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Stanford Concerns

Stanford’s Roles in Censoring the Web (Updated 3/25/24)

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Monday, March 18, 2024 in the case of Murthy v. Missouri regarding the censorship activities of government agencies using private parties, including at Stanford, to engage in activities the government itself is not permitted to do, yet are funded in substantial part by the government itself. These legal issues are obviously important, but no matter what the courts decide, there are important policy questions that separately must be addressed by Stanford and nationwide, including: 


Who 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 entity, especially at Stanford, lose its independence and, in turn, its trustworthiness? 


To which we add this question: How did it come about that Stanford has taken the legal position that it is somehow ok for non-faculty members at Stanford, or anyone for that matter, to play a role in censoring Stanford's own faculty members and, still worse, in areas that are within the recognized expertise of those faculty members?

Among other things, see this detailed summary of the Stanford Internet Observatory's funding by and interactions with government entities. See also "The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists -- We Fought Back by Stanford Medical School Prof. Jay Bhattacharya. See also Part 4 of our Back to Basics webpage, including paragraph 4.d. that Stanford must never again play a role in censoring members of its own faculty.


Meantime, we have posted below a PDF copy of the amicus brief filed on behalf of the independent journalists who uncovered these censorship activities as a result of their having been given access to previously secret communications at Twitter and elsewhere (Stanford is specifically discussed at pages 18 to 24). We are also posting a copy of Stanford's own amicus brief as well as a transcript of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court:

Independent Journalists'




Transcript of





And here are some links and comments previously posted:


From The Stanford Review, “Stanford’s Dark Hand in Twitter Censorship”:



Some explanations from Stanford:


Some Tweets about Stanford's newly announced Project Liberty (see further discussion in "Read more," below):



Some commentaries from third parties:




As noted above, these are important topics to be studied. The more difficult questions are, as also noted above, who then gets to decide what is and isn’t true and subsequently gets to enforce the answers? And 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? ​ 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 18,369 non-teaching staff (see our February 26, 2024 Newsletter) 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. ​ Stanford’s Recent Press Release About New Projects ​ In June 2023, Stanford issued a press release about new projects it has undertaken: While the goals outlined in the press release seem laudable on the face, a more careful reading starts to raise questions about what really will take place as well as the roles of donors, Big Tech, government agencies and others. These words and phrases all come directly from the four-page press release: 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, and many more. ​ Note also the repeated use of “partnering,” thereby blurring any concepts of independence and who in fact is in charge: Is it tenured members of Stanford’s faculty and where these activities are core to their independent research, or is it the donors, government agencies, third-party advisory boards and nonfaculty managers who now direct what Stanford is doing?  And per our earlier Newsletters, shouldn’t these activities at least be moved off campus into separate centers, incubators and accelerators; not be allowed to use the Stanford name; and not blur the distinction between independent research, which belongs at a university, versus being the deciders and implementers of outcomes that are largely decided by donors and government entities and therefore belong elsewhere and are better defined as to who funds and runs them and why?

Stanford’s Computerized Student Case Management System

For over a year, we and others have raised concerns about Stanford’s policies and procedures that, among

other functions, allow students, faculty and staff to report others for allegedly biased statements and actions, euphemistically called Protected Identity Harm ReportingWe also have noted that this is only one of many functions in a much broader automated case management system that is used by Stanford and by over 1,300 other colleges and universities nationwide.


In August 2023, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni distributed a press kit to over 100 student newspapers about the serious impact these automated case management systems can have on campus cultures, student rights and free speech, and we have pasted below PDF copies of the press kitACTA’s cover letter and a sample FERPA request form:






As noted in these materials, in addition to the bias reporting function, the same case management system has functions for all other types of student disciplinary matters (alleged cheating, alleged sexual encounters, etc.); observations by residence staff that a student was seen drinking or using drugs, seemed angry or emotionally upset, etc.; and other matters re student behavior, all of which are then cross-referenced in the data base. The records are kept on file permanently and without most students knowing that this is taking place. In addition, students are cross-referenced with any other students named in any of the reports, including anonymous reports that have been filed about a student without their even being told that such a report was filed.


