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“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

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  • The Fundamental Standard

 

"Students at Stanford are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor and the rights of others as is demanded of good citizens. Failure to do this will be sufficient cause for removal from the University." (1896 to the present)

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From Our Latest Newsletter​

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

June 10, 2024

 

Campus Protests at Stanford

 

There are lots of news sources regarding recent protests at Stanford and we do not intend to try and update readers on those events. Rather, we refer you to:

 

Coverage at Stanford Daily (including these articles: Pro-Palestine Students Occupy Building 10Protestors Detained and Face Immediate SuspensionStanford Removes Pro-Palestine Encampment and Protestors Receive Felony Charges).

 

As well as coverage at Stanford Review (including these articles: Pro-Palestine Activists Seize President’s Office and Deface Main Quad and Meet the Intruders).

 

We also refer readers to the letter dated April 26, 2024 from President Saller and Provost Martinez which outlined the policies and procedures that would be followed. We also refer readers to the letter they issued on June 5, 2024 (also available at Stanford Report) a few hours after the occupation and clearance of Building 10.

 

Stanford Faculty Approve Free Speech Statement

 

Excerpts (links in the original):

 

“Stanford University scholars recently recommitted themselves to the principles of free speech and freedom of expression in a new statement that updates, reaffirms and complements a Statement on Academic Freedom first passed 50 years ago, in 1974, according to Stanford Report.

 

“The move comes thanks in part to the work of an Ad Hoc Committee on University Speech, formed last year to address several free speech and academic freedom controversies at the school, including a ‘Protected Identity Harm’ reporting system deemed Orwellian by many observers and a 13-page “Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative” discouraging the use of more than 125 mostly innocuous words, including 'American.' …

 

“The Faculty Senate, after much debate, approved last week [end of May] a statement that aims to address some of those problems.

 

“’The freedom to explore and present new, unconventional, and even unpopular ideas is essential to the academic mission of the university; therefore, Stanford shall promote the widest possible freedom of expression, consistent with the university’s legal and moral obligations to prevent harassment and discrimination. Accordingly, university policies must not censor individuals’ speech based on the content of what is expressed, except in narrow circumstances,’ it reads in part.

 

“‘At the same time, Stanford’s educational role as well as its academic and legal obligations differ across locations and contexts on campus, such as spaces open to all community members, classrooms, and dormitories. Community members also have varying privileges and responsibilities in different contexts,’ it adds.

 

“‘Likewise, legal rights and obligations pertain in different ways to community members depending on whether they are acting as students, teachers, staff, or faculty members. The principles of freedom of speech and expression will be understood in light of these variations across contexts and roles. The campus disruption policy furnishes an example of how some of these distinctions may be drawn.’

 

“The free speech statement is non-binding, as [faculty members] had talked it down from a policy, according to Stanford Report.

 

“The Faculty Senate also approved an Institutional Statements Policy, ‘which calls for institutional restraint in making statements and aims to prevent the establishment of institutional orthodoxy that might chill dissent,’ Stanford Report added....”

 

Full article at College Fix

 

See also a PDF copy of the list of words and phrases that were included in Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative at our Stanford Concerns webpage.

 

See also the policies and procedures that still exist at Stanford for turning in students and others, even anonymously, for what someone thinks is a biased statement or action and where the targeted person often does not even know such a complaint has been filed but where a computerized record of the complaint is kept permanently on file for possible future reference and use.

 

See also paragraph 2.h. at our Back to Basics at Stanford webpage where we propose that all students should be notified in writing at least annually of their FERPA and other legal rights to inspect all files created or maintained at Stanford about them.

 

Can Harvard Win Back America's Respect?

 

Excerpts (links in the original):

 

“Harvard has had a very bad year. It began last summer with the Supreme Court’s verdict in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard, which declared that the university’s admissions policies were unconstitutionally discriminatory -- or in plain terms, racist. Then came October 7, when Hamas unilaterally broke a cease-fire to attack Israel, killing 1,200 and kidnapping some 250, with many of the horrific atrocities captured on camera. Harvard, along with many elite universities, issued public statements that revealed, to put it delicately, an absence of moral clarity. Then came the disaster of Claudine Gay’s testimony in Congress, followed by the humiliating exposé of her history of plagiarism, followed by her grudging resignation....

