Archive -- Past Newsletters
September 15, 2023
Presidential Search Committee Announced
Stanford Board of Trustees Chair Jerry Yang announced yesterday the formation of a 20-member search committee to select Stanford’s 13th president. The full list of committee members can be found at this website. The search committee plans to hold a number of "listening sessions" in the fall, and there also is an email address for anyone who wishes to submit their thoughts including possible nominations. (See full letter here.)
In light of the issues the search committee will need to consider, we suggest a good starting point would be for them to view former Stanford President Gerhard Casper's video posted immediately below as well as what has long been posted at our Back to Basics and Stanford Concerns webpages.
Former Stanford President Gerhard Casper re the Role of the University in Modern Society
As Stanford and other colleges and universities nationwide and around the world discuss the role of the university in modern society, we highly recommend this 4-1/2-minute video of former Stanford President Gerhard Casper. It was recorded nine years ago but we believe it has even greater applicability to the issues being discussed today.
See also our compilation of the Chicago Trifecta here.
Federal Appeals Court Rules Federal Agencies Violated First Amendment Protections in Their Interactions with Big Tech
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld most elements of a lower federal court’s preliminary injunction regarding the actions by various federal agencies (the FBI, CDC, others) to have social media companies restrict and even remove articles, Tweets and other statements that government officials didn’t approve of. The Fifth Circuit opinion also specifically mentions the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliated Virality Project and Election Integrity Project but did not include them in the preliminary injunction on the basis that they have their own First Amendment rights but left open whether at some point the involvement of federal officials with such entities might also cross legitimate boundaries.
A PDF copy of the Fifth Circuit opinion is now posted at our website here. Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya is among the named plaintiffs in the case, and we have posted a recent essay by him about this judicial decision here in addition to a previous essay by him.
Excerpts from the opinion:
. . . “White House officials did not only flag content. Later that year, they started monitoring the platforms’ moderation activities, too. In that vein, the officials asked for -- and received -- frequent updates from the platforms.... From the beginning, the platforms cooperated with the White House. One company made an employee ‘available on a regular basis,’ and another gave the officials access to special tools like a ‘Partner Support Portal’ which ‘ensure[d]' that their requests were ‘prioritized automatically.’...
“The platforms apparently yielded. They not only continued to take down content the officials flagged, and provided requested data to the White House, but they also changed their moderation policies expressly in accordance with the officials’ wishes....
“It is true that the officials have an interest in engaging with social media companies, including on issues such as misinformation and election interference. But the government is not permitted to advance these interests to the extent that it engages in viewpoint suppression....
“Finally, the fifth prohibition -- which bars the officials from ‘collaborating, coordinating, partnering, switchboarding, and/or jointly working with the Election Integrity Partnership, the Virality Project, the Stanford Internet Observatory, or any like project or group’ to engage in the same activities the officials are proscribed from doing on their own -- may implicate private, third-party actors that are not parties in this case and that may be entitled to their own First Amendment protections.... Plaintiffs have not shown that the inclusion of these third parties is necessary to remedy their injury. So, this provision cannot stand at this juncture...."
(See also this NY Times summary of the decision.)
(See also our prior webpage postings about the Stanford Internet Observatory and related entities here and where, in recent Newsletters, we have suggested that the activities by these and similar entities are mostly about advocacy and implementation versus core teaching and research and, as such, should be moved off the campus (it is the main reason the Stanford Research Institute and the Stanford Research Park originally were created), should stop using the Stanford name in their names, and should stop running their donations through Stanford.)
University of San Diego Allows Students to Invite Speakers, but Only if No
One Is Offended
FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) recently focused on a situation at the University of San Diego where administrators said they fully support free expression while at the same time prohibiting the appearance of a speaker who had been invited by an officially recognized student organization because the administrators had objections to the speaker and statements the speaker had made in the past.
“A new semester brings the same free speech issues, this time at the University of San Diego, where administrators rejected a request by the College Republicans to host political commentator Matt Walsh because of the potential for students to feel ‘not comfortable.’...
“Then on Aug. 2, Vice President for Student Life Byron Howlett claimed USD ‘is in full support of freedom of expression, freedom of inquiry’ as ‘that’s the basis of a university’ -- but he still said the College Republicans can’t host Walsh because his views are ‘very disrespectful’ and ‘grossly offensive.’"
(Full article at The Fire)
Other Articles of Interest
New Center for Academic Pluralism to Produce Scholarship Promoting Open Inquiry and Viewpoint Diversity (full article at The College Fix)
Two-Thirds of College Students Think Shouting Down a Public Speaker Can Be Acceptable (full article at Reason)
"In 1900 Jane Stanford had President Jordan fire a faculty member for his political views. Distinguished members of the faculty resigned. An indirect result was the founding of the AAUP (American Association of University Professors), but the fight for academic freedom began here, at Stanford. We have a historic obligation not to let it die here." -- Stanford Prof. Russell Berman
September 8, 2023
Stanford Dean Debra Satz and Prof. Dan Edelstein: By Abandoning Civics, Colleges Helped Create the Culture Wars
This guest essay appeared in the September 3, 2023 edition of the NY Times. It is written by Debra Satz, dean of Stanford’s School of Humanities and Sciences, and Dan Edelstein, the faculty director of Stanford's Civic, Liberal and Global Education program.
"Free speech is once again a flashpoint on college campuses. This year has seen at least 20 instances in which students or faculty members attempted to rescind invitations or to silence speakers. In March, law school students at our own institution made national news when they shouted down a conservative federal judge, Kyle Duncan. And by signing legislation that undermines academic freedom in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis is carrying out what is effectively a broad assault against higher education....
"Left to the market, it [civic education] will always be undersupplied. It is rarely a priority for employers or for job seekers to promote the skills of active listening, mutual reasoning, respecting differences and open-mindedness. We need to reinvest in it.
"In the absence of civic education, it is not surprising that universities are at the epicenter of debates over free speech and its proper exercise. Free speech is hard work. The basic assumptions and attitudes necessary for cultivating free speech do not come to us naturally. Listening to people with whom you disagree can be unpleasant. But universities have a moral and civic duty to teach students how to consider and weigh contrary viewpoints, and how to accept differences of opinion as a healthy feature of a diverse society. Disagreement is in the nature of democracies.
"Universities and colleges must do a better job of explaining to our students the rationale for free speech, as well as cultivating in them the skills and mind-set necessary for its practice. The free-market curriculum model is simply not equipped for this task. We cannot leave this imperative up to student choice.
"At Stanford, since 2021, we once again have a single, common undergraduate requirement. By structuring its curriculum around important topics rather than canonical texts, and by focusing on the cultivation of democratic skills such as listening, reasonableness and humility, we have sought to steer clear of the cultural issues that doomed Western Civ. The new requirement was approved by our faculty senate in May 2020 without a single dissenting vote.
"Called Civic, Liberal and Global Education, it includes a course on citizenship in the 21st century. Delivered in a small discussion-seminar format, this course provides students with the skills, training and perspectives for engaging in meaningful ways with others, especially when they disagree. All students read the same texts, some canonical and others contemporary. Just as important, all students work on developing the same skills...."
(Full article at NY Times)
Stanford Has Significant Decline in FIRE’s Annual Free Speech Rankings
FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) and College Pulse have just released their 2024 free speech rankings of U.S. colleges and universities and where Stanford has fallen by 101 positions in the list, possibly due in part to events last year at the law school but also reflecting responses to this year's student survey. Last year, Stanford was rated “average” at #106 out of 203 colleges and universities versus this year where it is rated "below average" at #207 out of 248. The areas where Stanford students scored the lowest were comfort expressing ideas (#155 out of 248) and approval of illiberal protest tactics (#237 out of 248).
The Current Model of Higher Education is Failing
“In American higher education enrollments are down, tuition is up, and more schools are either shrinking their programs and their faculty or simply going out of business. Reforms are urgently needed in order to attract and retain students and to make postsecondary education more affordable....
“The cumulative inflation rate for the last twenty years in the U.S. is 66 percent. However, in-state tuition and fees for public national universities over the same period increased by 175 percent, according to U.S. News and World Report.
“Why the difference? If the schools’ basic expenses rose at roughly the rate of inflation, why did the cost rise even higher? One answer is the rise and rapidly rising cost of administrative and nonteaching positions. It is at least doubtful that they need so many....
“If higher education is going to be the engine of upward mobility as it has been in the past, then better financial management and some difficult reforms must move ahead.”
Over 4 in 5 College Seniors Report Burnout During Their Undergraduate Experience
. . . “A May survey from College Pulse and Inside Higher Ed found 56% of college students experienced chronic stress. Students with disabilities and mental health conditions reported even higher levels of chronic stress.
“These issues can drive students to leave college. Around 2 in 5 students considered stopping out of college in 2022 within a six-month period, up from 37% the year before, according to a recent survey from the Lumina Foundation and Gallup. Students cited emotional stress and mental health as the top reasons for possibly leaving higher education.
“College debt is also weighing heavily on students’ minds, according to the new Handshake poll.
“More than half of college seniors expect to have student loan debt when they graduate next year, it found. And more than two-thirds of respondents, 69%, believe their debt will impact which jobs they consider after getting their diploma.”
(Full article at Higher Ed Dive)
Other Articles of Interest
Five Ways University Presidents Can Prove Their Commitment to Free Speech (full article from 2019 at The Fire)
I Left Out the Full Truth to Get Published in Nature (full article at The Free Press)
The Missed Opportunity of Office Hours (full article at Chronicle of Higher Education)
The First Three-Year Degree Programs Win Approval (full article at Inside Higher Ed)
Stanford Ranks Third in This Year's Forbes Ratings, Fourth in WSJ/College Pulse Ratings (full article at Forbes with the top ten being, in this order, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Columbia, UCLA, Penn, Harvard and Williams; and full article and list at WSJ with the top ten being, in this order, Princeton, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, Penn, Amherst, Claremont McKenna and Babson)
"The true strength of universities lies in their ability to be impartial, to pursue truth, and to challenge prevailing ideologies, regardless of political pressures. Independence from government ensures the freedom to explore and discover without fear of retribution or censorship." -- Mary Sue Coleman, President of the Association of American Universities
September 1, 2023
A Year to Reflect on Free Speech and Critical Thinking
One of our readers forwarded to us Cornell President Martha E. Pollack’s letter last week welcoming students and faculty back to campus. The letter focuses on the issues of freedom of expression and critical thinking in ways we would hope Stanford’s new leadership can similarly express and then implement this coming academic year. The text of the entire letter is posted at our website here.
All indications are that this coming academic year will see a robust discussion nationwide, both on and off campus, about the importance of free speech and academic freedom at our U.S. colleges and universities and, if any restrictions are to be imposed, who gets to decide and why? Our own view and which we have long advocated is that Stanford should adopt the Chicago Trifecta (compilations here) on the fundamental belief that this is what a university is supposed to be about.
“Throughout this academic year, students, faculty, and staff from all our campuses will be invited to engage in activities designed to build understanding and foster discussion around the freedoms on which higher education, and democracy, depend.
“This will be the first themed year ever held at Cornell, and our reasons for engaging in it could not be more important. Free speech is under attack, and the assaults upon it have ranged in recent years from attempts to shut down campus speakers, all the way to laws that ban books from libraries and ideas from classrooms.
“Free expression and academic freedom are essential to our academic mission of discovering and disseminating new knowledge and educating the next generation of global citizens. They are key to our ability to equip our students with the skills needed for effective participation in democracy: from active listening and engaging across difference, to leading controversial discussions and pursuing effective advocacy.
“ . . . strong, thoughtful organizations can and must adopt core values, and Cornell, since its founding, has valued inclusion -- just as it values public engagement, and respect for the natural environment, and free expression itself.
“As a community of scholars, we need not shy away from the challenges of holding values that are sometimes in tension with one another: such tensions will exist in any sufficiently rich and mature value set.
“These are complex issues, and we must address them by doing what we do best as a university: engaging in discussion and debate, openly and with respect for each other. It is my hope that our theme year will foster exactly that kind of exploration and reflection; and that, through our efforts, Cornell will demonstrate leadership as a university, and become a role model of how a diverse society that prizes free expression can thrive.”
Stanford-Affiliated Project Liberty Is Lobbying for Passage of Federal Legislation
re Web Access
In our July 14 Newsletter, we posted a link to Stanford’s announcement that it has joined Project Liberty. At the time, we raised concerns whether a university like Stanford should be engaged in these sorts of implementation and advocacy activities versus core teaching and research, and where comments posted at subsequent news articles around the country were highly critical of these developments.
This past week, we have seen television ads by Project Liberty specifically telling viewers to write their U.S. Senators and demand passage of the Kids Online Safety Act. Whether we or others might agree or disagree with the concerns being expressed in the ad and in the proposed legislation, since when is lobbying like this an appropriate role for Stanford or its affiliates?
Stanford and others might respond, the advocacy group is a separately incorporated entity. And to which we respond, that entity is using the same name (Project Liberty) and in the end, it all comes back to the same core group of organizers and thus also to some of the same key people and activities at Stanford. At some point, the levels of coordination and "at behest" activities can cross the line of what is and isn't permissible under federal and state nonprofit and political laws, and in addition to legal issues, there also are issues of appearances.
Which is why we have previously suggested that this and similar entities and activities need to be moved off campus, need to remove Stanford from their names (as in the Stanford Internet Observatory) and need to stop indicating support from Stanford including running donations through Stanford.
Stanford Internet Observatory Criticized for Proposal to Rate Trustworthiness of
Not only is the Stanford Internet Observatory and its affiliates lobbying for specific federal legislation regarding access to the web (see above), but they also apparently are promoting the idea that they or others should be given authority to decide what are and are not trustworthy sources of news.
“A proposal in a Stanford University journal [The Journal of Online Trust and Safety] for ‘news source trustworthiness ratings’ would, if it advances, be like a digital reboot of the CIA's psychedelic mind-control experiments from the Cold War era, says a former State Department cyber official who now leads an online free speech watchdog group....
"'The whole point' of the study ‘is you don't even need fact-checkers to fact-check the story,’ a labor-intensive endeavor across the internet, if social media platforms simply apply a ‘scarlet letter’ to disfavored news sources.... By creating ‘the appearance of having done a fact-check, it’s deliberately fraudulent.’...
"The journal was launched nearly two years ago by the Stanford Internet Observatory, a leader in the public-private Election Integrity Partnership that mass-reported alleged election misinformation to Big Tech and Virality Project that sought to throttle admittedly true COVID-19 content.