It also is noted that the records created in this system are usually kept on the vendor’s servers or cloud-based storage, and unless a school has opted out, schools are then allowed to make electronic inquiries as to whether any of the other participating schools have information about a student named in the inquiry. 


This is why we have proposed that all Stanford students should be advised, at least annually, of their rights under federal and state law to review whatever is in their files; that they be able to request that incorrect and even false entries be corrected or deleted; and that they be allowed to submit their own clarifying information. We also have suggested that all anonymous reports should be deleted from all student files immediately and permanently. See especially paragraphs 2.h, i and j in Back to Basics at Stanford

Cover Letter to 



      Press Kit


Request Form

Stanford's Ballooning Administrative Bureaucracy (Updated 2/26/24 and 3/18/24)


A year ago, we posted some charts and other information about the large number of administrators at Stanford, including when compared with some of Stanford's competitors. And a Newsletter several months ago had a link to a recent article in The College Fix about Stanford having 931 full-time administrators for every 1,000 undergraduates and, separately, the fact that Stanford had at the time 16,963 non-teaching personnel as compared to 1,703 faculty. The story is probably best told in the following graph:

As a followup, we are posting two updated charts based on data provided in the university’s annually published booklets, Stanford Facts. The first chart shows that Stanford added another 1,406 non-teaching personnel in just the past year, bringing it to a new total of 18,369. And the second chart compares the same growth over the past ten years. Some senior Stanford administrators recently tried to explain that much of this increase comes from clinical care activities, but that doesn't seem to make sense. First, clinical care and related activities are supposed to be at Stanford's separately incorporated hospitals and clinics and not on the university's budget. Second, instructions for the federal data base say not to include hospital and clinical numbers. And third, remember that MIT, Caltech and Princeton don't even have medical schools or medical centers, and at Harvard, as is supposed to be the case at Stanford, the personnel at the hospitals and clinics and the related liabilities are carefully kept separate from the university's operations. So unless we're missing something, something else seems to be taking place here.

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Meantime, these additional charts are based on information taken directly from the website How Colleges Spend Money and which, in turn, draws solely upon data that each university submits to the federal Department of Education data base. Among other things, note that Stanford’s administrative costs per student were nearly $46,000 in 2021 as compared to $4,340 at Michigan, $7,579 at Berkeley, $15,850 at Northwestern, $21,183 at Chicago and $26,467 at Yale. Readers who are interested in this subject might also want to go on their own to the How Colleges Spend Money website to see more specific data for these schools and also to look at data from any other schools that might be of interest to them.

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Administrative Costs Per Student Data (5).png


(2012 - 2021)


Stanford University - Administrative Cost Per Student.png



Yale University - Administrative Cost Per Student_edited.jpg


University of Chicago - Administrative Cost Per Student.png


Northwestern University - Administrative Cost Per Student.png


Cornell University - Administrative Cost Per Student_edited.jpg



Stanford's Ballooning DEI Bureaucracy (as posted several months ago but with some updated charts moved to the article directly above)

We call your attention to this recent article and which includes this paragraph:


“Stanford employs an army of these bureaucrats. The university, which accepts fewer than 4 percent of applicants, has nearly 12 DEI administrators for every 1,000 studentsa ratio that far exceeds every other American university, including Harvard and Yale.”


That article in turn has a link to this Substack article and which includes the following chart:



















Number of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Personnel at Major Universities

DEI 8.png

Stanford's Program for Reporting Bias (Updated 3/11/24)


In late January 2023, a Stanford undergraduate was shown in social media reading Mein Kampf, and shortly thereafter bias complaints were filed at Stanford's Protected Identity Harm Reporting website, many apparently filed anonymously. The social media posting was publicly condemned two days later by Stanford administrators without their even yet knowing the facts, resulting in subsequent campus and nationwide media stories asking if these sorts of bias intervention policies and procedures were necessary let alone appropriate for a school like Stanford, or at any college campus for that matter. 


There have been a number of court cases around the country questioning the appropriateness of these policies and procedures and the chilling effect they may have on First Amendment and other free speech rights of students and others (many of the systems also allow turning in faculty members and others, not just students). At Stanford, the issues become even more complicated since Stanford is prohibited by California law from adopting speech codes, discussed below.