 

“Pressure from [the faculty Council for Academic Freedom], concerned alumni, and some elements within the Harvard administration led Interim President Garber in April to announce the formation of the Institutional Voice Working Group. According to the Harvard Gazette, an official publication (wags call it Harvard’s Pravda), the group was tasked with ‘the question of whether and when Harvard as a University should speak on matters of social and political significance and who should be authorized to speak for the institution as a whole.’ The group issued its report on Tuesday [end of May], and it was immediately accepted by the administration and endorsed by the Corporation as university policy. It is the clearest sign yet of the university’s intention to take more vigorous damage control measures and perhaps alter the ship’s direction entirely. Whether it will be enough to restore the immense respect Harvard once enjoyed with the public is, however, doubtful....

 

“In fact, it seems unlikely that either the Harvard faculty or its administration will engage with any project to depoliticize the university. (The number of persons in the Harvard administration has never been publicly acknowledged for obvious reasons, though the well-informed Ira Stoll estimates it at four times the number of faculty.) …

 

“[On the other hand,] if a president and a few well-chosen deans know what excellence is, set real standards, and back the best candidates with ample funding, an institutional culture can quickly change. A president of Harvard also has the power to use the university’s extraordinary resources in public relations to foreground the work of its best scientists and scholars. He or she can make sure the world knows the wonderful things that are being done by our faculty and researchers. If the news coming out of Harvard is about its scientific and scholarly achievements and not about its political stances, public attitudes will change. Intemperate persons on the right who want to punish the university will have a harder time doing it if the country is more aware of the good things Harvard has been doing. A president can also, by precept and example, create an ethos among university administrators that public comment on partisan political issues is inappropriate. Such an ethos existed among administrators when I came to Harvard in 1985 and it should be possible to restore it. The university has traditions of science and scholarship unequaled by any university in the world and, under the right leadership, the country will come to value the university’s achievements again, and for the right reasons.”

 

Full op-ed by Harvard Prof. James Hankins at Law & Liberty. See also FIRE's commentary on these Harvard actions. 

 

See also “Colleges Back Away from Hot-Button Issues” at The Hill.

 

See also part 3 of our Back to Basics at Stanford webpage including proposed numerical targets for reducing administrative excesses.  

 

Campus Political Litmus Tests


Excerpts (links in the original):

 

“It’s been a very interesting couple of weeks for free speech and academic freedom on campus. On May 28, Harvard University officially announced that it ‘won’t issue statements on hot-button social and political issues’ -- in other words, adopting the principles of institutional neutrality as described in the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report

 

“Less than 24 hours later, Syracuse University followed suit. The day after that, May 30, the faculty senate at Stanford University -- Greg’s alma mater – ‘approved an amended statement on freedom of expression and an amended policy on institutional statements.’

 

“And that’s not all. There has also been a recent wave of colleges and universities, including MIT and most recently Harvard, moving to eliminate DEI statements from faculty hiring.

 

“As FIRE’s Nico Perrino wrote on X, ‘the dominoes, they continue to fall.’ …

 

“However, we want to be very clear that although DEI statements (and the larger DEI bureaucracy on campus) are absolutely threats to free speech, our primary objection is to the larger issue of political litmus tests -- and those can come in a variety of flavors and forms. Florida’s ‘Stop WOKE Act,’ for example, was anti-DEI but still a plainly ideological attempt to restrict what students or faculty can say, which is why we sued (and won).

 

“What we need are policies that go after the root of the problem: ideological conformity and pressure that threatens free speech and academic freedom on campus. FIRE drafted model legislation called the Intellectual Freedom Protection Act, which the state of Kansas has already adopted, that singles out political or ideological litmus tests regardless of whether they’re from the right or the left. We’re hopeful that more and more states will come to adopt it, as universities continue to recognize how hamstrung the existing policies have made them in pursuit of their primary mission: fostering an environment where ideas can be voiced, explored, and challenged in search of truth.

 

“And speaking of that, there’s a lot more universities can do to ensure colleges stay on mission -- beginning with students.