“Its stated purpose is to study ‘how people abuse the internet to cause real human harm, often using products the way they are designed to work,’ the editors wrote in the inaugural issue, which included a paper on the intersection of hate speech and misinformation about ‘the role of the Chinese government in the origin and spread of COVID-19.’
American Bar Association Considering Free Speech Requirements for U.S.
“Law schools may soon be required to adopt written free speech policies under a proposal being considered by the American Bar Association.
“The policy proposal would give law schools clearer, more uniform guidelines for addressing free speech concerns that have played out -- especially over the past two years -- with student protesters shutting down talks by guest speakers, including at Yale Law School, the University of California Hastings College of the Law (now called the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco) and most recently at Stanford University.
“Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston who is an expert on constitutional law, said the proposal is ‘very well-timed’ given the increased frequency of speaker disruptions at law schools. He noted that most institutions, including Stanford, already have free speech policies, but they aren’t always enforced.
“Eugene Volokh, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a First Amendment expert, agreed a policy was needed, but ‘a lot depends on how it’s implemented . . . Students need experience dealing with views they disagree with . . . If those views are banned from the classroom or public discussions by speakers brought in by student groups, or if those speakers are shouted down and as a result students don’t get to hear those views, that’s an interference with the quality of education students are getting -- and the quality of lawyering future clients are getting.’” (full article at Inside Higher Ed)
Update re Community College Faculty Lawsuits Challenging Mandatory DEI Requirements
We noted in our July 28 Newsletter and posted at our Commentary webpage the fact that a longtime faculty member at Bakersfield Community College was challenging his being subjected to newly adopted regulations imposing DEI requirements on his teaching and other activities. A reader has subsequently brought to our attention the pleadings in a similar case brought by FIRE and a number of faculty members at other California Community Colleges as well as this editorial from The Fresno Bee about the matter.
Other Articles of Interest
Let’s Stop Pretending College Degrees Don’t Matter (full article at the NY Times)
Colleges Now Including Free Speech and ChatGPT In New Student Orientation (full article at Inside Higher Ed)
How Colleges’ Decisions to Scrap Mandatory Admissions Tests is Hurting Low-Income Kids and Intensifying Inequality (full article at The Hechinger Report)
"It would be ideal if efforts to revitalize free and vigorous inquiry would be led by faculty themselves, as faculty must bear the day-to-day responsibility for ensuring that this culture flourishes." -- From Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry
August 24, 2023
Law School Dean Jenny Martinez Named Stanford's Next Provost
Incoming President Richard Saller announced yesterday that Law School Dean Jenny Martinez would become Stanford's 14th provost, effective October 1.
"Saller, who takes office as Stanford’s president on Sept. 1, said, 'Jenny is a highly respected scholar of international law and constitutional law who joined the faculty in 2003 and has served as dean of Stanford Law School since 2019. As dean, she has been a champion of inclusion, and a clear and reasoned voice for academic freedom. Jenny and I look forward to promoting the fundamental mission of a great university – that is, excellence in research and education with integrity.'” (See press release here.)
Campus Conversations on Speech (from Harvard Magazine)
“At Harvard, there are research areas that can’t be investigated, subjects that can’t be broached in public, and ideas that can’t be discussed in a classroom. So says a group of more than 120 Harvard faculty members, who have formed a Council on Academic Freedom to respond to perceived assaults on free inquiry and a climate of eroded trust that they say stifle dissent.
“On campuses nationwide, the dynamic has led to numerous incidents in which professors have been ‘mobbed, cursed, heckled into silence, and sometimes assaulted,’ they continued (these events are allegedly mirrored by a less publicly visible silencing of students, who, fearing reprisal, are unwilling to discuss certain topics in class).
“It is also worth noting that Harvard has avoided the egregious violations of free speech suffered on other campuses—for example, at the Stanford and Yale law schools—where visiting speakers were prevented from making their remarks by protestors who considered their views controversial.
“Trumbull professor of American history and director of the Schlesinger library Jane Kamensky, another Council co-president, shares Hall’s hope that Harvard will think about what needs to be done to help students navigate difficult ideas across complex political landscapes and build coalitions with people with whom they might disagree—skills they will need for democratic self-governance.” (See full article here.)
Stanford Program Trains Teens in Research Methods, Using Their High Schools
As the Subject
"Bay Area high school students took the lead on a study of district programs and policies that affect student well-being, with help from veteran researchers at Stanford.
"Students shared an array of school experiences that affected their well-being. They described ways that teachers, peers, and programs made them feel seen and included, and policies they found detrimental. They identified challenges to managing their emotions at school, such as barriers to using mental health services and even having grades released during school hours.
"Together the team produced a report that included simple, no-cost recommendations. For example: To support students who want to access mental health services during class time but feel uncomfortable asking permission from their teacher, they offered procedural workarounds to ease that pressure while still accounting for the student’s whereabouts.
“We can talk about best practices, participation data, federal guidelines, all of that,” she said. “But our own students saying, ‘Here is our experience, and we need this in our classroom or our school’ – that’s much more powerful when we’re making a case to our board.” (See full article here.)
Student Views on the College Experience
"Three in 10 students spend zero hours per week on extracurriculars, clubs or groups such as student government. On the upside, half of students spend one to five hours weekly on these activities, and the rest spend more, according to the newest Student Voice survey on various aspects of the college experience.
"More than four in 10 students say timing and location of events, making this the No. 1 reported barrier to participation in extracurricular activities and events of 11 possible options. Off-campus work is a close second, with nearly four in 10 students citing this.
"Among the 2,104 respondents who spend one or more hours a week on these activities, the top selected benefit of nine listed options is meeting new people or making new friends, with seven in 10 students saying this. Distant second but clearly related benefits are building a sense of belonging or connectedness to campus life and, separately, activism or being involved in one’s community.
". . . the top feature of 15 options students would like to see in a campus app (whether their college or university has one or not) is a campus events calendar." (See full article here.)
Professors Going Back to Paper Exams and Handwritten Essays to Deal with ChatGPT
"The growing number of students using the AI program ChatGPT as a shortcut in their coursework has led some college professors to reconsider their lesson plans for the upcoming fall semester.
"Since its launch, teachers, administrators, and students have questioned AI's role in education. While some schools chose to outright ban the use of ChatGPT, others are exploring ways it can be a tool for learning.
"I worried that my students would use it to cheat and plagiarize," Ahern said. "But then I remembered that students have always been cheating — whether that's copying a classmate's homework or getting a sibling to write an essay — and I don't think ChatGPT will change that." (See full article here.)
Other Articles of Interest
Stanford Law Review to Host Symposium on Campus Speech in February 2024 (announcement)
Student Voices: United By Our Differences (podcast and transcript)
“Stanford University's central functions of teaching, learning, research, and scholarship depend upon an atmosphere in which freedom of inquiry, thought, expression, publication, and peaceable assembly are given the fullest protection. Expression of the widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion.” -- From Stanford’s Statement on Academic Freedom
August 18, 2023
U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Review College and University Anti-Bias Response Teams
A petition was filed earlier this week before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking review of the First Amendment and other impacts of college and university anti-bias response teams and the related policies and procedures. We have posted a PDF copy of the petition here and which also includes our prior posting about Stanford's own program for reporting bias.
College Presidents Are Planning "Urgent Action" to Defend Free Speech
"More than a dozen college presidents have signed on to a new campaign to bolster free speech on their campuses. [Editor's note: the list of participants does not include Stanford.]
"The campaign, which the presidents are calling the 'Campus Call for Free Expression,' is the most-recent indication of college presidents’ increasingly forceful defense of free-speech principles.
"The project started about 18 months ago, said Rajiv Vinnakota, president of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, a civic-education nonprofit that organized the campaign. At the time, he said a small number of 'highly charged campus incidents' were getting lots of attention. Then came high-profile free-speech controversies at places like Stanford, Hamline, and Cornell Universities."
Cornell Alumni Offer Detailed Recommendations for Reform
“In recent years, Cornell University has drifted away from its founding mission of discovering and disseminating 'knowledge and truth'....
“Make diversity of thought and viewpoint diversity a clearly stated and prominent objective of the University. Free speech and academic freedom have little meaning if they do not encompass the diverse viewpoints of persons of disparate economic, geographical, and cultural backgrounds.
“Freshman orientation should include a training module on the importance of free speech and academic freedom on campus as well as practical instruction on how to engage in civil debate and constructive disagreement.
“Students should not be encouraged or supported in spying and reporting on each other or any other member of the University community for any alleged infraction arising from any speech, expression, or the reporter’s interpretation thereof that is protected by the First Amendment, the Constitution of the State of New York, or any other state or federal law. [Editor's note: See our prior posting about "Stanford's Protected Identity Harm Program for Reporting Bias" here.]
“DEI (by any name) course requirements should be eliminated for all courses of study that do not directly implicate it.
"DEI statements (by any name), or other pledge of allegiance or statement of personal support or opposition to any political ideology or movement should not form any part of the evaluation of an individual’s fitness for a faculty position.
“Any faculty or staff accused of any infraction should have due process, including immediate dismissal of any complaint that involves protected speech or infringes on academic freedom....” (See full article here; also see our "Back to Basics at Stanford" proposals here.)
Other Articles of Interest
Why Classical Education is Making a Comeback (full article)
Are Administrators Hijacking the College Experience? (including discussions by nationwide panelists of examples at Stanford) (video)
What Trustees Need to Know About Defending Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity (video)
Colleges Spend Like There’s No Tomorrow - "These Places Are Just Devouring Money" (full article)
A Comparison of Harvard's and U North Carolina's Responses to Supreme Court Decision re Admissions (full article)
Diversity Statements Get the Ax at Arizona’s Public Universities (full article)
12% of managers say they've fired a Gen Z employee in their first week or month of work, often because the employees were too easily offended (full article)
"Free speech is the bedrock of our democracy. It's the foundation upon which all of our other rights and freedoms are built." -- Stanford Professor and Hoover Director Condoleezza Rice
August 11, 2023
Princeton Principles for a Campus Culture of Free Inquiry
Last week, a set of principles was published as a result of a conference of scholars from around the country held at Princeton in March of this year. We have posted a PDF copy of these principles at our website here (also available at Princeton’s website here).
The American university is a historic achievement for many reasons, not least of which is that it provides a haven for free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. Its unique culture has made it a world leader in advancing the frontiers of practical and theoretical knowledge. . . . To do their work well, universities need a protected sphere of operation in which free speech and academic freedom flourish. Scholarship and teaching cannot achieve their full potential when constrained – externally or internally – by political, ideological, or economic agendas that impede or displace the disinterested process of pursuing truth and advancing knowledge.
Other Articles of Interest
What History Teaches Us About the Importance of Academic Freedom (full article)
A Tribute to Katie Meyer (full article)
Stanford Celebrates the Opening of a Mixed-use Development in Menlo Park, CA (full article)
The Three Attacks on Intellectual Freedom (full article)
Assuring a Successful College President Search (full article)
The Censors’ Henchmen (full article)
A Great School Rethink (Podcast)
An Equity-Based Defense of Legacy Admissions (full article)
A Racist Smear. A Tarnished Career. And the Suicide of Richard Bilkszto (full article)
"Universities must remain fiercely independent from government interference. Only by preserving academic freedom and autonomy can they fulfill their critical role as the bastions of knowledge, free inquiry, and intellectual progress." - Former Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust
August 4, 2023
College Campuses Could be the Key to Saving Our Democracy
According to Otterbein University President John Comerford, an engaged citizenry is crucial to an effective democracy.
"Universities can be more intentional about how they prepare educated citizens to participate in and defend our democracy. There are two key ingredients for engaged citizenry: critical thinking and character.
"We lack spaces where people of different backgrounds, beliefs and ideologies can actually talk, learn and connect. College campuses must remain one of these spaces. Students, faculty, staff and community members should be able to hear different ideas and debate them, all without creating hostility, mistrust and tension.
"Ultimately, the aim of a college education is only partially about the course content. Yes, students should learn a lot in their major and be exposed to everything from physics to Plato. But, the wider design is to develop the critical thinking skills and character we will need in the future leaders of our cities, states, and nation. This gargantuan imperative is too important to allow the petty politics of the nation to infect our campuses."
(See full article here.)
Americans' Confidence in Higher Education Is Down Sharply
According to the most current Gallup poll, only 36% of Americans have a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in American higher education.
"Americans’ confidence in higher education has fallen to 36%, sharply lower than in two prior readings in 2015 (57%) and 2018 (48%). In addition to the 17% of U.S. adults who have “a great deal” and 19% 'quite a lot' of confidence, 40% have 'some' and 22% 'very little' confidence.
"Americans’ confidence in higher education, which showed a marked decrease between 2015 and 2018, has declined further to a new low point. While Gallup did not probe for reasons behind the recent drop in confidence, the rising costs of postsecondary education likely play a significant role.
"There is a growing divide between Republicans’ and Democrats’ confidence in higher education. Previous Gallup polling found that Democrats expressed concern about the costs, while Republicans registered concern about politics in higher education."
(See full article here.)
Other Issues from Around the Country
The Tradition of Legacy College Admissions is Under Fire (see article here).
Three University of Kansas Professors Accused of Falsely Claiming Native American Ancestry (see article here).
Our Past Newsletters
We have recently learned that a fair number of readers have not been receiving our Newsletters, in many/most cases starting sometime in March or April of this year. If you are in this group, and this is the first Newsletter you are receiving in recent months, we suggest you check out our archive of Past Newsletters here.
Some of the more significant articles you might have missed include these:
"Critical thinking is not about being critical for the sake of criticism. It's about being discerning, curious, and open-minded. It's about asking the right questions and challenging our own beliefs and biases." - Dr. Tina Seelig, Executive Director, Stanford's Knight-Hennessy Scholars
July 28, 2023
California Community College Professor Challenges Recently Expanded DEI Requirements
Late last week, the Wall Street Journal published an editorial about a lawsuit filed by Bakersfield Community College Prof. Daymon Johnson who has been teaching since 1993 and has refused to comply with DEI requirements adopted three months ago by the California Community College System. Per the WSJ editorial, under the new regulations, California community colleges must "place significant emphasis on DEIA competencies in employee evaluation and tenure review.” See full article here.
According to the WSJ editorial, the California Community College leadership also has adopted a DEIA Glossary, a PDF copy of which we have posted at our Commentary webpage. Here are excerpts from the Glossary, some of which readers might agree with and some of which readers might disagree with. Per Prof. Daymon’s lawsuit, however, agreement and disagreement apparently is not an option for the community college faculty members:
"Deficit-Minded Language: Is language that blames students for their inequitable outcomes instead of examining the systemic factors that contribute to their challenges. It labels students as inadequate by focusing on qualities or knowledge they lack, such as the cognitive abilities and motivation needed to succeed in college, or shortcomings socially linked to the student, such as cultural deprivation, inadequate socialization, or family deficits or dysfunctions. This language emphasizes “fixing” these problems and inadequacies in students. Examples of this type of language include at-risk or high-need, underprepared or disadvantaged, non-traditional or untraditional, underprivileged, learning styles, and achievement gap.