We have downloaded and pasted below a PDF copy of a petition dated August 14, 2023 and filed by a non-profit entity known as Speech First seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court of bias-response policies and procedures at Virginia Tech and other campuses around the country. 





On March 4, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, partly on the basis that Virginia Tech had filed a declaration stating that it had ended the bias response system and would not reinitiate it. For one of numerous summaries of the court's action, see SCOTUS Blog. See also our Newsletter dated March 11, 2024 suggesting actions that are still needed at Stanford. See also Stanford Prof. Ivan Marinovic, "DEI Meets East Germany; U.S. Universities Urge Students to Report One Another for Bias" at WSJ, April 6, 2023.

Meantime, below is an article from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) that we posted several months ago regarding Stanford’s handling of the Mein Kampf incident. 


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 Review subsequently covered the story ("Nazis Banned Books. We Shouldn't"). At one point, per an article in College Fix, Stanford's IT staff (why are they running this program anyway?) were offering rewards for turning in others.


Note that our updated Back to Basics white paper has long proposed the elimination of the Protected Identity Harm Reporting policies and procedures (paragraph 2.j. as well as the boldface text at the bottom regarding the computerized case management system Stanford uses and of which the bias reporting system is but one part).


These 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, what are 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 their own speech rules instead. Who authorized this?


When we read about Stanford's Protected Identity Harm Reporting program, we also were concerned about the pressures being placed on students to accept what the website describes as restorative justice, indigenous healing circles, mediation, etc. Shouldn’t matters like this be subject to the standards, procedures and protections that are in place with the student disciplinary process? In many ways, this looks like an end run around those protections by the student services staff, and also 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 article on our Back to Basics webpage). 


FIRE's News Release and Letter to Stanford re the Protected Identity Harm System and How Students Are Being Treated

It looks to be a case study in how bias reporting systems chill speech. We’re seeking information and accountability from Stanford.


