A Tragic Day at the SenateRoundup
tags: conservatism, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Think Tanks
David Palumbo-Liu is the Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University.
As reported in the Stanford Daily, yesterday the Stanford Faculty Senate rejected a resolution requesting that the Senate convene an impartial Ad Hoc committee to find facts about the relationship between the Hoover Institution and Stanford University. Here is our original resolution:
Whereas the Hoover Institution has been an important part of Stanford University for over a century;
Whereas the both the University and the Hoover have expressed an interest in integrating their missions more;
Whereas there are issues that must be understood better in order for the processes and protocols of integration to be as mutually beneficial and least obstructive to each of these entities’ individual activities as possible;
Be it resolved that the Faculty Senate request the Committee on Committees to convene an Ad Hoc Committee to do a thorough and comprehensive review of the current relationship between Stanford University and the Hoover Institution, and report its findings to the Faculty Senate for a full and comprehensive discussion.
We felt it was important to be as collegial and open-minded as possible. We did not stipulate the Committee look into anything in particular – we asked that the committee simply decide on its own what needed to be researched, and proceed. As with all Senate actions, whatever recommendations it would have come up with would have been non-binding. As I said at the meeting, we essentially wrote the Stanford Faculty Senate a blank check.
Yet the fear and trembling our tepid resolution produced was astounding. So much so that Director Condoleezza Rice, a former United States Secretary of State, uttered a revealing Freudian slip – she referred to our resolution as a “revolution.” Others said that it sowed discord, that it was partisan, that it was “uncivil.” I would ask you to look carefully to find any of that in our resolution.
As a former elected chair of the Faculty Senate, I write this with much more sadness than anger. I want to recall that the Stanford Faculty Senate was founded in 1968—the year that Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. On its 50th anniversary, the Faculty Senate noted, “Central to the issues that divided the campus in the latter half of the 1960s was the Vietnam War. Opposition to the war by students and faculty focused on several aspects of University life. These included Stanford’s ROTC programs, classified research on campus, and interviews on campus by the CIA.”
The Faculty Senate was founded in large part to create a forum and mechanism for faculty governance, and to moderate debates on issues of faculty concern. As it says on the Senate website, it is “the centerpiece of academic governance at Stanford and the main instrument for faculty participation…” As chair of the Senate, I discovered that none of our peer institutions have such a body. Commitment to serious, formal, faculty input is thus part of Stanford’s distinction. This is one reason why the Senate’s handing over its responsibilities to administrators is so disappointing.
In the 1960s one of the most urgent questions was the role that universities were playing in supporting what we later found out, through the Pentagon Papers and other sources, was a concerted program of misinformation being promulgated by the US government. We found that the consequences of these lies were profound and lasting, as we saw many of our generation die needlessly and under the spell of an illusion, or come home traumatized, broken of spirit and body.
Today as well, we find that our government has lied to us, and helped bring about the deaths of nearly half a million Americans. Then, as now, we find a connection between university silence and death. And then, as now, we found the very principles of democracy challenged, and little if any action by college administrators—not to advocate political positions, but to be guardians of the established truth.
As Patricia McGuire writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Colleges Share the Blame for Assault on Democracy:
Higher education should be the great counterweight to government, the reliable steward of truth and knowledge against the corrupting tendency of politics to manipulate facts and tell outright lies as a means to gain and secure public support. Truth was one of the earliest victims of the Trump administration, with the president racking up more than 20,000 documentable lies across four years, according to The Washington Post.
Silence is the enemy of truth, and yet few college presidents dared to challenge this tsunami of official lies. Whether about immigrants or climate change or white supremacy or the Covid-19 pandemic, the president and his allies lied with abandon, and higher education remained largely silent. So, in the face of the president’s acutely manipulative lies about the presidential election, it was no surprise that colleges remained on the sidelines, raising no voice in defense of democracy in a timely way, saying nothing about voter suppression, allowing the corrosive effects of the repeated lies to inflame those Americans who are especially susceptible to demagoguery. The mob gained its energy by coalescing around the lies.
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