"Diversity: The myriad of ways in which people differ, including the psychological, physical, cognitive, and social differences that occur among all individuals, such as race, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, religion, economic class, education, age, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, mental and physical ability, and learning styles. Diversity is all inclusive and supportive of the proposition that everyone and every group should be valued. It is about understanding these differences and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of our differences.
"Equity: The condition under which individuals are provided the resources they need to have access to the same opportunities, as the general population. Equity accounts for systematic inequalities, meaning the distribution of resources provides more for those who need it most. Conversely equality indicates uniformity where everything is evenly distributed among people.
"Inclusion: Authentically bringing traditionally excluded individuals and/or groups into processes, activities, and decision/policy making in a way that shares power.
"Merit: A concept that at face value appears to be a neutral measure of academic achievement and qualifications; however, merit is embedded in the ideology of Whiteness and upholds race-based structural inequality. Merit protects White privilege under the guise of standards (i.e., the use of standardized tests that are biased against racial minorities) and as highlighted by anti-affirmative action forces. Merit implies that White people are deemed better qualified and more worthy but are denied opportunities due to race-conscious policies. However, this understanding of merit and worthiness fails to recognize systemic oppression, racism, and generational privilege afforded to Whites.
"Power: Is the ability to exercise one’s will over others. Power occurs when some individuals or groups wield a greater advantage over others, thereby allowing them greater access to and control over resources. There are six bases of power: reward power (i.e., the ability to mediate rewards), coercive power (i.e., the ability to mediate punishments), legitimate power (i.e., based on the perception that the person or group in power has the right to make demands and expects others to comply), referent power (i.e., the perceived attractiveness and worthiness of the individual or group in power), expert power (i.e., the level of skill and knowledge held by the person or group in power) and informational power (i.e., the ability to control information). Wealth, Whiteness, citizenship, patriarchy, heterosexism, and education are a few key social mechanisms through which power operates.
"White Privilege: Refers to the unquestioned and unearned set of advantages, entitlements, benefits and choices bestowed on people solely because they are White. Generally White people who experience such privilege do so without being conscious of it."
Stanford Law School Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach Has Resigned
On July 20, 2023, law school dean Jenny Martinez issued a statement that former Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach had resigned. Two of many articles about the resignation can be found at the San Francisco Chronicle and The Post Millennial. A copy of Dean Martinez’s statement was posted here and which we are reproducing in its entirety as follows:
"Dear SLS Community: I write to share that Tirien Steinbach has decided that she will be leaving her role as Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Stanford Law School to pursue another opportunity.
“Associate Dean Steinbach and I both hope that SLS can move forward as a community from the divisions caused by the March 9 event. The event presented significant challenges for the administration, the students, and the entire law school community. As I previously noted, tempers flared along multiple dimensions. Although Associate Dean Steinbach intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, she recognizes that the impact of her statements was not the as she hoped or intended. Both Dean Steinbach and Stanford recognize ways they could have done better in addressing the very challenging situation, including preparing for protests, ensuring university protocols are understood, and helping administrators navigate tensions when they arise. There are opportunities for growth and learning all around."
Other Issues from Around the Country
Recent poll shows a majority of Americans now support restricting speech (see article here).
Heterodox Academy has posted an essay by a faculty member at the Free University of Berlin that discusses the challenges of teaching how hate speech is treated in different countries (see article here).
DEI officers are questioning their career paths as demand falls (see article here).
Former Harvard president Larry Sommers has proposed banning legacy admissions, eliminating elite sports and reforming higher education in other ways (see article here).
Academic researchers were angered by joke responses from STEM students to the researchers’ gender survey and said the student responses indicated widespread fascism (see article here).
Other Featured Articles
Stanford's Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) (see our prior posting here). We suggest readers may want to look at our prior posting, including a PDF copy of Stanford's list of discredited words and phrases, in light of the discussion of DEI glossaries, above, and that similarly seem to have been adopted by campus administrators around the country without input or approval of faculty and school governing bodies.
Former DEI Director at De Anza College Is Now Suing the College. We previously posted an article about the departure of Dr. Tabia Lee, De Anza College's former head of DEI. Dr. Lee is now suing the college with support from the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (see our prior posting here, now updated with a link to the lawsuit).
"It is our proud achievement to have demonstrated that unity and strength are best accomplished, not by enforced orthodoxy of views, but by diversity of opinion through the fullest possible measure of freedom of conscience and thought." – Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy
July 19, 2023
Marc Tessier-Lavigne to Step Down as Stanford’s President Effective August 31;
Richard Saller to Serve as Interim President
Most readers have probably already seen news stories that President Tessier-Lavigne will step down as Stanford’s president effective August 31. Here is a link to the Stanford Daily article that was released earlier today. Here is a link to President Tessier-Lavigne’s letter to the Stanford community. Here is a link to the statement from Trustee Chair Jerry Yang. And here is a link to a bio for Classics Prof. Richard Saller whom the Trustees have named as interim president, effective September 1.
Problems with the Current Campus Climate, Including at Stanford
Earlier this week, there was a panel in Washington D.C. about campus life and with Stanford often used as an example of specific concerns. Among other things, the panelists discussed the significant growth in campus administrative staffs, including at Stanford and which, in turn, they believe has had a major negative impact on much of the educational experience that is an essential part of college life.
The panelists also discussed how this dynamic, in turn, has led to increases in mental illness at campuses nationwide and widespread unhappiness by students regarding their time at their colleges and universities. The panelists also discussed how these developments have impacted free speech and critical thinking which they noted should be key components of a college education and which they argued needs to be restored. Panelists included Ginevra Davis, a Stanford alum and writer at Palladium Magazine, and Francesca Block, a Princeton alum who wrote an article published in March of this year, “Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students,” and that remains posted at our Stanford Concerns webpage. A YouTube recording of the panel is here.
Faculty Panel on Viewpoint Diversity
Another video that might be of interest is of a panel discussion in recent weeks by Carleton College professors Amna Khalid and Jeffrey Snyder discussing viewpoint diversity, how to promote it, why viewpoint diversity matters and how viewpoint diversity is currently under threat. Some of their essays on the subject were posted several months ago at our website here.
Stanford Law Prof. Michael McConnell on Government Censorship of Social Media
In response to a recent federal district court decision on censorship by social media in coordination with government entities (subsequently put on hold by a federal appellate court), Stanford Law School Prof. Michael McConnell wrote an opinion piece suggesting that government social media censoring requests should be made public.
The First Amendment does not limit the power of private media companies to refuse to disseminate speech they deem objectionable, even if that speech is constitutionally protected in the sense that it could not be prohibited or punished by the state. Nor does the Constitution prevent the government from identifying what it thinks is “disinformation,” and using noncoercive means to persuade private parties to restrict its spread.
The trouble is that the line between lawful government suasion and unlawful government coercion is paper-thin. In a world where government agencies wield significant discretionary regulatory authority, media companies might be fearful of government disfavor if they do not comply with government requests, even absent direct threats.
Regardless of how the judge’s order fares on appeal, a practical solution exists that might defuse the matter: Social media platforms should make government takedown requests public. That was the recommendation this spring by the Oversight Board of Meta, Facebook’s parent company.
[Editor's note: Prof. McConnell is one of the current co-chairs of the Meta Oversight Board. See full op-ed here. See also our prior postings about Stanford's alleged roles in censoring the web here.]
More About Stanford's Program for Reporting Bias
Our July 14 Newsletter again referred to Stanford’s’ Protected Identity Harm Program for Reporting Bias. As a followup, we suggest that readers take a look at the program’s description of the process and related webpages. And then think about how a student at Stanford would feel if they were to receive an email telling them that someone had reported them for having said or done something that offended someone else and that they should come to a designated administrator’s office to discuss the situation, to admit the harm they may have caused and to engage in various forms of restorative justice.
Also think about how you and your friends would have reacted if this program had been in place when you were a Stanford student and you or a friend had been targeted in this way, and with knowledge that all of this was going into your permanent student files.
Other Issues from Around the Country
Gallup Poll shows Americans' confidence in higher education is down sharply (see article here).
Blame Cancel Culture for Declining Trust in Universities (see article here).
Why I'll Never Be Able to Teach at USC Again (see article here).
Other Featured Articles
“Paradoxically, BRSs [Bias Reporting Systems] undermine the very diversity that the proponents of BRSs claim to seek. Diversity of all kinds, including diversity of thought, is central to educational excellence. As a result, BRSs present a formidable threat to educational excellence.” -- Speech First
July 14, 2023
The Impact of Language on Free Speech and Critical Thinking
We bring to your attention a recent essay by the French author Dupont Lajoie (penname) that compares recent cultural issues with concerns raised in George Orwell’s 1984, especially how restrictions on language are used to regulate and even eliminate free speech and critical thinking.
On the road to creating the perfect post-revolutionary society in the name of progress, free speech is always perceived as reactionary. Most particularly, the individuals attempting to speak truths and facts over abstractions and ideologies are accused of being the cause for the doctrine’s failure or promoting hate speech. Consequently, nonconformist ideas need to be constrained and this takes the form of amending or simply banning imperfect words. ...
In addition to the suppression of words, Newspeak constantly redefines/reinvents languages to manipulate impressions, it modifies meanings and definitions into something completely different. ...
This brings us to doublethink, defined in the novel as the process of indoctrination by which the subject is supposed to simultaneously accept two contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention of their own memories or sense of reality. As an example, in 1984, the Ministry of love is torturing dissidents, thus making people believe two contrary truths at the same time: love is torture. Doublethink is internalized due to peer pressure and a desire to fit in. ...
Political correctness does not take into account intent or speaker but just demonizes words. It is an aggressive and puritanical culture of the generalized dumbing down and childish talk applied to adults. It is condescending, patronizing and strips the language of all nuances and ambiguity.
Political correctness is intolerance disguised as tolerance, a totalitarianism of good intention, a horizontal injunction from the postmodern authority imposed by so-called social convention. Worst, it is a weapon to publicly punish and shame dissidents who have failed the test of ideological purity by mastering the virtue signaling codes. Political correctness mandated language to such a ridiculous extent that it led to cancel culture, the censorship of books, movies and the death of free speech.
See also the links at the end of this Newsletter to discussions previously posted at our website regarding Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative and Stanford’s Protected Identify Harm Program for Reporting Bias.
More About the Pending Government Censorship Case
Our July 7 Newsletter included a link to the federal district court’s legal memorandum in a case where various Stanford people and entities are named throughout the memorandum. You can find our posting about the case here (Stanford’s Alleged Roles in Censoring the Web), and the court's legal memorandum can be found at this link.
We thought it might be useful, however, to repeat here some of what we said previously:
“Our own observation is that these are important topics to be studied. The more difficult questions are: Who then gets to decide what is and isn’t true and subsequently gets to enforce the answers? Can a democratic society trust such centralized activities, both short term and long term? Is it a proper role for Stanford not only to research the issues, but then to be the implementer of the solutions and the rejecter of alternative viewpoints? Is it appropriate that the Stanford name is seen as an endorsement of these activities? At what point does an independent researcher lose its independence and, in turn, its trustworthiness?
“We believe similar concerns arise with many if not most of the other centers, incubators and accelerators Stanford has been creating and hosting in recent years. We therefore suggest moving those implementation activities off the main campus and into the Stanford Research Park, which was why a valuable portion of Stanford's land was set aside for this purpose in the first place, and/or to an entity comparable to Stanford Research Institute, which was why SRI and entities like it throughout the country also were created years ago. The Redwood City administrative campus that currently houses nearly 3,000 of Stanford's 17,000 non-teaching staff (see our April 13, 2023 Newsletter here) might also be repurposed for the centers, incubators and accelerators.
"Among other things, these changes would free up land and buildings on the main campus for the university's core purposes of teaching and research and would help solve Stanford's problems with Santa Clara County for its land use permits. These changes also would allow a significantly reduced administrative staff to interact in person with Stanford's faculty and students and thus be focused again on the university's core purposes of teaching and research and not something else.”
We also remain concerned about Stanford’s press release a month ago about its participation in what is called Project Liberty. Any two or three of these words and phrases would have had meaning, but when you see them all strung together in a single press release, they start to come across as both eerie and a possible precursor for doublethink:
"liberty, responsible technology, foundations of democracy, working together to shape emerging technologies, designed and governed for the common good, shaping an ethical future for our digital society, create more enduring democracies worldwide, a more equitable and inclusive technology infrastructure, openness to collaboration, focus on solutions, shared sense of urgency, at this critical junction, informing emerging technologies, the internet of tomorrow, accelerate our mission, a better web for a better world, support democracy, build a digital society, benefits the many and not just the few, inject ethics, ensure a meaningful encounter, engage with ethics at critical junctions, placement of technologists into positions of influence, shape thinking and decision-making, bring about a culture shift, ensure a flourishing and inclusive democratic society, transform the training, usher in a new breed, ethical society, implications of their work, serves rather than subverts democracy, a new generation of global leaders, define how we govern the future, shape the global conversation, transform social media, for the betterment of society, convene leading experts, spark a global conversation, can support democracy, be a benefit to society, flow of truthful and thoughtful information, vast digital web of social connections, the well-being of society, promote truth, mitigating those that amplify misinformation, confusion and polarization, a broad collective of stakeholders, shape a new digital society for the world . . . ."
CULTURE and Civ – Now and Then
We note two recent articles from Stanford Report regarding the new COLLEGE (Civic, Liberal, and Global Education) program for undergraduates and a look back 100 years ago when Stanford introduced its first required course for incoming freshmen, the Problems of Citizenship:
"Exploring Minds and Shaping Perspectives: How COLLEGE Took a Stanford Student on a Journey of Discovery" (see article here).
"100 Years Ago, Stanford’s First General Education Requirement was a Course on Citizenship" (see article here).
Other Issues from Around the Country
From The College Fix, ‘Forbidden Courses’ at the New University of Austin Tackled Questions Canceled at Other Schools (see article here).
From FIRE, a federal appellate court holds that public universities can punish faculty for not being sufficiently collegial (see article here).
From The College Fix, These Six Professors Didn’t Let Cancel Culture Stop Them (see article here).
From Minding the Campus, Unmasking the DEI Paradox (see article here).