 

“DEI statements haven’t just been a tool for faculty hiring in recent years. They also play a large role in student admissions for universities. If these schools want to get serious about being oases of free thought, they will have to make some changes to the way they cultivate their student bodies.” …

 

Full op-ed by Stanford alum and CEO of FIRE Greg Lukianoff and Angel Eduardo at Substack 

 

The Impossible Job of a College President

 

Excerpts (links in the original):

 

“The 2023-24 academic year has inarguably been one of the toughest years in recent history to be a college president....

 

“The role of the college president has always been complex and difficult. The sheer breadth of stakeholders they manage, from students and faculty to alumni, trustees, donors, and state and federal regulators, illustrates the magnitude of their responsibilities. 

 

“The job can involve overseeing a large medical center, running a sporting organization, or being at the helm of the largest employer in their town. In this way, college and university presidents are sometimes viewed as chief executive officers or even mayors. 

 

“‘One of the biggest challenges of the president’s role is balancing all of the various constituencies,’ said Frederick Lawrence, the former president of Brandeis University and a lecturer at Georgetown Law, who recently testified before Congress in a hearing about antisemitism on campuses. ‘And that is always true about any issue, but it’s particularly true when it’s one that’s quite so polarized and so fraught as issues of our present moment.’ [Followed by discussion of responses to the American Council on Education’s 2023 The American College President survey.]

 

“Some free-speech experts think the presidents made it harder for themselves this year. By shutting down student protests over controversial phrases such as ‘from the river to the sea,’ presidents suppressed debate and stood accused of violating free-speech commitments.

 

“‘They’ve been exposed as being hypocritical on free speech, since many have preached how we need to punish offensive speech that makes people feel uncomfortable to ensure that campuses remain civil and peaceful,’ said Zach Greenberg, a senior program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, an organization that defends free-speech rights on colleges campuses. The group also urges higher education leaders to adopt ‘institutional neutrality -- that is, taking positions on social and political issues only when they ‘threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry.’ …

 

“'I hope that we will be able to restore a sense that when one has concerns about one’s college, as an alumnus, as a student, as a faculty member, that it should be viewed constructively, in terms of, ‘How can I help?' [said former Brandeis President Lawrence]."

 

Full article at Vox . See also our compilations of the Chicago Trifecta re free speech, institutional neutrality and standards for the hiring and promotion of faculty.

 

Other Articles of Interest

  

Top Producers of Asian-American Graduates 

Full article at Diverse Issues in Higher Education. See also Tables at Diverse Issues in Higher Education. 

 

Note that Stanford is #1 in engineering doctorate degrees, #3 in all doctorate degrees combined but not even in the top 50 for all bachelor’s degrees combined.

 

See also “New Research Center on Asian American Studies” at Stanford's School of Humanities and Sciences website.

 

Censorship at Columbia Law Review

Full article at The Intercept 

  

When Education Fails to Align with the Workforce 

Full article at Diverse Issues in Higher Education. See also “Why Can’t College Grads Find Jobs” at NY Times.

 

How an Academic Department Replaced Diversity Statements with Service Statements

Full op-ed by U Colorado Professors Matthew Burgess and Peter Newton at Heterodox Academy website

 

Universities Try Three-Year Degrees to Save Students Time, Money

Full article at Association of College Trustees and Alumni website

 

Stanford Alum Stephen Breyer on Law and the Courts

Brookings interview of Justice Breyer at YouTube (90 minutes)

 

Samples of Current Teaching and Research at Stanford

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

 

Catching Up with the Stanford Solar Car Project (video)

 

Inside the Protein Factory of the Cell

 

AI Can Outperform Humans in Writing Medical Summaries

 

A New Way to See Viruses in Action

 

Night Owl Behavior Could Hurt Mental Health, Sleep Study Finds

“The ever-growing bureaucracy devoted to diversity, equity and inclusion naturally recommends that more time and energy be spent on these issues. The most obvious lack of diversity at universities, political diversity, which clearly affects their ability to analyze many issues, is not addressed, showing that these goals are not centrally related to achieving, building or sustaining excellence.” -- Fareed Zakaria, CNN journalist

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.

Stanford Internet Observatory

If your leadership team has not looked into the Stanford Internet Observatory, and its link to the Election Integrity Partnership, 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.

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.  

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