top of page
Home: About Us

“The first step is to remind our students and colleagues that those who hold views contrary to one’s own are rarely evil or stupid, and may know or understand things that we do not. It is only when we start with this assumption that rational discourse can begin, and that the winds of freedom can blow." Former Stanford Provost John Etchemendy

From Our Latest Newsletter

"To Be True To The Best You Know" -- Jane Stanford

July 8, 2024

Farewell to Academe


Excerpts (links in the original):


“After 42 years of academic life -- not counting five years spent getting a Ph.D. -- I am hanging it up. A while back, I concluded that the conversation that I would most dread overhearing would be an alumna saying to a current student, 'I know, I know, but you should have seen the old man in his prime.' I believe I dodged that one.


“My more than four decades, interrupted by stints of public service in the Defense and State Departments, were spent at just three academic institutions. Harvard formed and launched me; the Naval War College exposed me to America’s senior officer corps and its leadership culture; and Johns Hopkins, where I spent 34 years, gave me the opportunity to teach wonderful students, build a department, and become a dean. In all three places, I was given extraordinary freedom to think, write, speak, and serve my country, alongside remarkable colleagues, superiors, and, above all, students.


“And yet I leave elite academe with doubts and foreboding that I would not have anticipated when I completed my formal education in 1982. Watching the travails of Harvard -- where I received my degrees and served as an assistant professor and assistant dean -- has been particularly painful. Its annus horribilis did not even end with commencement, because Harvard’s dean of social science recently decided that he should publish an inane and dangerous article calling for the punishment of faculty who ‘excoriate University leadership, faculty, staff, or students with the intent to arouse external intervention into University business.’


“Inane, because how does one define excoriate, and how does one prove intent? Dangerous, because this is an open door to the suppression of freedom of speech, plain and simple, let alone academic freedom. And the article was also both arrogant and politically obtuse, because after the abuse Harvard has rightly taken this year from outraged alumni, students, donors, and faculty, not to mention journalists and members of Congress, it most definitely did not need a dean musing publicly about how best to suppress faculty impertinence.


“But Dean Lawrence Bobo’s call for the punishment of disaffected speech is symptomatic of deeper diseases in our elite universities. Job candidates being required to pledge fealty to progressive views on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are but one manifestation of a university culture that is often intolerant of free speech, unwilling or unable to protect unpopular minorities, and uninterested in viewpoint diversity. As a politically conservative young professor, I was in a minority -- but a large one. More important, I never felt that my views would be held against me by my colleagues. Now I would not be so sure. Inevitably, and justly, the public immunities, including tax exemptions, on which universities have thrived are endangered by the arrogance with which they respond to criticism, and their failure to live up to their own stated principles....


“There are many thousands of dedicated and capable teachers and scholars out there, no doubt. But I wonder whether in academe overall, the single-minded and inflexible commitment to the value embodied in the mottoes of my two universities –'Truth’ and ‘The truth will make you free’ -- still stands. The replication crisis, first detected in the discipline of academic psychology, makes one wonder. I suspect, however, that that value will flourish, together with broad intellectual culture and a genuine breadth of perspectives, but in different institutions than in the past, and I look forward to that....”


Full op-ed by Johns Hopkins Prof. Emeritus Eliot A. Cohen at The Atlantic 


How Congress Could Protect Free Speech on Campus


Excerpts (link in the original):


“Last year at Harvard, three Israeli Jews took a course at the Kennedy School of Government. They say that because of their ethnicity, ancestry, and national origin, their professor subjected them to unequal treatment, trying to suppress their speech in class and allowing teaching assistants and classmates to create a hostile climate for Jews.


“Afterward, they filed a complaint with Harvard alleging a violation of their civil rights. In May, their allegations appeared in a federal civil-rights lawsuit. It cites their claims as evidence that Harvard ‘ignores and tolerates’ anti-Semitism. Their professor, who is also Jewish, rejects that narrative and maintains that he taught the class appropriately....


“If you had to choose just one of these cases to illustrate their fraught implications, you couldn’t do better than the dispute at Harvard. The students make a strong case that they were subject to discrimination, strong enough that an outside attorney hired by Harvard to investigate agreed. At a minimum, I think they were treated unfairly.


“Yet validating their claims would also mean rejecting their professor’s plausible defense of his pedagogical judgments, despite his indisputable expertise, undermining academic freedom.