Other Featured Articles
In light of the first item at the top of this week’s Newsletter regarding the use of forbidden words and engaging in wrongful behaviors, we bring to your attention these two prior postings at our website:
Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI), discussed previously at our website here, included a PDF copy of the approximately 100 words and phrases that were/are no longer to be used at Stanford (American, basket case, blind review, brown bag, freshman, gentlemen, grandfathered, he, immigrant, ladies, master list, prisoner, prostitute, sanity check, she, submit, survivor, tone deaf, trigger warning, walk-in, webmaster, etc.). In addition to this list looking a lot like Newspeak, where do non-teaching staff get the time, and over the course of many years, to do these sorts of things?
Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm Program for Reporting Bias, discussed previously at our website here, and which even allows for anonymous reports to be filed by third parties and that then become part of a student’s permanent record. This, too, starts to look a lot like 1984, and of all things, on a campus like Stanford where students as well as faculty and staff supposedly are smart and mature enough to interact without the intervention of the nearly 17,000 non-teaching personnel who now occupy the campus and a fair percentage of whom write and enforce these sorts of policies and procedures.
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people
what they do not want to hear.” ― George Orwell
July 7, 2023
Stanford People and Entities Discussed in This Week's Government Censorship Court Documents
Earlier this week, a federal District Court issued a preliminary injunction limiting federal agencies from coordinating with social media to limit and even ban specific content. One of the plaintiffs in the case is Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya whom we previously quoted here "How Stanford Failed the Academic Freedom Test." The court also specifically discussed the roles of the Stanford Internet Observatory and related entities, as previously discussed here "Stanford's Alleged Roles in Censoring the Web" and here "Reader Comments About Stanford's Internet Observatory, Election Integrity and Virality Projects." The full text of the court's legal memorandum in support of its order can be found at this link.
The question does not concern whether speech is conservative, moderate, liberal, progressive, or somewhere in between. What matters is that Americans, despite their views, will not be censored or suppressed by the Government. Other than well-known exceptions to the Free Speech Clause, all political views and content are protected free speech. The issues presented to this Court are important and deeply intertwined in the daily lives of the citizens of this country.
From The Atlantic: The Hypocrisy of Mandatory Diversity Statements
An essay recently published by The Atlantic discusses how mandatory diversity statements are impacting competing interests of a university, what the author argues has a parallel history of loyalty oaths during the McCarthy era, and how these issues are highlighted in the pending lawsuit of John Haltigan v. University of California.
According to the lawsuit, Haltigan believes in “colorblind inclusivity,” “viewpoint diversity,” and “merit-based evaluation” -- all ideas that could lead to a low-scoring statement based on the starting rubric UC Santa Cruz publishes online to help guide prospective applicants.
Perhaps the most extreme developments in the UC system’s use of DEI statements are taking place on the Davis, Santa Cruz, Berkeley, and Riverside campuses, where pilot programs treat mandatory diversity statements not as one factor among many in an overall evaluation of candidates, but as a threshold test. In other words, if a group of academics applied for jobs, their DEI statements would be read and scored, and only applicants with the highest DEI statement scores would make it to the next round. The others would never be evaluated on their research, teaching, or service . ...
. . . mandatory DEI statements are profoundly anti-diversity. And that strikes me as an especially perilous hypocrisy for academics to indulge at a time of falling popular support for higher education. A society can afford its college professors radical freedom to dissent from social orthodoxies or it can demand conformity, but not both. Academic-freedom advocates can credibly argue that scholars must be free to criticize or even to denigrate God, the nuclear family, America, motherhood, capitalism, Christianity, John Wayne movies, Thanksgiving Day, the military, the police, beer, penetrative sex, and the internal combustion engine -- but not if academics are effectively prohibited from criticizing progressivism’s sacred values.
. . . in the name of diversity, the hiring process is being loaded in favor of professors who subscribe to the particular ideology of DEI partisans as if every good hire would see things as they do. I do not want California voters to strip the UC system of more of its ability to self-govern, but if this hypocrisy inspires a reformist ballot initiative, administrators will deserve it, regardless of what the judiciary decides about whether they are violating the First Amendment. (See full article here.)
Prof. John McWhorter: My Experience of Racial Preferences in Academia
John McWhorter, per his Wikipedia bio, is an American linguist with a specialty in creole languages, sociolects and Black English. He is currently an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University where he also teaches American studies and music history. He has authored a number of books on race relations and Africa-American culture. The following is from a NY Times subscriber-only Newsletter that was posted earlier this week (read the entire essay here).
The Supreme Court last week outlawed the use of race-based affirmative action in college admissions. That practice was understandable and even necessary 60 years ago. The question I have asked for some time was precisely how long it would be required to continue. I’d personally come to believe that preferences focused on socioeconomic factors -- wealth, income, even neighborhood -- would accomplish more good while requiring less straightforward unfairness. ...
Perhaps all of this can be seen as collateral damage in view of a larger goal of Black people being included, acknowledged, given a chance -- in academia and elsewhere. In the grand scheme of things, my feeling uncomfortable on a graduate admissions committee for a few years during the Clinton administration hardly qualifies as a national tragedy. But I will never shake the sentiment I felt on those committees, an unintended byproduct of what we could call academia’s racial preference culture: that it is somehow ungracious to expect as much of Black students -- and future teachers -- as we do of others.
That kind of assumption has been institutionalized within academic culture for a long time. It is, in my view, improper. It may have been a necessary compromise for a time, but it was never truly proper in terms of justice, stability or general social acceptance.
From The College Fix: Shortcomings with Stanford Law School’s "Free Speech" Training
Stanford University administrators reacting to the outcry over students shouting down a federal judge failed to deliver the mandatory free speech training they promised, some students said. ...
Students were given six weeks [in spring quarter 2023] to watch five prerecorded videos, most about an hour long, then asked to sign a form attesting that they had done so. ...
"I watched none of the videos," one student told the Free Beacon. "I never even opened the links. On the day the training was due, I went to the attestation link provided by the university, checked a box confirming I watched the videos, and that was the end of the matter. Whole process took 10 seconds." (See full article here.)
Other Issues from Around the Country
At High School Debates, Debate Is No Longer Allowed (see article here).
Students Deserve Institutional Neutrality (see article here).
Other Featured Articles
We also call your attention to the following featured articles posted at our website:
"Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on." – Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall
June 30, 2023
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s Message to the Stanford Community re Race-Conscious Admissions
We have posted at our Stanford Speaks webpage Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s statement dated June 29, 2023 regarding the recent Supreme Court decision concerning race-conscious admissions.
Excerpt: We now find ourselves in a new legal environment. We will adjust to this new environment, in a manner that conforms with the law and that also preserves our commitment to an educational and research environment whose excellence is fostered by diversity in all forms.
Some Optimistic Views About the Current State of Higher Education
A faculty member at Stony Brook and senior fellow at Columbia, Musahas al-Gharbi, recently published an article at The Liberal Patriot presenting data and commentary supporting the view that recent problems and concerns at U.S. colleges and universities may be correcting themselves.
Excerpts: According to many right-aligned narratives, contemporary colleges and universities dedicate themselves primarily to converting normie students into aggressive social justice warriors. These narratives are false.
. . . a range of empirical data suggest that the post-2010 “Great Awokening” may be winding down. For instance, Heterodox Academy recently released the results of its 2022 Campus Expression Survey. It shows that students today feel more comfortable sharing their perspectives across a range of topics than they did in previous years. … Incident trackers compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) show marked declines in attempts to punish scholars for their speech or views across all measures. …
Colleges and universities are not just capable of reforming themselves; they are already reforming themselves. Positive trends should be recognized, and ongoing efforts should be encouraged and supported.
But doing so would require more in academia and on the left to explicitly admit that there are real problems of bias and parochialism in institutions of higher learning. It undermines our own credibility to dismiss concerns about the culture and operations of educational institutions as an empty moral panic. Ordinary people can see with their own eyes that that’s not the case, and no one will trust us to effectively fix a problem if we won’t even acknowledge it exists. We can’t talk about progress while insisting there’s nothing wrong.
Stanford Is Facing More Lawsuits About Its Internet Observatory, Election Integrity and Virality Programs
[Also see our Stanford Concerns and Reader Comments webpages.]
Inside Higher Ed recently published a story summarizing the issues being raised in new lawsuits against Stanford regarding activities of various Stanford-sponsored entities.
Excerpts: A [second] federal lawsuit filed last month alleges university disinformation and misinformation researchers colluded with the federal government and social media companies to “censor” Americans’ speech.
This case challenges probably the largest mass-surveillance and mass-censorship program in American history—the so-called ‘Election Integrity Partnership’ [EIP] and ‘Virality Project’ . . .
“Defendants are engaged in egregious violations of the First Amendment across numerous federal agencies—including the White House, the Office of the Surgeon General, the CDC, DHS and CISA—as well as massive government/private joint censorship enterprises, including the Stanford Internet Observatory’s ‘Virality Project,’ to target and suppress speech on the basis of content (i.e., COVID vaccine-related speech) and viewpoint (i.e., speech raising doubt or concern about COVID vaccines’ safety and efficacy and the extent and severity of side effects),” that third suit says.
Dee Mostofi, Stanford’s assistant vice president for external communications, wrote in an email that “We believe the cases are completely without merit and will be vigorously defending them.” See full article here
John Etchemendy Interview: Free Speech and Critical Thinking in America’s Universities
Former Stanford Provost John Etchemendy was recently interviewed about his views on free speech and critical thinking in America's universities. See video here.
Other Issues from Around the Country
Cal State Faculty Stand Up for Academic Freedom and Free Speech (see article here).
Bill Would Mandate Free Speech Training on College Campuses (see article here).
Cancel Culture Is Destroying Free Speech: UNC Is Fighting Back (see article here).
Why An Experienced Writing Professor Is Suing Penn State (see article here)
“Academic freedom really means freedom of inquiry. To be able to probe according to one's own interest, knowledge and conscience is the most important freedom the scholar has, and part of that process is to state its results.” Former Stanford President Donald Kennedy
June 23, 2023
Below are some excerpts from speeches by Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Commencement Speaker John McEnroe at last Sunday’s 132nd Commencement Ceremonies.
Remarks by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne (full text can be found here):
Excerpts: Your years here have been marked by transformation: your own personal transformation and growth, as well as great changes in the world around us. Many of you were in your first year on campus when the COVID shutdown happened. We all learned, that year, how drastically the world can change in an instant.
As you leave Stanford and go out into the world, I hope you continue to take your own unique blend of talents and passion and use them to make a difference. Your dedication to others, combined with your unique skills and knowledge, can make our world better.
Remarks by Commencement Speaker John McEnroe (full text can be found here):
Excerpts: Everyone wants a great career, but don’t miss your life on the way to work. Work/life balance may seem impossible, but it’s worth pursuing. It took me a long time to learn that lesson.
In sports, you often hear the phrase, “Winning is everything.” But in reality, it’s not. The questions you have to answer are: “Am I getting better as a person?” And, “Is what I’m doing bringing me and the ones around me happiness?” The answers will tell you whether or not you’re REALLY winning.
It’s Time for Colleges to Compete on Free Speech and Academic Freedom
Ed Yingling, who is a Stanford law school graduate, and his fellow Princeton undergraduate alum Stuart Taylor recently published an op-ed urging that colleges and universities should explain their positions on free speech and academic freedom in their recruiting materials and compete on these factors. See our Commentary webpage with a link to their op-ed here.
Excerpt: The lists of “top colleges” have varied little in many years. They always include the Ivies, Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech, etc. But that could change. Colleges of all types can differentiate themselves on the core values of free speech and academic freedom, and those that do will increasingly attract more and better students, faculty, and employment opportunities for their graduates. ...
This is not about becoming a conservative oasis. It is about returning to the core mission of a university – advancing knowledge and learning through free speech, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity. Colleges that state that mission clearly and follow through on it will have a competitive advantage.
From The Atlantic, Princeton’s Prof. Robert George Comments on the Risks of Colleges and Universities Taking Political Positions
The Atlantic recently published an op-ed by Princeton Prof. Robert George concerning the risks of colleges and universities taking political positions, and even concerns if specific schools and departments were to do so. We have posted excerpts of Prof. George’s op-ed at our Commentary webpage; see also our compilations of the Chicago Principles/Chicago Trifecta here.
Other Issues from Around the Country
Minimum DEI Points Required for Faculty Hiring at Berkeley (see article here).
UC Davis Math Professor Under Fire for Opposing Required Diversity Statements (see article here).
Mayo Medical College Professor Suspended and Threatened with Firing After Discussing Physical Differences in Athletes (see article here).
"If universities and colleges do not provide safe spaces for controversial ideas, then the dangerous belief that censorship is the answer to discomforting speech will take root in our society." New York Law School Prof. Nadine Strossen; former president of the ACLU
June 16, 2023
First, congratulations to this year’s Stanford graduates and their families. Meantime, here are some articles that might be of interest:
About Campus Bias Response Teams and Programs
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision not to enjoin a bias reporting system that has been used at Virginia Tech. As a result, we have posted at our Commentary webpage a link to the full text of both the majority and dissenting opinions in the case along with excerpts from Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson’s dissenting opinion.
We think readers may also find these articles of interest:
The College Fix, June 7, 2023, “College Bias Response Teams Do More Harm Than Good.”
WSJ, April 6, 2023 Op-Ed by Stanford’s GSB Prof. Ivan Marinovic, “DEI Meets East Germany: U.S. Universities Urge Students to Report One Another."
Also see Stanford Report, March 9, 2023, “Stanford’s Leadership Discusses Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm Program.”
Also see Stanford’s Prof. Russell Berman January 26, 2023 statement to the Faculty Senate, “Does Academic Freedom Have a Future at Stanford” with specific reference to a separate but similar program, Stanford’s Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative, and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne’s April 3, 2023 letter to the Stanford community regarding speech and academic freedom at Stanford, both posted here.
"Overly broad or vague definitions of bias put all kinds of speech at risk of being reported - even unpopular speech which is protected by the First Amendment. Political speech and satireare particularly vulnerable because the system favors students who easily take offense." -- From freespeech.org
June 9, 2023
Earlier this week, Stanford issued a four-page press release about new projects to oversee the web and related activities, all of which raise still more questions about Stanford's role in these activities. As a result, we have moved material about the Stanford Internet Observatory and related entities from our Reader Comments webpage to our Stanford Concerns webpage here and have posted the new material there as well. Please take a look, and we welcome your comments.
We also bring to your attention some other recent articles that may be of interest, as follows.
“Go Forth and Argue” by Bret Stephens, NY Times Columnist, University of Chicago 2023 Class Day speaker
Excerpts: “. . . I completely respect your right to protest any speaker you dislike, including me, so long as you honor the Chicago Principles [also found at our website here]. It is one of the core liberties that all of us have a responsibility to uphold, protect and honor.
