“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
September 22, 2023
Duke Professor Teaches Students How to Listen
Prof. John Rose has been teaching courses for several years at Duke University that aim to get students to be more comfortable expressing diverse viewpoints and to respect one another for doing so. The official Duke alumni magazine recently featured Prof. Rose in an article about his activities as well as the activities of an alumni group, Friends of Duke, that is similar to our Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking.
“'We talk a lot about courage – finding the courage to speak, to dissent – and I’ve observed that courage is contagious. Students will follow upon a brave comment with another brave comment.' [says Prof. Rose]....
“He has received multiple teaching commendations but insists that the success of his class is due to his students. He makes himself real and earns their trust. Each semester, he invites them to his home and introduces them to his family.
"Rose taught students that listening with not only an open mind but a heart for goodwill grounded their learning and allowed them to share their thinking authentically.
“The alumni group [Friends for Duke] is also encouraging all faculty to include on their syllabi a statement saying they support intellectual diversity and freedom of speech in their classrooms.
“''We believe Duke’s long-standing commitment to free and open inquiry and the robust exchange of ideas positions the university particularly well to be a leader among institutions of higher education.... Without this, a university ceases to be a university' [said one of the leaders of Friends of Duke].”
More About Stanford-Based Censorship Activities
For several months, we have periodically posted information from third parties about the alleged censorship activities tied to Stanford-based entities including the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliates the Virality Project and the Election Integrity Project (EIP). For example, see "Stanford's Alleged Roles in Censoring the Web" and "The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists, and We Won." In that light, we bring to your attention a posting last week by Michael Shellenberger entitled “Censorship Demands Behind Deep Fake Hype.” Whether or not one agrees with the advocacy and implementation activities in which these entities are primarily engaged, versus the types of independent research and teaching that are the purpose of a university, we again raise these questions: why are these entities being housed at Stanford, being allowed to use the Stanford name in their names, and having grants and allegedly tax-deductible contributions to them being run through Stanford?
“... I view AI as a human, not a machine, problem, as well as dual-use technology with the potential for good and bad. My attitude toward AI is the same, fundamentally, as it is toward other powerful tools we have developed, from nuclear energy to biomedical research. With such powerful tools, democratic civilian control and transparent use of these technologies allow for their safe use, while secret, undemocratic, and military control increases the danger. The problem, in a nutshell, is not with the technology of computers attempting to emulate human thinking through algorithms, but rather how and who will control it....
“This Censorship Industrial Complex of government agencies and government contractors has its roots in the war on terrorism and the expansion of surveillance after 9/11.... The goal of Deep Trust appeared to be to advocate for policies aimed at criminalizing ‘digital harms,’ including forms of speech that hurt people.... It was also in 2020 that DHS’ CISA [Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency] created an ‘Election Integrity Partnership’ to censor election skepticism. It partnered with four groups: Graphika, the University of Washington, the Atlantic Council’s DFR Lab, and the Stanford Internet Observatory.... In Deep Trust’s report, it names those four groups and progressive philanthropic donors, and other NGOs and government agencies. EIP claims it classified 21,897,364 individual posts.... EIP, the Election Integrity Project, was the precursor to the Virality Project, which successfully pressured social media platforms to censor ‘often true’ information about vaccines....
“I believe that the way CISA used AI to mass-flag so-called ‘Covid misinformation’ in 2021, through its partnership with The Virality Project, created by Stanford Internet Observatory (SIO) and others, was a government infringement on freedom of speech.... The threat to our civil liberties comes not from AI but from the people who want to control it and use it to censor, rather than let users control information. The obvious solution is for Congress to require that social media companies allow users to moderate their own content.... Users should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to use these filters and other tools, not Internet companies, the government, a nongovernmental organization, or anyone else.”
The Limits of Academic Freedom
"The principle of academic freedom has long stood as the guarantor of the free and open inquiry requisite to the academic pursuit of truth and is widely understood to allow for no exceptions. But adherence to the principle does not preclude all limits on faculty conduct. Academic freedom does not require colleges and universities to tolerate bad teaching or incompetence. Nor should it protect professorial conduct that undermines open inquiry and pursuit of truth."
(Full article at National Association of Scholars)
DEI Statements Stir Debate on College Campuses
“Yoel Inbar, a noted psychology professor at the University of Toronto, figured he might be teaching this fall at UCLA.... Last year, the university’s psychology department offered his female partner a faculty appointment. Now the department was interested in recruiting him as a so-called partner hire, a common practice in academia.
“The university asked him to fill out the requisite papers, including a statement that affirmed his belief and work in diversity, equity and inclusion.
“Dr. Inbar figured all had gone well, that his work and liberal politics fit well with the university.... But a few days later, the department chair emailed and told him that more than 50 graduate students had signed a letter strongly denouncing his candidacy. Why? In part, because on his podcast years earlier, he had opposed diversity statements — like the one he had just written.
“Candidates who did not ‘look outstanding’ on diversity, the vice provost at U.C. Davis instructed search committees, could not advance, no matter the quality of their academic research. Credentials and experience would be examined in a later round.
“At Berkeley, a faculty committee rejected 75 percent of applicants in life sciences and environmental sciences and management purely on diversity statements, according to a new academic paper by Steven Brint, a professor of public policy at U.C. Riverside, and Komi Frey, a researcher for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which has opposed diversity statements.
“If you write: ‘I believe that everyone should be treated equally,’ you will be branded as a right winger, Vinod Aggarwal, a political science professor at the university, said in an interview. ‘This is compelled speech, plain and simple.’”
(Full article at New York Times)
Other Articles of Interest
Gen Z Values College, but Affordability Concerns Remain
Only about half of K-12 students who want to pursue higher education believe they can pay for it, a Gallup and Walton Family Foundation poll found. (Full article at Higher Ed Dive)
Elite private universities maintain their dominance in traditional college rankings, but an assessment of free speech on campus tells a different story. (Full article at City Journal)
Survey Shows Many Top Universities are Seeing a Stifling of Free Speech (Full article at Just the News)
"The exchange of contending and supporting ideas generated by insightful and engaged minds makes the position of university president one of the most interesting jobs in the world." – Former Stanford President John Hennessy
Comments and Questions from Our Readers
See more reader comments on our Reader Comments webpage.
Wow! 17K Stanford administrators [and staff] is absurd. Does a master organizational chart exist to show the density of administrators in all specific areas of responsibility? Would love to see it, if it exists. Unfortunately, all the "accountability" being requested will be insufficient to fix such a bloated bureaucracy because most of the responsibilities and accountabilities must be
to other components of the bureaucracy, not to Stanford's core missions. Since administrators will protect themselves and their own, only a mandate from the Board of Trustees to a new President and senior leadership team can tame this beast.
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.
Stanford Internet Observatory
If your leadership team has not looked into the Stanford Internet Observatory, and its link to the Election Integrity Project, funded through the Obama/Biden Department of Homeland Security, please take a look. This is a powerful online censorship weapon. The university has no business participating in the policing of election related free speech in our country.
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.
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.