By Graham Piro, Alex Morey, FIRE, January 25, 2023

Speech First


Reading a book on a college campus should not prompt formal administrative intervention. But that’s what’s reportedly happening at Stanford University this week, after a photo of a student reading Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” circulated on campus last Friday. The Stanford Daily said over the weekend that administrators were working “swiftly” with the students involved to “address” the incident. Two campus rabbis emailed Jewish students saying administrators “are in ongoing conversation with the individuals involved, who are committed to and actively engaged in a process of reckoning and sincere repair.” Stanford was reportedly alerted to the book-reading via its Protected Identity Harm reporting system. Effectively a bias response system, Stanford says PIH reports help the university “address incidents where a community member experiences harm because of who they are and how they show up in the world.” Read the wrong book, report to Restorative Justice The PIH is “not a judicial or investigative process,” the Office of Student Affairs carefully notes in bold, before (properly) carving out exceptions for hate crimes and unlawful discrimination or harassment. “We hope to provide a path to resolution for the affected individuals or communities who need to heal” by having the students participate in one of a “menu” of exercises like “mediated conversations, restorative justice sessions, or Indigenous circle practices,” to “help move towards resolution.” Because college students should not have to report to university authorities for merely reading a book — one, by the way, that has been required reading in at least one recent Stanford humanities class and is available to borrow from the university library — FIRE asked Stanford today to provide additional clarity about the way it handles these kinds of “harm” reports on campus. Stanford defines a PIH Incident as “conduct or an incident that adversely and unfairly targets an individual or group” on the basis of actual or perceived characteristics like race, religion, or marital status. Yet, it acknowledges such conduct does not necessarily violate its harassment or discrimination policies that, quite rightly, already prohibit such unlawful conduct. What purpose does this separate process serve, then? Stanford’s PIH system can be used, as here, to target and reform views students or administrators dislike, while cloaking it as a purely educational exercise. The process is the punishment In our letter to Stanford today, we argue that this practice is coercive. Administrators with disciplinary authority formally notifying students they’ve been accused of “harm,” when they’ve done nothing more than read a book, and asking them to “acknowledge” what they’ve done and “change” their ways through restorative justice-type exercises undoubtedly chills student speech. As we wrote: The power differential between university administrators and students is significant. When the Office of Student Affairs, which has disciplinary authority, formally contacts a student about a complaint filed about their conduct and asks them to engage in a reconciliation process to address alleged harm, that student is unlikely to interpret the request as genuinely voluntary. Rather, such an invitation strongly suggests a student’s actions were problematic, and they may accordingly self-censor. This process is not conducive to the atmosphere of free expression Stanford not only commits to, but is required to provide by California’s Leonard Law. The PIH “resolution” process targeting students for intensive institutional intervention will almost certainly chill speech. The process also raises serious compelled speech and thought reform concerns by pressuring students to take “accountability” and “change” their behavior or views. As we wrote in our letter: Stanford’s “goal” [in the process] is for students to: Immediately focus on the resolution practices, but also account for: • Acknowledgement of Harm (and History) •Accountability and steps taken towards change (to the extent possible) • Healing/Harm Reduction (if desired) This presupposes that students must believe or acknowledge their expression as “harmful” and commit not to cause “harm” in the future. In this case, students will understand that certain protected speech is nonetheless off limits, and they will self-censor. Stanford must reconsider how it handles situations when students complain that another student’s or faculty member’s protected expression has caused them “harm.” It can provide support to students with particular sensitivities without punishing others who, by Stanford’s own admission, have not engaged in misconduct. We submit that Stanford’s process should be to undertake a cursory review of all PIH complaints and first determine whether the conduct alleged constitutes solely protected expression. In such cases, Stanford should not notify or involve the accused student, but may still provide support to the complainant. Supporting sensitivities & respecting rights. Stanford can do both. The Stanford situation is reminiscent of one of FIRE’s most high-profile early cases, in which an Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis employee was charged with racial harassment for reading a book about defeating — defeating — the Ku Klux Klan. Co-workers complained the mere mention of the KKK was offensive and administrators ordered him to stop reading the book during his breaks. It’s a case we recall often at FIRE, each time with fresh disbelief that a university thought it was OK to ban reading. Universities cannot wield their institutional authority to force compliance with any particular views or particular students’ sensitivities. We view the Stanford situation in a similar light. Universities cannot institute Orwellian reporting systems that pressure students to confess, “take accountability,” and promise to “change” — all for reading the wrong book. Students who object to a peer’s reading material are not without recourse. They can ignore it, or employ their own expressive rights to offer personal critiques or even harsh criticism. Stanford would also be wise, when difficult issues arise on campus, to convene discussion groups, town halls, or other expressive events to promote common understanding and tolerance. But universities cannot wield their institutional authority to force compliance with any particular views or particular students’ sensitivities. We’ve asked Stanford for a prompt, Feb. 1 response.

Stanford's Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative (EHLI)


Over a year ago, 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 in late 2022. The controversial website was subsequently made unavailable to those who didn't have a Stanford log-in account.  And shortly after, the website was removed. Whether or not the glossary is still being used (some people at Stanford indicate, behind the scenes, it still is being used), the questions arise: How did Stanford's IT staff have the hundreds and even thousands of hours to engage in these activities, how did the head of Stanford's IT department believe his department had the authority to create this glossary and without faculty and other oversight, did no one pay attention to the Leonard Law that prohibits speech codes of this nature, and how is it possible the president and provost at the time were not aware of these activities?


Our July 28, 2023 Newsletter more recently has reported on somewhat similar DEI glossaries that have been adopted by schools, nonprofits and other entities around the country, and again, without discussion or approval by the relevant faculty and school governing bodies but solely by action of school administrators, to say nothing of First Amendment rights and laws in some states including California that prohibit schools from adopting speech codes. 


Examples of harmful words and phrases listed at Stanford's EHLI website had included American, basket case, black box, blind review, brown bag, chief (even though the CIO’s official title was 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. Examples of words in the typical DEI glossaries include color-blindness, cultural fluency, deficit-minded language, equity, equity-minded, institutional racism, merit ("merit protects White privilege under the guise of standards"), microaggressions, minoritized, obligation gap, oppression, power, prejudice, privilege, reverse racism, structural racism, white immunity, white privilege and white racism plus 25 or more other words and phrases. A PDF copy of the DEIA Glossary for the California Community College System is posted here.


See the Stanford IT community's list of harmful words and harmful word substitutions by clicking the PDF button below:





See former Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne's January 4, 2023 letter to the community about this project here.



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