“. . . institutions become and remain great not because of the weight of their traditions or the perception of their prestige, but because they are places where the sharpest thinking is given the freest rein, and where strong arguments may meet stronger ones, and where ‘error of opinion may be tolerated’ because ‘reason is left free to combat it’ and where joy and delight are generally found at the point of contact — mental or otherwise.”
See full article here.
“Are The Kids at Princeton -- and Ohio State and UW Madison -- Really OK?” by Michael Poliakoff, President of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni
Excerpts: “Students hesitate to disagree with the politics of their professors; many think that indoctrination is an institutional goal. A large number self-censor while also seeking to silence viewpoints that they judge to be hurtful or offensive. They feel pressure from institutional leadership, their professors, and their peers to conform both inside the classroom and on campus. Such findings should worry university leadership, and they should worry all who consider debate, dialogue, and civil disagreement essential for a free society.
“Those who won our independence . . . believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile . . . "
See full article here.
“Slaying the Censorship Leviathan” by Dr. Aaron Kheriaty
[Editor's note: Dr. Aaron Kheriaty, Harvard Prof. Martin Kulldorff and Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya have joined the states of Missouri and Louisiana in a lawsuit against the federal government claiming they were censored for content related to COVID and public health policy that the government disfavored. See also a discussion about the Stanford Internet Observatory and related Stanford entities at our webpage here.]
Excerpts: “. . . we intend to prove in court, the federal government has censored hundreds of thousands of Americans, violating the law on tens of millions of occasions in the last several years. This unprecedented breach was made possible by the wholly novel reach and breadth of the new digital social media landscape.
“Documents we have reviewed on discovery demonstrate that government censorship was far more wide-ranging than previously known, from election integrity and the Hunter Biden laptop story to gender ideology, abortion, monetary policy, the U.S. banking system, the war in Ukraine, the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and more. There is hardly a topic of recent public discussion and debate that the U.S. government has not targeted for censorship.
“ . . . censorship is now a highly developed industry complete with career-training institutions in higher education (like Stanford’s Internet Observatory or the University of Washington’s Center for an Informed Public), full-time job opportunities in industry and government (from the Virality Project and the Election Integrity Partnership to any number of federal agencies engaged in censorship), and insider jargon and euphemisms (like disinformation, misinformation, and ‘malinformation’ which must be debunked and ‘prebunked’) to render the distasteful work of censorship more palatable to industry insiders.
“. . . our documents demonstrate how a relatively unknown agency within the Department of Homeland Security became the central clearinghouse of government-run information control -- an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. My fellow citizens, meet the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency -- better known as CISA -- a government acronym with the same word in it twice in case you wondered about its mission.
“We all have the right to hear both sides of debated issues to make informed judgments. Thus all Americans have been harmed by the government’s censorship leviathan.”
See full article here.
“By academic freedom I understand the right to search for truth and to publish and teach what one holds to be true. This right implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true. It is evident that any restriction on academic freedom acts in such a way as to hamper the dissemination of knowledge among the people and thereby impedes national judgment and action.” -- Albert Einstein
June 2, 2023
More About Stanford Internet Observatory and Related Entities
Several readers have previously submitted concerns about the Stanford Internet Observatory, as posted here. We thus call your attention to a series of weekly webinars being offered by the Stanford Cyber Policy Center on a wide range of related issues such as “Partisan Conflict Over Content Moderation,” “Socially Responsible Natural Language Processing,” “Generative AI and the End of Trust,” and similar topics. A summary of webinars is here and webinar videos are also available here.
Our own observation is that these are important topics to be studied. The more difficult questions are: Who then gets to decide what is and isn’t true and subsequently gets to enforce the answers? Can a democratic society trust such centralized activities, both short term and long term? Is it a proper role for Stanford not only to research the issues, but then to be the implementer of the solutions and the rejecter of alternative viewpoints? Is it appropriate that the Stanford name is seen as an endorsement of these activities? At what point does an independent researcher lose its independence and, in turn, its trustworthiness?
We believe similar concerns arise with many if not most of the other centers, incubators and accelerators Stanford has been creating and hosting in recent years. We therefore suggest moving those implementation activities off the main campus and into the Stanford Research Park, which was why a valuable portion of Stanford's land was set aside for this purpose in the first place, and/or to an entity comparable to Stanford Research Institute, which was why SRI and entities like it throughout the country also were created years ago. The Redwood City administrative campus that currently houses nearly 3,000 of Stanford's 17,000 non-teaching staff (see our April 13 Newsletter here) might also be repurposed for the centers, incubators and accelerators. Among other things, these changes would free up land and buildings on the main campus for the university's core purposes of teaching and research and would help solve Stanford's problems with Santa Clara County for its land use permits. These changes also would allow a significantly reduced administrative staff to interact in person with Stanford's faculty and students and thus be focused again on the university's core purposes of teaching and research and not something else.
And for reasons that will become clearer over time, we believe these and similar reforms will also go to the heart of free speech and critical thinking at Stanford.
Controversial Political Issues at Stanford, Past and Present
Last week, the Stanford Daily ran a detailed and well-written article about past and current political controversies at Stanford, including the firing of Prof. Bruce Franklin during the Vietnam War era and the more recent issues re COVID, Judge Duncan’s appearance at Stanford Law School and the like. In light of these current issues, we also again urge that Stanford adopt the Chicago Trifecta available at our website here and including these provisions from the Kalven Report that is part of the Chicago Trifecta:
“A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of the university and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It is a role for the long term.. . .
“To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.
“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.. . .
"The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”
“People who believe in freedom of expression have spent several centuries fighting against censorship, in whatever form. We have to be certain the ‘Net’ doesn’t become the site for technological book burning.” -- John Ralston Saul
May 26, 2023
Death of Former University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer, and Why We Support the Chicago Principles
Readers know we have long advocated Stanford’s adoption of the Chicago Trifecta re free speech, political positions by a university, and standards for the hiring and promotion of faculty found here. We therefore are reprinting, below, an editorial published earlier this week by the Wall Street Journal upon the death of former University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.
We also would be remiss if we didn’t note that former Stanford President Gerhard Casper had long been a faculty member, law school dean and provost at the University of Chicago before he was recruited to become Stanford’s ninth president, and that President Casper largely reflected the Chicago Principles in his own leadership of Stanford. We believe a significant source of Stanford’s widely publicized problems in recent years stems from its deviation from these principles, which is why we again strongly urge Stanford’s faculty, administrators and trustees to formally adopt those principles and then to very visibly put them into effect.
From WSJ: Robert Zimmer, 1947-2023 -- The University of Chicago President Championed Free Speech
Robert Zimmer, a mathematician who served 15 years as president of the University of Chicago, died Tuesday at age 75. In announcing his death, the university said his presidency will be remembered as “one of the longest and most impactful in the University’s 133-year history.”
That’s an understatement. Zimmer kept Chicago as a leading school of higher education. But his largest contribution was his public support for free expression on campus in a disputatious era when too many schools are willing to cancel controversial speakers, especially on the political right. In 2014 Zimmer appointed a Committee on Freedom of Expression, which drafted what became known as the Chicago Principles expressing the university’s abiding commitment to free speech.
Chicago’s principles have since been adopted by dozens of other colleges and universities. The spirit of the Chicago Principles was perhaps most vividly expressed in a welcome letter sent to the incoming class of 2020 signed by the dean of students.
“Our commitment to academic freedom,” it read, “means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”
A few months later, the Journal asked Zimmer about critics who said the letter was sent out to appease alumni donors. “I am not the first president to speak out in this way,” he said. “I view myself as simply continuing to reassert what has been a longstanding value of the University of Chicago that has defined the way we have behaved.”
We can think of a few current university presidents who could use a dose of Zimmer spinal fluid. The easiest path is to bow to the loudest student and faculty voices that want to stamp out other views. Robert Zimmer was clear, courageous and unwavering. His leadership at Chicago reminds us what a university is supposed to be all about.
Princeton Alumni Publish Survey Results re Student Attitudes on Free Speech and Academic Freedom
Excerpt: . . . The survey provides input from students on what steps the university should undertake. For example, 60% of students say they would like to see the university host debates on controversial topics, something the university has not done. Other suggestions receiving support from students include offering courses on free speech and hiring an administrative officer to act as an ombudsperson to protect free speech and address alleged breaches of the free speech rule on campus. Given that issues of free speech at Princeton now are apparently under the purview of DEI administrators, this new ombudsperson role is vital.
The survey also asked questions directly related to current issues at Princeton. Many universities, including Princeton, are using online reporting systems to allow bias incident complaints to be filed, often anonymously, against students and sometimes faculty. [See our article about Stanford’s own Bias Reporting/Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative here.] The public and, indeed, students knew little about these systems until very recently, and these systems have now become very controversial. . .. [See full survey article here.]
University of California Sued for Mandating DEI Statements from Applicants
Excerpt: A policy that requires scholars seeking a job at UC Santa Cruz to provide a diversity, equity and inclusion statement as part of the application process is unconstitutional, argues a recently filed lawsuit against the University of California system and [UC Santa Cruz] leaders. . ..
“I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching—all of which public universities were created to uphold,” [Prof. J.D. Haltigan] wrote.
“DEI statements have become a political litmus test for political orientation and activism that has created an untenable situation in higher academia where diversity of thought—the bedrock of liberal education—is neither promoted nor tolerated.”
[See full article here.]
"You might understand your views on a contentious issue at a deeper level if you talk to someone who disagrees with you. It pushes you to understand your own ideas and positions better, and to learn to understand theirs." -- Prof. David Primo, University of Rochester
May 20, 2023
Stanford Daily Calls for Greater Accountability of Stanford's Administration
Earlier this week, the Stanford Daily published an editorial calling for greater accountability of Stanford's administration.
At long last, it appears the wind of change is blowing on Stanford’s campus. After a disastrous year for Stanford’s reputation and amid a brewing storm of student, alumni, and faculty discontent, there are signs that the University may be changing course. . . .
First, we must take stock of the toll that Stanford’s unchecked administrative growth has taken on student life and consequently the university’s standing. The viral Palladium article and our previous editorial have detailed how the Stanford administration’s relentless campaign to absolve itself from liability has decimated student life and made campus less safe. But the problem of administrative malfeasance extends far beyond destroying the “esoteric whimsical nature” of Stanford culture. . . .
The rampant expansion in administration and regulation is actively hurting Stanford’s strategic interests. When students spend their days fighting administrative battles, they become reluctant to advocate for, or eventually donate to, an institution that seems to only want to expand the number of staff and administrators — currently 17,000 strong — who were in many cases detrimental to their experience. . . . Through increasing collective action and doing our part to hold the university administration to account, we can ensure that Stanford’s winds of freedom continue to blow.
[See also our Back to Basics webpage here.]
The Pitfalls of Equity in Education
In a recent article at Real Clear Education and republished by Minding the Campus, “Equity and the Race to the Bottom,” author Jack Miller has raised some fundamental questions about the concept of equity in education.
. . . At the university level, DEI bureaucracies have grown to absurd sizes, and they dominate much of campus life. . . . Students are increasingly taught at the lowest common denominator rather than being challenged to do their best. . . .
Most Americans believe in equality. We want to make sure that everyone has, to the greatest extent possible, an equal place at the starting line. From there, each individual has the freedom to achieve what their desires, ability, and hard work make possible. . . . But the pursuit of the modern idea of “equity” rather than true equality is simply a race to the bottom.
Update re the Katie Meyer Lawsuit
The wrongful death lawsuit filed by Katie Meyer's parents against Stanford continues. In an order published on May 9 and found here, Judge Frederick Chung wrote in part:
"The initiation of disciplinary proceedings, and specifically the February 28, 2022 communications, cannot reasonably be regarded as 'extreme and outrageous' conduct by the defendants, even if, with the full benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the communications could arguably have been gentler in tone. Nevertheless, because this is the first pleading challenge, and because the court is already granting leave to amend as to the other causes of action, the court grants 30 days’ leave to amend as to eighth cause of action, as well."
“I am open-minded. I seek to understand opinions or behavior that I do not necessarily agree with. I pursue the objective truth through honest inquiry. I am tolerant and consider points of view that are in conflict with my convictions.” -- From the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism pro-human pledge.
May 12, 2023
Stanford’s Alleged Roles in the Censorship-Industrial Complex
A number of news organizations have been focusing in recent weeks on what allegedly are well financed and highly coordinated nationwide efforts to monitor and even control information regarding political matters, differing views about COVID and various other topics. One of the most complete summaries was produced earlier this week via a Substack publication at this link. Note that the Stanford Internet Observatory is #7 in the discussion and is cross-referenced in several of the other listings. Other Stanford-involved entities also are discussed, including the Election Integrity Partnership (regarding elections) and the Virality Project (regarding COVID and vaccines). See some related postings at our website's Reader Comments page, including Stanford's own explanation.
More About Stanford’s List of Proscribed Words and Phrases
Several months ago, Stanford came under attack for its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) and which consisted of a list of approximately 100 words and phrases that Stanford’s IT department said were to be avoided and which they had been monitoring and possibly even censoring. We posted a PDF copy of the list at our Stanford Concerns webpage (scroll down to the EHLI entry) and which Stanford a few days later said it had stopped using. A recently published article says that Stanford in fact has not given up on this effort.
Excerpt: Earlier this year, Stanford University shelved its Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI) in response to public scrutiny and faculty pressure. Professor Russell A. Berman said the initiative, which attempted to suppress the use of commonsense terms such as "American," "ladies," and "white paper," was a "catastrophe for the university." [A copy of Prof. Berman’s statement is posted here.] Stanford has apparently not yet fully absorbed that lesson, as it still maintains an internal “Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging (DEIB) Content Style Guide" that is "intended to serve as a resource for campus communicators." . . . The willingness to decide these controversies by assertion is fundamentally at odds with the nature of a university, which should provide a forum for the free pursuit of truth. This guide demonstrates that the bureaucrats at Stanford still do not understand the purpose of the institution for which they work.
Current Issues in Higher Ed
In our last Newsletter, we had an item about a webinar regarding academic freedom, DEI and related topics and featuring Prof. Keith Whittington from Princeton and Christopher Ruffo from the Manhattan Institute. A recording of that panel is now available on YouTube.
Stanford Democracy Initiative
In a prior Newsletter, we called your attention to the Stanford Civics Initiative. We bring to your attention another new program, the Stanford Democracy Initiative. See also this Stanford Daily article.