“More worryingly, Title VI doesn’t just guarantee equal treatment. It has been interpreted to mandate that colleges stop and remedy harassing behavior and prevent a persistently hostile climate. The lawsuit defines those concepts so expansively that, should all its arguments prevail, Title VI will conflict with free-speech protections more than it already does -- and in doing so, the suit underscores the problem with Title VI, because its interpretation of the statute is plausibly consistent with the law’s vague and malleable text....


[Discussion of students and teaching assistants organizing and then demanding specific elements to be incorporated into the course in question here.]


“Ganz was surprised, then angry, when a Title VI complaint, a precursor to the lawsuit, was filed with Harvard. ‘In my organizing years in the 1960s and ’70s in Mississippi and rural California, I was routinely called out as a Jew Communist outside agitator,’ he wrote in The Nation. ‘But now, I was being investigated at the Kennedy School? As an antisemite?!’ He believes that he taught not just lawfully, but with sound pedagogy informed by decades of experience as an organizer and a teacher.


“The outside investigator Harvard hired, an attorney named Allyson Kurker, reached a different conclusion. Her June 2023 report sided with the students in significant respects, finding that their free speech was stymied and that they faced a hostile learning environment based on their Jewish ethnicity. When Ganz rejected their campaign, he was motivated by ‘real concern’ for ‘students and teaching fellows he viewed as members of a group oppressed by Israel,’ she wrote, but the Kennedy School’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities emphasizes that the school should expose students to ‘even unpopular and controversial’ ideas and encourage them to ‘talk openly’ about ‘highly charged issues.’ …


“Though I question his approach, I am hesitant to advocate for federal courts or bureaucrats to second-guess the judgments of a longtime professor who has expertise in the field in a dispute where the ostensibly wronged students got good grades and course credit.


“Title VI allows students who feel they’ve experienced unequal treatment to appeal to civil-rights bureaucrats and the courts for a remedy. Yet the mere possibility of Title VI complaints creates an incentive for colleges to maintain costly, invariably biased speech-policing bureaucracies. Most monitor and micromanage interactions among faculty, teaching assistants, and students, chilling pedagogy and speech that should be protected....


“Rather than risk policing everyone’s speech more intensely, Americans should demand a reaffirmation of that most foundational civil right: the ability of everyone to speak freely. Safeguarding this right requires Congress to act. It should not repeal Title VI -- the prohibition on discriminatory double standards should stand. Instead it should amend the statute to clarify that nothing in the law requires policing speech protected by academic freedom or the First Amendment.”


Full op-ed by Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic 


See also our compilations of the Chicago Trifecta regarding freedom of expression (the Chicago Principles), a university’s involvement in political and social matters (the Kalven Report), and standards for the hiring and promotion of faculty (the Shils Report).


How DEI Becomes Discrimination



“In Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard (2023), the Supreme Court held that colleges and universities couldn’t engage in racial discrimination in the name of diversity. The 45-year-old dispensation from civil-rights law that the court effectively overturned had never applied to employment decisions. But its end ought to provoke institutions to scale back ‘diversity, equity and inclusion’ initiatives more broadly. Some appear to be doing so: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard said recently they would no longer require ‘diversity statements’ from prospective hires.


“Yet there is evidence that many universities have engaged in outright racial preferences under the aegis of DEI. Hundreds of documents that I acquired through public-records requests provide a rare paper trail of universities closely scrutinizing the race of faculty job applicants. The practice not only appears widespread; it is encouraged and funded by the federal government.


“At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a large hiring initiative targets specific racial groups -- promising to hire 18 to 20 scientists ‘who are Black, Latinx, American Indian, and Pacific Islander.’ Discussing a related University of New Mexico program, one professor quipped in an email, ‘I don’t want to hire white men for sure.’ …


“A key requirement is that recipient institutions heavily value diversity statements while selecting faculty....


“Emails reveal candid discussions about the perceived aim of the [NIH] program. In April 2023, a professor running the University of New Mexico’s cluster hire emailed Jessica Calzola, the NIH program official overseeing the First program, to ask whether Asian-Americans count as underrepresented. The professor later wrote, ‘I really need a response at least by tomorrow, because it is now holding up our search teams.’ …


“The documents I reviewed point to a large-scale sleight-of-hand in the application of the NIH First program. They give all the more reason to reconsider one of the most controversial practices in higher education, mandatory diversity statements, which provide a convenient smokescreen for discrimination. Lawmakers would be wise to investigate this practice closely -- especially the NIH First program....”


