter their views, should rightfully be considered a candidate for a university institutional leadership appointment, in the interest of assuring freedom of expression,” she wrote. “Surely that can’t be true.”

As debate over the resolution continued, the meeting lost its quorum as senate members began to leave. Without quorum, the resolution did not reach a vote and was pushed to an unspecified later date.

Theo Baker contributed reporting.

Sarah Raza '23 M.A. '24 is a Vol. 264 News Managing Editor. During Vol. 263, she was a Desk Editor for the University Desk. She hails from Michigan. Contact Sarah at sraza 'at' stanforddaily.com.

Login or create an account