Provost Drell Announces She Is Stepping Down in the Fall
For those who have not seen prior news reports, Prof. Persis Drell has announced that she will be stepping down as Stanford’s Provost in the fall. Here’s the news release from Stanford Report, an article from the Stanford Daily and an article from the Stanford Review.
“If faculty are not free to ask questions — even questions that turn accepted orthodoxies on their head — there is no growth, and the purpose of the university ceases to exist.” -- Prof. Lynn Comerford, California State University, East Bay
April 29, 2023
May 3 Forum on Academic Freedom, DEI and Higher Ed Reforms
Stanford’s Classical Liberalism Initiative, the Cornell Free Speech Alliance and others are sponsoring a discussion/debate this coming Wednesday, May 3, “Academic Freedom, DEI and Higher Education Reform: Do Proposed Policies in Florida Make Sense?” Participants will include Prof. Keith Whittington from Princeton and Christopher Ruffo from the Manhattan Institute. Registration is available at this link.
UCLA Alumni Create Bruins for Free Speech
Alumni at UCLA have formed a group similar to ours and with the goal of “promoting free expression, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity" at UCLA. If interested, take a look at their Bruin Alumni in Defense of Free Speech website. If you know of others who might be interested, please pass this information along to them. See the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) article about the new group here.
We again call on Stanford’s faculty and trustees to adopt all three parts of the Chicago Trifecta set forth at our website on our Chicago Principles page. We also call your attention to our white paper Back to Basics at Stanford at our Back to Basics page. We believe these proposed actions and reforms can help address the many issues we have seen in recent years and fear may still be ahead at Stanford. We also welcome your comments on the subject at our website (scroll down to the “Contact Us” function) or feel free to write to us at email@example.com. ********** Quote “The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition . . . Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning. It carries with it duties correlative with rights." -- American Association of University Professors (AAUP) 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure
April 21, 2023
Student Life at Stanford
Three articles about student life at Stanford are worth reading or rereading. The first is Stanford freshman Theo Baker's article that appeared in the Stanford Daily last fall, "Stanford's War on Fun," and that is reprinted toward the end of our Stanford Concerns webpage.
The second is a Stanford Daily article from earlier this week confirming that a slate of ASSU candidates who ran on the platform "Fun Strikes Back" won by a wide margin.
The third article was written by Ginevra Davis who was a recent graduate at the time, and although the article was written a year ago, we believe it provides a good analysis of the issues that remain of concern to all of us who have a commitment to the quality of education at Stanford as well as Stanford's ongoing success: Excerpts: "Stanford’s new social order offers a peek into the bureaucrat’s vision for America. It is a world without risk, genuine difference . . .. It is a world largely without unencumbered joy; without the kind of cultural specificity that makes college, or the rest of life, particularly interesting. "Since 2013, Stanford’s administration has executed a top-to-bottom destruction of student social life. Driven by a fear of uncontrollable student spontaneity and a desire to enforce equity on campus, a growing administrative bureaucracy has destroyed almost all of Stanford’s distinctive student culture. . .. "The university sent a clear message with its treatment of the Band. Spontaneous organizations, particularly when they could become chaotic, controversial, or otherwise a space for breaking rules, were now something to be controlled. Rather than treating freedom and spontaneity as strengths, the dynamic became one where students had to justify their projects and ideas while under suspicion from administrators. Student life was becoming dominated by restrictive bureaucracy. . .. "An Office for Every Problem ". . . Stanford students live in brand new buildings with white walls. We have a $20 million dollar meditation center that nobody uses. But students didn’t ask for any of that. We just wanted a dirty house with friends. . .. An empty house is safe. A blank slate is fair. In the name of safety and fairness, Stanford destroyed everything that makes people enjoy college and life." https://www.palladiummag.com/2022/06/13/stanfords-war-on-social-life/ ********** Suggestions for New Student Orientation In light of the recent speaker disruptions and other concerns about the current climate for free speech and academic freedom at Stanford and elsewhere, we suggest that Stanford include in its Three Books program for this fall's incoming freshmen and transfer students Princeton Prof. Keith Whittington's book, Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Protect Free Speech, and that was required pre-reading at Princeton several years ago. A set of hypotheticals might also be included for discussion in small breakout groups and where each student must take more than one side for each issue presented. Excerpts: "Free speech on college campuses is perhaps under as great a threat today as it has been in quite some time. We are not, of course, on the verge of returning to the rigid conformity of a century ago, but we are in danger of giving up on hard-won freedoms of critical inquiry that have been wrested from figures of authority over the course of a century. The reasons for this more censorious environment are myriad. I will not try to detail those threats to free speech here. Although some still deny that there is a significant threat to speech on campuses, that position requires an almost willful blindness to what has been happening on college campuses big and small. ". . . Laying aside the question of whether courts might enforce some outside body of constitutional rules to limit the discretion of university administrators, how should members of the academic community itself understand their own interests in the free speech debate? What principles should the members of a university community -- administrators, faculty, and students -- strive to realize on campus? ". . . Universities [are] a place 'where ideas begin.' If we hope to sustain institutions that can play that role within American society, we need to act to preserve them as bastions of free thought and critical dialog." ********** Quote "The refusal to suppress offensive speech is one of the most difficult obligations the free speech principle imposes upon all of us; yet it is also one of the First Amendment’s greatest glories — indeed it is a central test of a community’s commitment to free speech.” -- Former Stanford Prof. Gerald Gunther
April 13, 2023
Distanced from Purpose
When discussing recent problems at Stanford, our attention was called again to the 35-acre satellite campus that Stanford has built, five miles away in Redwood City, for 2,700 of its over 16,000 support staff. The facility includes a full-service café, a rooftop six-lane swimming pool, a wellness center with an indoor basketball court, state-of-the-art fitness equipment, locker rooms including showers, and an outdoor fitness courtyard. Take a look here and here.
We understand the need to conserve space on the core campus given the county’s constant and often inappropriate limitations on Stanford’s educational, medical and research activities. We also understand the competitive pressures to recruit staff. But a concern is that this sort of environment signals to the staff that there is no limit on spending (how could there be when they themselves work in these sorts of surroundings?). Of even greater concern, our understanding is that these staff members, unlike in the past, have few if any face to face, personal interactions with students and faculty and which, per Ken Cuthbertson’s quote in our last Newsletter, is the only reason Stanford exists. We also featured in our last Newsletter the recent WSJ op-ed by GSB Prof. Ivan Marinovic about Stanford's bias reporting system. To what extent do the case management systems and form letters referenced in Prof. Marinovic’s essay emanate from this detached group in Redwood City? And was it this group or their counterparts on the main campus that was communicating with Katie Meyer, largely using a computerized case management system and form letters as provided by third-party vendors (for Stanford, a company called Maxient)? https://www.wsj.com/articles/snitches-get-sheepskins-as-colleges-train-student-informants-dei-east-germany-bias-protected-class-f941ee11?mod=hp_opin_pos_2#cxrecs_s We again refer readers to our Back to Basics webpage including our call that Stanford significantly reduce its bloated bureaucracy (see the numbers and charts at our Stanford Concerns webpage) and that the savings be redirected solely to undergraduate scholarships, research grants and independent projects and graduate student fellowships. *************** What Can be Done? Actionable Solutions to Regaining Academic Freedom We have posted at our Commentary webpage a recent essay by Leslie Spencer, one of the leaders of the Princeton alumni group that is comparable to ours and a former writer and associate editor at Forbes. We commend Ms. Spencer’s essay and proposed solutions to your attention. *************** Harvard Faculty Organize for the Protection of Academic Freedom Some leading Harvard faculty members have formed an organization for the protection of academic freedom at Harvard. We have posted a copy of their essay at our Commentary webpage. Excerpt: "Confidence in American higher education is sinking faster than for any other institution, with barely half of Americans believing it has a positive effect on the country. No small part in this disenchantment is the impression that universities are repressing differences of opinion, like the inquisitions and purges of centuries past." We also refer readers to our Chicago Principles webpage. Quote "Servants like me and the janitor can get our kicks out of providing the means and services which allow faculty and students to learn and teach under optimal circumstances" and after that, our job is to “stay the hell out of their way.” -- Stanford’s Former VP for Administration Ken Cuthbertson
April 7, 2023
WSJ Op-Ed on Campus Bias Reporting
Stanford GSB Prof. Ivan Marinovic co-authored an op-ed that appears in today's print edition of the Wall Street Journal and is titled “DEI Meets East Germany: U.S. Universities Urge Students to Report One Another for ‘Bias’ - Snitches get sheepskins as colleges train student informants.” The gist of the article is that the computerized record-keeping systems in use at Stanford and campuses nationwide are encouraging students to report on other students, even anonymously, and are accumulating massive amounts of information and often without the targeted students' knowledge. We have long referenced these concerns in our Back to Basics webpage.
We believe the bias reporting function that is contained in these systems is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg and expect the issues will become of much greater concern in the months ahead.
Meantime, the NY Post recently ran an op-ed praising both Stanford and Cornell for taking some stronger stands in recent weeks for protecting free speech.
New Book On Critical Thinking
The College Fix recently published an article about a new book by Louis Newman, “Thinking Critically in College: The Essential Handbook for Student Success.” FYI, Newman is a former Stanford Dean of Academic Advising and Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education. Per the College Fix, the book breaks down the four basic concepts of critical thinking as: “exploring context, considering alternatives, weighing evidence, and finding implication and new applications.” Perhaps excerpts from this book along with a short treatise on the First Amendment should be included this summer in Stanford’s annual “Three Books” reading for incoming freshmen and transfer students. https://www.thecollegefix.com/stanford-deans-new-book-helps-undergrads-learn-to-think-critically/
The Fundamental Standard of Ken Cuthbertson
As we reflect upon incidents in recent months, we are reminded of a statement from Stanford’s long-serving Vice President for Administration, Ken Cuthbertson, and in whose name a major award is given annually: "I resist the idea that learning and teaching should be 'administered' in a university," he wrote in 1967. "Servants like me and the janitor can get our kicks out of providing the means and services which allow faculty and students to learn and teach under optimal circumstances." See memorial article here: https://news.stanford.edu/2000/05/03/kenneth-cuthbertson-fund-raising-strategist-dies-81/
In other talks, Cuthbertson would compare his job with that of a groundskeeper and where the task was to maintain the field on which faculty and students would interact, which he said was the only reason the university exists in the first place; draw some boundary lines around the edges; and then “stay the hell out of their way.” We think this is a good philosophy for current leaders to keep in mind. See also our article, Stanford’s Ballooning Administrative Costs on our Stanford Concerns page.
"Learning thrives in an environment of discussion and experimentation, in which both new and old ideas encounter dissent and countervailing views. That environment is essential to preparing students for life after Stanford. The world is a place of disagreement, and we would not be preparing students adequately if we sheltered them from ideas they find difficult." -- Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
April 4, 2023
President Tessier-Lavigne’s April 3 Letter to the Stanford Community Regarding Recent Events
We normally wouldn't send a Newsletter this soon after the one distributed over the weekend, but we thought it important to share with readers the text of President Marc Tessier-Lavigne's letter that was circulated yesterday to Stanford's faculty, students and staff regarding recent events. A copy of the president's letter is now posted at our Stanford Speaks webpage.
The DEI Debate at MIT
As noted in our last Newsletter, a debate of the pro's and con's of DEI was held at MIT earlier this evening and is now available for viewing here (until the video is edited, you may need to jump to the 36-minute mark). Both sides made very strong presentations of the issues and we encourage readers to view the video. Former Head of DEI at De Anza College Speaks Out There have been several recent news articles about Dr. Tabia Lee, who for two years was head of DEI at De Anza Community College and why she was forced out of this position. Dr. Lee has subsequently published her own summary of what happened and why she believes this should matter to anyone interested in higher education. We have posted Dr. Lee’s essay at our Commentary webpage along with a link to a video that she recorded for the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR). We are impressed with what FAIR itself is doing and thus have also added a link to it at our Resources webpage, and we would urge readers to take a look.
The Stanford Internet Observatory
There have been ongoing news reports about Stanford’s Internet Observatory project and its alleged role in nationwide censorship. We have added a link at our Reader Comments page to one of the more recent op-eds, this one from Michael Shellenberger.
"Engaging in civil discourse and ensuring that multiple perspectives are presented are crucial if we want to preserve the components of education that ideologues are seeking to destroy."-- Tabia Lee, EdD, former DEI director, De Anza College
April 1, 2023
Two Webinars on April 4
For those who might be interested, here are two webinars this coming Tuesday, April 4:
At 1 p.m. Pacific Time, Law Schools and Free Speech, sponsored by FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression); signup here.
At 4 p.m. Pacific Time, Pro’s and Con’s of Campus DEI, sponsored by alumni at MIT and Cornell; signup here.
Former Stanford Law School Prof. Gerald Gunther on the Importance of Campus Free Speech
We recently came upon a posting at FIRE’s website regarding remarks former Stanford Law School Prof. Gerald Gunther made in 1990 expressing his worries re campus free speech. We have posted the entire article at our Stanford Concerns page here.
Excerpt: “I am deeply troubled by current efforts — however well-intentioned — to place new limits on freedom of expression at this and other campuses. . . . I lived in a country where ideological orthodoxy reigned and where the opportunity for dissent was severely limited. . . . I feel compelled to speak out against the attempt by some members of the Stanford community to enlarge the area of forbidden speech.” -- Prof. Gerald Gunther (1990).
Heather Mac Donald re Campus Concerns
Well-known author and Stanford Law School graduate Heather Mac Donald has written about her concerns with recent events at the law school and how they may reflect more widely. We have posted a copy of her article at our Commentary webpage.
Excerpt: The most astonishing aspect of the Steinbach affair is that it occurred at a law school. The essence of lawyerly work is to represent someone other than oneself—a defendant, a business client, a plaintiff seeking redress. One’s own identity is not at stake. A lawyer is supposed to grapple with legal ideas—the principles behind a statute or constitutional provision, the implications of a contractual clause. Here, too, his identity should be irrelevant. Much of legal work is adversarial; a lawyer confronts strongly opposing viewpoints, the outcome of which may lead even to the loss of a client's liberty. A lawyer rebuts those arguments not by claiming to be emotionally wounded by them, but by posing a stronger set of arguments that better accord with reason. Here, yet again, a lawyer’s own identity should not come into play. A large portion of the Stanford law school student body seems to have no grasp of these truths. They weaponized their feelings against Duncan, and claimed that his mere presence somewhere on campus, even if they stayed away from him, was intolerable.