Full op-ed by John Sailor of National Association of Scholars at WSJ


Commentary from Harvard Alumni


Excerpts (links in the original):


“The recent Harvard Crimson op-ed by professor and dean of social science Lawrence D. Bobo calling for sanctions against faculty members who criticize Harvard University leadership with the intent to arouse the intervention of ‘external actors’ into university business was stunning....


“When we attended Harvard, we learned that our thinking improved through critical analysis and debate. Criticism exposed the flaws and weaknesses in our arguments and forced us to better present and support our ideas or to change them in the face of compelling evidence that they were not altogether correct. We were taught not what to think but how to think. Open and free debate was the path to arriving at the best answer, particularly debating the arguments that we found most disagreeable....


“In countries like China and Russia, one is punished if they present an idea that is classified as antipatriotic or that is deemed to promote a foreign ideology. Is this truly the direction that Harvard should now be turning?


“Bobo’s call for punishing heretics is difficult to understand in light of surveys that year after year demonstrate that self-censorship, by students and faculty, is a significant issue at Harvard and other schools. The degree to which students and faculty withhold their views diminishes materially the intellectual experience that many come to Harvard to realize and detracts from the public debate on how to improve the university. It is also difficult to reconcile Bobo’s proposal with steps that have been taken in the past year to foster more open dialogue at Harvard and to create a culture of civility and tolerance....


“Is Harvard moving forward toward open dialogue and greater academic freedom or will it cling to the strand of illiberalism that has stained the university in recent years?”


Full op-ed by Harvard Free Speech Alliance alumni at Boston Globe 


Other Articles of Interest


Student Loan Borrowers Owe $1.6 Trillion; Nearly Half Aren’t Paying

Full article at NY Times


Charges Dropped Against UT Austin, Columbia University Pro-Palestine Protesters

Full article at Campus Safety Magazine


Jewish Students Sue UCLA, Claim School Allowed Anti-Israel Protesters to Block Them from Campus

Full article at Campus Reform


Samples of Current Teaching, Research, and Other Activities at Stanford


Click on each article for direct access; selections are from Stanford Report and other Stanford websites.  

Chip-Scale Titanium-Sapphire Laser Puts Powerful Technology in Reach


Stanford Medicine Offers Gene Therapy for a Devastating Pediatric Neurologic Disease


Stanford’s Juliette Whittaker Makes Olympic Team

“A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.” University of Chicago Kalven Report regarding a university’s involvement in political and social action 

Comments and Questions from Our Readers

See more reader comments on our Reader Comments webpage.

Need Dialog, Not Prohibitions

I suggest the university produce forums in which ultimate concerns about war and peace presently unfolding be formally debated, subject to the rules of decorum. This is what the university is for, not prohibitions on argument or advocacy. Silence renders learning impossible. 

Hoping for Balanced Speech at Stanford

I am so in support of the opinions expressed here and hope Stanford will adopt a more balanced approach to free speech. I can only hope.


Teaching Young People and Others How to Disagree Civilly

While I believe that supporting free speech is very important in and of itself, I also believe that there is a related component that is often ignored. That component is teaching people, especially young people, how to disagree civilly/how to constructively respond to free speech they might not agree with.

Question About Ties to the Alumni Association

Q.  I notice that the SAA website contains no links to the Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking website. Why is that?


A. Our website is not linked at the SAA website since we intentionally did not seek to become an affiliate of SAA. Among other things, we wanted to maintain independence, including since SAA became a subsidiary of 

the university in the mid-1990’s. That said, there are a number of current and former Stanford administrators and trustees who receive our Newsletters and read the materials that are posted at the website.

About Us

Member, Alumni Free Speech Alliance


Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking is an independent, diverse, and nonpartisan group of Stanford alumni committed to promoting and safeguarding freedom of thought and expression, intellectual diversity and inclusion, and academic freedom at Stanford.  


We believe innovation and positive change for the common good is achieved through free and active discourse from varying viewpoints, the freedom to question both popular and unpopular opinions, and the freedom to seek truth without fear of reprisal from those who disagree, within the confines of humanity and mutual respect.  


Our goal is to support students, faculty, administrators, and staff in efforts that assure the Stanford community is truly inclusive as to what can be said in and outside the classroom, the kinds of speakers that can be invited, and what should always be the core principles of a great university like Stanford.  We also advocate that Stanford incorporates the Chicago Trifecta, the gold standard for freedom of speech and expression at college and university campuses, and that Stanford abides by these principles in both its policies and its actions.  

bottom of page