The World Through a Singular Viewpoint
Several sources have brought to our attention various Stanford courses that start with pre-determined and one-sided conclusions and seem designed solely to reconfirm those conclusions. Versus starting with questions designed to stimulate critical and independent thinking about the issues being presented. This is a sample:
From the Stanford Law School:
Representations of Criminal Lawyers in Popular Culture Through the Lens of Bias (Stanford Law School 240K, mandatory for first year law students): “This seminar will explore the portrayal of criminal lawyers in popular films and will engage in critical analysis of how misconceptions about the criminal justice system and biases against women, people of color and the poor are amplified on the big screen.” https://law.stanford.edu/courses/1l-discussion-representations-of-criminal-lawyers-in-popular-culture-through-the-lens-of-bias/
Race and Technology (Stanford Law School 240T, mandatory for first year law students): “People often tend to think of technology as value neutral, as essentially objective tools that can be used for good or evil, particularly when questions of race and racial justice are involved. But the technologies we develop and deploy are frequently shaped by historical prejudices, biases, and inequalities and thus may be no less biased and racist than the underlying society in which they exist.” https://law.stanford.edu/courses/discussion-1l-race-and-technology/
Violence, Resistance, and the Law (Stanford Law School 240Y, mandatory for first year law students): “This reading group will examine the force of law – the ways in which law both depends upon and abjures violence, the ways it suppresses and invites resistance, and the identity of subjects against whom legal violence is deployed. A central object of focus will be excessive force, the legal doctrines that insulate government officers from accountability, and the ways this specific form of violence is tied to racial subordination.” https://law.stanford.edu/courses/discussion-1l-violence-resistance-and-the-law/
Other law school courses:
From the School of Humanities and Sciences:
Workplace Inclusion Certificate: “Cultivating Belonging and Affirming Identities. Applying Anti-Oppression Interventions in the Workplace. Inequity in Higher Education and Strategies for Change. Taking the ‘I’ Out of Imposter Syndrome and Reclaiming Space.” https://hshr.stanford.edu/dei/inclusion
From the Graduate School of Business:
Leverage Diversity and Inclusion for Organizational Excellence (online for $1,500): “The relationships between diversity and innovation and diversity and performance have been documented extensively in the literature. . . However, without building a sense of inclusion and belonging, organizations will have a difficult time maximizing the potential of diversity.” https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/exec-ed/programs/leverage-diversity-inclusion-organizational-excellence
From the School of Medicine:
Stanford J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion) Training; “. . . learners will gain knowledge and understanding of common unconscious biases and how they manifest as microaggressions. Learners will learn about the types of microaggressions, how they impact our professional interactions and how best to respond to them. Learners will learn through didactic materials, interactive case studies, quizzes, and assignments.” https://respect.stanford.edu/jedi-training/From the School of Medicine: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Healthcare (online for $2,300): “You’ll learn how to intentionally apply DEI strategies that help mitigate systemic racism and microaggressions in healthcare.” https://online.stanford.edu/courses/som-xche0029-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-healthcare
“Of course, we want [Stanford] to be an inclusive community . . . But we can’t not have open debate simply because we think we’re going to hurt people’s feelings.” -- John Etchemendy, former Stanford Provost
March 24, 2023
More About Recent Events at Stanford Law School
We have posted here some links to articles regarding recent events at Stanford Law School.
More About the Ballooning Administrative Costs at Stanford
We have added to our Stanford Concerns webpage some additional charts and articles about the ballooning administrative costs at Stanford.
From The Free Press – Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students
We have also posted at our Stanford Concerns webpage a recent article that raises concerns about Stanford’s Office of Community Standards and related administrative units, including their involvement in cases involving residential education, student discipline, the Katie Meyer suicide and other items.
Some Other Comments and Opinions
As a reminder, we have received a number of other comments and opinions from law school and other alumni expressing their concerns about recent events at Stanford, and we have posted some of those comments and opinions on a new Reader Comments page.
“Those who strike down free speech aren’t liberators; they’re oppressive (even when they silence powerful men). And when aspiring lawyers act oppressively, they don’t just undermine liberty; they undermine the very profession they seek to join.” -- David French in NY Times
March 19, 2023
Back to Basics at Stanford
We’ve updated our Back to Basics at Stanford white paper to recommend that every dollar that is saved by the suggested reductions in administrative staff and related overhead (salaries, benefits, other contract and overhead costs) should be devoted solely to scholarships, research grants and independent projects for undergraduates and to graduate student fellowships. We also have suggested that the administration should publish a monthly or quarterly summary of the reductions that have been made and the amounts thus redirected solely to these undergraduate and graduate student programs. See also our prior posting about Stanford's ballooning administrative costs at our Stanford Concerns page.
Commentary from Former Law School Dean Paul Brest
We have posted at our Reader Comments page a commentary received from former law school dean Paul Brest saying that Stanford’s 1974 statement on academic freedom covers the recent concerns and why adoption of the Chicago Principles is not necessary.
Stanford’s Role in Censoring Social Media and the Internet
Matt Taibbi’s most recent release about the Twitter files is entitled, “Stanford, the Virality Project, and the Censorship of True Stories.” (https://threadreaderapp.com/thread/1636729166631432195.html).
Some Other Comments and Opinions
We have received a number of other comments and opinions from law school and other alumni expressing their concerns about recent events at Stanford, and we have posted some of those comments and opinions on our new Reader Comments page.
“The fastest way for a great research university to lapse into mediocrity is to curtail in any way the relentless debate and discussion that alone can bring about scientific and social progress. Unless Stanford wants to take up the retrograde role of the inquisitors who silenced Galileo, it needs a course correction. Now.” -- American Council of Trustees and Alumni
March 12, 2023
About Last Week’s Events at Stanford Law School
By now, most readers have heard about events last Thursday, March 9 whereby a student organization had invited federal Judge Stewart Kyle Duncan to talk about specific cases and how they relate to recent Supreme Court developments. Unfortunately, the judge was continually heckled by a group of protestors and then the law school’s Associate Dean for DEI read to attendees her previously prepared remarks largely attacking the judge. The judge eventually was escorted from the school by a security detail that intervened after there were mounting concerns. For those who haven’t kept up on the matter, here are some links:
A video of what happened
A letter to President Marc Tessier-Lavigne from FIRE about their concerns
A letter of apology from Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and law school dean Jenny Martinez
David Lat commentary
We again call your attention to the increasingly bloated bureaucracy at Stanford (see our Stanford Concerns page to see the numbers). And in our view, students and faculty of course can raise issues, although within the bounds of acceptable behavior that doesn’t inappropriately interfere with an event. But what concerns a growing number of alumni and others is that one or more administrators would decide on their own what is and isn’t acceptable speech, who is and isn’t an acceptable speaker (even where students had invited that speaker), and signal that the law school has an official position opposing that speaker, what the speaker allegedly stands for and what the speaker might allegedly say.
This is another example of why we think the Kalven Report, part of the Chicago Trifecta, should be adopted by Stanford (see our compilations on our Chicago Principles page), including these excerpts:
“A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.
“The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars.
“The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.”
“Some people’s idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like but if anyone says anything back, that is an outrage.” Sir Winston Churchill
March 7, 2023
ACTA Issues a Challenge to Stanford Regarding Academic Freedom
ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) has issued a challenge to Stanford’s faculty, students and alumni on issues of free speech and academic freedom. Their press release can be found here, and an ACTA webpage that was just posted and is devoted to the Stanford challenge is here. We have posted the related video at our Stanford Concerns page here (the video is also available at YouTube here).
According to ACTA’s website, the group is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. Their challenge to Stanford, as they have done with other major colleges and universities: commit to a culture of free expression, foster civil discourse, cultivate intellectual diversity, break down barriers to free expression, and advance leadership accountability. And with specific action items listed at their website for each of these five goals.
While our Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking group was not involved in creating this challenge, we think the issues it raises are very important ones for all of Stanford’s faculty, students and alumni, and we thus hope the issues will receive appropriate discussion and resolution. We also note that the challenge makes reference to the Chicago Trifecta, something we have long endorsed and is posted at our Chicago Principles page.
Further information about ACTA and the initiatives it sponsors can be found here, and if you have any thoughts about the challenge or the issues it raises, please feel free to submit them at our Contact Us page.
Further information about ACTA and the initiatives it sponsors can be found here, and if you have any thoughts about the challenge or the issues it raises, please feel free to submit them at our Contact Us page.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Prof. Margaret Mead (University of Rhode Island, 1901 - 1978)
March 5, 2023
Faculty Views on Campus Civil Liberties
A recent survey sponsored by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and administered by Social Science Research Services showed that when faculty members from close to 1,500 colleges and universities were asked about their views on civil liberties, most said they self-censor and were fearful of losing their jobs or reputations due to their speech. This is said to be more than what even was seen during the McCarthy era with 72% of today's conservative faculty, 56% of moderate faculty, and even 40% of liberal faculty afraid of losing their jobs or reputations due to their speech. See full article here: https://www.thefire.org/news/report-faculty-members-more-likely-self-censor-today-during-mccarthy-era
In that same survey, 50% of university professors said the requirement that job applicants submit a statement describing their commitment and experience advancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) is an “ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom.” The other 50% said DEI statements “are a justifiable requirement for a university job.” See full article here: https://www.thefire.org/news/report-faculty-members-more-likely-self-censor-today-during-mccarthy-era
Yale Faculty In Ongoing Discussions with Yale's President About the Status of Free Expression on Campus
Yale's University Council, the university's highest presidential advisory body, is in ongoing talks with University President Peter Salovey over the status of free expression on campus. See full article here: https://yaledailynews.com/blog/2023/02/28/university-council-to-advise-salovey-on-status-of-free-expression-at-yale/
Linfield University Professor, Fired After Speaking Out Against Antisemitism and Sexual Misconduct, Wins $1M Settlement
In response to Linfield University President Miles Davis’ anti-Semitic comments including jokes about gas chambers and other insults against Jewish people, as well as concerns about alleged sexual misconduct by members of the school's board trustees, tenured Prof. Pollack-Pelzner filed a complaint against the university, over which Prof. Pollack-Pelzner was subsequently fired.
FIRE commented that “Linfield has the dubious honor of having done something that is pretty remarkable, which was to fire a tenured faculty member with no due process whatsoever, and to do so because the institution’s leadership objected to his speech.”
Prof. Pollack-Pelzer eventually won an approximate $1 million settlement against the university. FIRE analyst Aaron Corpora warned universities that “if [they’re] going to mess with the expressive or due process rights of students or faculty, [they] better be prepared to pay.” See full article here: https://www.thecollegefix.com/prof-fired-after-speaking-out-against-antisemitism-sexual-misconduct-wins-1m-settlement/
“Faculty members complain that they can’t speak freely, but they’re also turning on each other . . . They can’t have it both ways. If faculty members want to feel safe to speak, they have to stop supporting the censorship of others.” Sean Stevens (FIRE)
February 24, 2023
Stanford Faculty Raise Concerns About Anonymous and Even Secret Reports Being Made About Students
Articles earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal, the Daily Mail and National Review outlined concerns being raised by members of Stanford’s faculty regarding systems that allow anonymous complaints to be filed by fellow students about something other students might have said or done. These filings then result in a targeted student being called in for various types of counseling and remedial action. The issue first surfaced with the filings that were made in December, many apparently anonymously, via Stanford’s “Protected Identity Harm” program about a student who was seen reading Mein Kampf (see our posting about the issue here).
But that led to a realization that an entire electronic record-keeping system is in place, is generally never disclosed to students, but that tracks what students may have said and done and that then is used against the students in current and future actions by Stanford’s student services staff, lawyers and others. Stanford’s system is provided by a company known as Maxient and which provides similar services, including a wide range of forms that Stanford also seems to be using, to over 1300 other colleges and universities around the country. The Maxient system also allows schools to share some of the student information among them.
This most recent revelation -- on top of the “Elimination of Harmful Language” word list that came to light a few months ago (see our Stanford Concerns page) -- only furthers the concerns about a vast and expensive bureaucracy that continually meddles in student affairs when the proper educational answer should be direct discussions among the affected students themselves, one to another. At least in our view, Stanford has recruited some of the most capable young adults in the country. Surely they should be entrusted with managing their own lives.
For these purposes, we again call your attention to our Back to Basics web page, and the presentation to Stanford’s Faculty Senate a few weeks ago by Prof. Russell Berman (see our Stanford Speaks page). Excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article: A group of Stanford University professors is pushing to end a system that allows students to anonymously report classmates for exhibiting discrimination or bias, saying it threatens free speech on campus (see https://www.wsj.com/articles/alumni-withhold-donations-demand-colleges-enforce-free-speech-11638280801?mod=article_inline).
The backlash began last month, when a student reading “Mein Kampf,” the autobiographical manifesto of Nazi Party leader Adolf Hitler, was reported through the school’s “Protected Identity Harm” system.
“I was stunned,” said Russell Berman, a professor of comparative literature who said he believes the reporting system could chill free speech on campus and is ripe for abuse. “It reminds me of McCarthyism.” . . . Stanford Business School professor Ivan Marinovic said the bias-reporting system reminded him of the way citizens were encouraged to inform on one another by governments in the Soviet Union, East Germany and China. “It ignores the whole history,” he said. “You’re basically going to be reporting people who you find offensive, right? According to your own ideology.”
“Alumni have the ability and duty to demand that their schools maintain the reasons for which they were created. But to be effective, alumni need to organize.” Stuart Taylor Jr. and Edward Yingling
February 20, 2023
Stanford’s Faculty Senate Appoints an Ad Hoc Committee on Speech and Academic Freedom
See the Stanford Report's two articles about the ad hoc committee here and here.
In Other News
These are some articles and links about issues at other colleges and universities and that may be of interest:
Yet Another Campus Blasphemy Dispute in Minnesota:
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) reported that Macalester College covered up an Iranian-American feminist's art exhibit after student complaints. See article here.
Commentary, Keep the Classroom a Space for Weird Conversations:
The author states, "If teachers are unwilling to venture into alien territory and make the classroom safe for unfashionable thoughts despite the security they enjoy, we cannot expect students to take the risk." https://heterodoxacademy.org/blog/keep-the-classroom-a-space-for-weird-conversations/ article here.
Commentary, Let’s Face It, Academic Freedom and Inclusion Aren’t Always Compatible:
In response to a faculty resolution at Hamline University, the article's authors assert, "In our view there will inevitably be tensions between these two values [academic freedom and inclusion]. And when those tensions arise, academic freedom must prevail — at least, if we want to ensure a college education worthy of its name." https://banished.substack.com/p/lets-face-it-academic-freedom-and
“As a university, we deeply value free expression. The ability to express a broad diversity of ideas and viewpoints is fundamental to the university’s mission of seeking truth through research and education, and to preparing students for a world in which they will engage with diverse points of view every day.” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
February 1, 2023
We bring to your attention a number of developments that might be of interest.
First, here’s a link to a Stanford Daily article about recent discussions at Stanford’s Faculty Senate regarding faculty oversight of academic matters.
Second, here’s a link to a Stanford Review article with comments made by Prof. Russell Berman regarding these Faculty Senate discussions.
And finally, here are two links regarding the Stanford Civics Initiative (SCI) and the Initiative's courses now being taught in conjunction with Stanford’s political science department.
From SCI's "About" page: "We are united by our belief that U.S. universities have a responsibility to offer students an education that will promote their flourishing as human beings, their judgment as moral agents, and their participation in society as democratic citizens. . . .We believe that students’ own ethical judgment is improved and their deepest commitments are strengthened when they have the chance to make and to respond to reasoned arguments from all sides of morally challenging issues." Take a look: https://civics.stanford.edu/About
"It is not the role of a university to protect students or anyone else from difficult ideas or words. On the contrary, we need the intellectual courage to confront them, and we faculty have to regain the assurance that the university supports us when we do so." Prof. Russell Berman
January 27, 2023
Controversy Regarding Mein Kampf
We bring to your attention an article from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) regarding Stanford’s recent handling of a screenshot posted on social media and showing a Stanford student reading Mein Kampf. See FIRE's article here.
Here's how the Stanford Daily initially covered the story ("Protected Identity Harm Report Filed as Screenshot of Student Reading 'Mein Kampf' Circulates"). And here's how the Stanford Reviewsubsequently covered the story ("Nazis Banned Books. We Shouldn't"). And here’s a link to Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm Reporting website.
Note that our updated Back to Basics white paper has proposed the elimination of the Protected Identity Harm Reporting program (Item 2.i as well as the boldface paragraph at the bottom).
These latest developments raise numerous concerns. Among other things, is it appropriate that Stanford’s administrative staff decides, on their own, what might and might not be appropriate speech? Or worse, appropriate books for students to be seen reading? The issue becomes especially concerning since Stanford is prohibited from adopting speech codes pursuant to California’s Leonard Law and the Corry court decision (see former President Casper’s comments about the Corry case), and in many ways, this is worse with Stanford’s student services staff now imposing unwritten speech rules instead. Who authorized this?
When we read about the Protected Identity Harm Reporting program, we were also concerned about the pressures being placed on students to accept what the website describes as restorative justice, indigenous healing circles, mediation, etc. And shouldn’t matters like this be subject to the standards, procedures and protections that exist with the student disciplinary process? In many ways, this looks like an end run around those protections by the student services staff, and done solely on their own.
And finally, we believe there are serious concerns that these complaints can be filed anonymously and that, per the complaint form, they are then automatically entered into the Maxient student record-keeping system, often without even telling the targeted student that this is happening (again, see the boldface paragraph at the end of Back to Basics).
"Undergraduates are now exposed to less viewpoint diversity than ever before . . . This has profound consequences for everything that happens at the university." Prof. Jonathan Haidt, New York University
January 21, 2023
If you haven’t noticed already, we’ve made a few changes to our Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking website.
First, we’ve created a new webpage, Back to Basics, where we outline some key reforms we believe Stanford’s faculty, administrators, students and trustees should consider for the protection of speech, critical thinking and academic freedom at Stanford.
Second, we’ve posted at the Stanford Concerns page a recent article by longtime Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya who had come under ongoing and brutal attacks for his pursuing issues related to Covid. Among other things, Prof. Bhattacharya notes, “Top universities, like Stanford, where I have been both student and professor since 1986, are supposed to protect against such orthodoxies, creating a safe space for scientists to think and to test their ideas. Sadly, Stanford has failed in this crucial aspect of its mission, as I can attest from personal experience.”
And finally, we’ve posted PDF copies of each of the three compilations of the Chicago Trifecta as well as a copy of our Back to Basics proposal for anyone who would like to download and use copies of these documents (see Chicago Principles and Back to Basics pages).
January 16, 2023
The Chicago Trifecta
We, along with faculty and alumni from around the country, have been advocating that colleges and universities adopt what are known as the Chicago Principles for Free Speech. At present, something like 95 U.S. colleges and universities have endorsed or adopted them.
More recently, we and others have realized that an even more effective set of actions would be for schools to adopt all three parts of what is known as the Chicago Trifecta. As noted at our website, during earlier times of considerable campus turmoil, the University of Chicago’s faculty issued three reports dealing with (1) freedom of expression, (2) a university’s involvement in political and social matters, and (3) academic appointments. Together, these three documents have become known as the Chicago Trifecta.
All three documents are remarkable in their clarity of language and thinking, and they were produced by the faculty of one of the nation’s most prestigious and academically rigorous universities. We have therefore compiled the core principles of each of these three reports, using language taken directly from each report; and we urge Stanford’s faculty, administration and trustees to adopt all three parts of the Chicago Trifecta as a way to guarantee the type of free speech and critical thinking we believe is essential for a leading university like Stanford.
All three compilations are now posted at our website (see Chicago Principles under More heading).
January 11, 2023
Stanford's IT Community Website, "Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative"
Stanford's IT community created the website, "Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative," which was reported on by the Wall Street Journal and other news outlets. The controversial website was subsequently made unavailable to those who didn't have a Stanford log-in account.
Examples of harmful words and phrases listed at the website included American, basket case, black box, blind review, brown bag, chief (even though the CIO’s official title is still Chief Information Officer), freshman, gentlemen, grandfathered, he, immigrant, ladies, master list, prisoner, prostitute, sanity check, she, submit, survivor, tone deaf, trigger warning, walk-in, webmaster. . . and nearly 100 more. A copy of the list is now posted at our website at our Stanford Concerns page.
In a letter to the Stanford community dated January 4, 2023, Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne wrote, "many have expressed concern that the work of this group could be used to censor or cancel speech at Stanford. I want to assure you this is not the case." Tessier-Lavigne continued, "At no point did the website represent university policy." Read our full article at our Stanford Concerns page, and to avoid problems like this going forward, we again urge that Stanford adopt the Chicago Trifecta (click on More and then on Chicago Principles).
Cornell Alumni Urge Emphasis on Free Speech and Critical Thinking During New Student Orientation
An alumni group at Cornell similar to ours has written two letters (one last May, one this week) to Cornell’s president, urging that a free speech instruction unit be included in new student orientation. The more recent letter states in part, “This is not a partisan issue and should not be treated as such. Every side of a debate must be open to intellectual challenge if we, as a society, and the university, as an engine of open inquiry, are to have any chance of surviving. . . . We propose training to assist students in recognizing the difference between speech and violence . . . [and that] through listening to reasoned challenge they may become wiser and more thoughtful adults.” See the most recent letter at our Commentary page.
MIT Faculty Adopts Free Expression Statement
In December 2022, the MIT faculty senate approved a Free Expression Statement that affirms, “Learning from a diversity of viewpoints, and from the deliberation, debate, and dissent that accompany them, are essential ingredients of academic excellence." The statement points out, “We cannot prohibit speech that some experience as offensive or injurious.” (Kabbany, The College Fix.) (See our Commentary page.)
Quote: “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for critical thinking.” Leo Tolstoy
December 15, 2022
Ballooning Administrative Costs at Colleges/Universities
In a recent conference call among alumni groups around the country, a link was posted to a website that compares the administrative costs per undergraduate student at over 1500 U.S. colleges and universities. That website – How Colleges Spend Money -- has very detailed data and interactive charts for the years 2012 through 2020 (see the website here).
In response, we have posted at our website a chart that shows the costs at Stanford as compared with a select group of other colleges and universities. Among other things, Stanford’s administrative costs per undergraduate student in 2020 were slightly below $40,000 compared with approximately $8,000 at Berkeley, $14,000 at Northwestern, $22,000 at Yale and $26,000 at Princeton. Note also that most schools had little change during these nine years, and one or two even reduced their costs, whereas Stanford, Caltech, MIT and Harvard had very significant increases during that same period. See our sample chart here.
Stanford Daily Op-Ed on Polarization
The Stanford Daily has published in recent months two op-eds by a Stanford undergraduate from New Zealand, YuQing Jiang, regarding what he calls “perceived polarization” at Stanford along with his thoughts about what causes it and its impact on campus life. You can find the two op-eds here and here.
Excerpts from the articles:
October: I do believe in the notion that universities are microcosms of society; thus, I think if left unattended, affective polarization will wreak greater havoc on the already precarious social and political spheres of American life in the coming years. This is why I want to draw attention to the precise nature of the problem confronting us. If we fall deeper into our ideological silos and the animosity between political groups grows, then our vision of a truly inclusive future will come under threat.
December: The ultimate takeaway here is to keep an open mind. We should view people we encounter as individuals with nuanced views and unique lived experiences, rather than avatars of their group identities. We should also examine whether the beliefs we hold about certain groups really apply to all of its members; there often exists greater differences within groups than between groups. But above all, we should seek to talk to people with identities different to our own: I believe we will find more in common than we think.
"At its best, freedom of speech is transformative, elevating our caliber of discourse, giving voice to the marginalized, and inviting connection across difference." Stanford's Office of Community Standards
November 30, 2022
Katie Meyer Lawsuit
We alumni are obviously concerned about the allegations made in the complaint filed last week by the Meyer family against Stanford regarding the tragic suicide earlier this year by their daughter Katie Meyer. See the complaint at our Stanford Concerns page.
Back to Basics
Coincidentally, a proposal has been circulated in recent weeks about the need for major colleges and universities to get back to basics. In light of the Meyer lawsuit, we have decided to go ahead and post the draft, revised slightly to be specific to Stanford, since many of the concerns raised by the complaint overlap with many of the same concerns that alumni, students, faculty, parents and others have had in recent years. The “Back to Basics” discussion draft can be found at the Back to Basics page at our website
Let Others Know About Our Website
Please feel free to forward this newsletter to others who might be interested. Names and email addresses can be added to our mailing list by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or by using the Subscribe function at this website.
"A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
November 21, 2022
See our special edition newsletter posting here that contains links to videos and other information from the Academic Freedom Conference hosted in early November by Stanford's Graduate School of Business.
November 16, 2022
On The Need for Contrarian Thinking
Stanford Review’s editor-in-chief Mimi St. Johns, who is a junior studying Computer Science and German, wrote in a recent op-ed The Contrarian Ethos that “freedom of speech is more restricted than possibly any other time in the history of Stanford -- and more broadly America” and suggested there is currently a need for intellectual engagement that includes contrarian thinking. You can read Ms. St. Johns’ op-ed at the Stanford Concerns page of our website.
Stanford’s President Marc Tessier-Lavigne on the Campus Climate for Discussing Divergent Views
In light of Ms. St. Johns’ op-ed, we thought it useful to again bring to readers’ attention the remarks made a year ago by Stanford’s President Marc Tessier-Lavigne about his take regarding the campus climate for discussing divergent views. You can read President Tessier-Lavigne’s comments at the Stanford Speaks page of our website.
How I Liberated My College Classroom
At a two-day conference regarding academic freedom that was hosted earlier this month by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, one of the panelists, Duke faculty member John Rose, spoke about techniques he uses at Duke to create a climate where students feel free to express divergent even if potentially unpopular viewpoints. We have reprinted an op-ed Prof. Rose wrote a year ago describing the approaches he uses. You can read his op-ed at the Commentary page of our website.
Quote: "Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction. The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically." Dr. Martin Luther King
November 3, 2022
Faculty Statement Regarding Academic Freedom
We have posted at our website a copy of a statement regarding academic freedom that was drafted by faculty members in various schools and departments at Stanford. The draft letter was then circulated to colleges and universities around the country and has already garnered over 600 signatures nationwide. Take a look.
Student Social Life . . . and Ongoing Evidence of an Overly Intrusive Bureaucracy
The Stanford Daily published a very well-researched and well-written article in late October about student unhappiness with current social life at Stanford. After reading the article, a number of us were struck with a secondary theme in the article about what comes across as an overly intrusive bureaucracy at Stanford. A copy of the Daily article is posted here: "Inside Stanford's 'War on Fun': Tensions Mount Over University's Handling of Social Life."
As if to prove the point, Stanford has suspended Stanford’s tree mascot for having displayed a “Stanford Hates Fun” banner at a home football game several weeks ago. Surely the irony of this action can’t be lost on third-party observers: "Stanford Student Suspended From Serving as Tree Mascot."
Quote: "I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." James Madison, 1788 speech
October 21, 2022
As we indicated in prior mailings, in addition to updating the website Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking from time to time, we will periodically circulate links to articles from other colleges and universities. Here is a sampling of what we have recently received:
Yale Law School Dean, Heather K. Gerken, defends the law school after federal judges announce boycott: "Yale Law Dean Defends School After Federal Judges Announce Boycott."
According to a new YouGov survey, the majority of Americans oppose laws that restrict faculty speech: "Most Americans Oppose Laws That Restrict Faculty Speech, Poll Finds."
New survey finds that while 98% of college students believe in free speech, around two-thirds want to censor the other side's political views on campus: "Despite Strong Belief in Free Speech, College Students Want Political Views Censored on Campus."
Metropolitan State University of Denver President Janine Davidson has committed the school to respecting all student speech: "This University President is Taking a Stand for Free Speech."
The University of California at Berkeley is facing criticism after a music teacher at the school was not fired for a ten-year sardonic post: "UC Berkeley Bucks Mob Demands to Fire Music Teacher."
Jewish Berkeley Law Students discuss in a Daily Beast article how they feel excluded: “We’re Jewish Berkeley Law Students, Excluded in Many Areas on Campus.”
Thank you for your interest in our website and newsletter. If you know of other alumni, faculty, students, parents or others who might be interested in these issues, please forward this newsletter to them and suggest that they go to our website and subscribe.
Quote: “Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” Benjamin Franklin, 1722
October 11, 2022
Janice Traflet, a business professor at Bucknell University, recently wrote about speaking fearlessly despite the threats of cancel culture: "Learning to Speak in the Midst of Cancel Culture."
Jillian Horton, a former associate dean and associate department chair of internal medicine at the University of Toronto, expressed concerns about the commodification of university education and whether it has become more important that faculty make students happy rather than challenge them: "Op-Ed: Listen Up, College Students. You don't 'Get' a Grade. You Have to Earn It."
Charles Lipson, a political science professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, wrote a recent commentary about restoring free speech at colleges and universities: "Restoring Free Speech at Our Universities."
Lauren Noble, a 2011 Yale graduate and currently head of the Buckley Program at Yale, wrote about the history of free speech at Yale, including its ground-breaking Woodward Report in 1974: "Yale is Abandoning Its Own Free Speech Codes."