The title of my last column was “Stanford is not your battleground.” Given the revelations since then — which culminated in a series of leaked emails in which the president of Stanford College Republicans (SCR) proclaimed: “slowly, we will continue to crush the Left’s will to resist, as they will crack under pressure,” while Professor Niall Ferguson of the Hoover Institution replied by suggesting to spy on a student — I think it is safe to say that particular title has become more than moot, because a battleground is precisely what these people — with insane phrases like “a famous victory” and “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance” — apparently view Stanford to be.
So, if this has to be a battleground, it might be worthwhile to examine the battles that have been waged here, just within the past year. Because much like the presidency, this year has been so packed with the antics of far right disruptors that it’s almost impossible to keep track. But this makes it all the more necessary to run down the full slate of insanity we’ve had to live through since the year began.
In November, SCR graced us with a visit by noted Islamophobe Robert Spencer, who is so toxic that he was banned from entry to the UK because his very presence was hilariously deemed “not conducive to the public good.” This came shortly after Spencer featured photos of students speaking out against him on his website Jihad Watch (because, presumably, these students were Jihadis and needed to be watched) and called them “fascists.” SCR members also lied about being assaulted by protesters, while protesters actually were assaulted by attendees. Despite the clear reasons why Spencer’s presence would endanger student safety and well-being (case in point, over $4,300 of your student money was spent on security measures alone), Stanford did nothing to interfere.
Then, after an unfortunately short break, the SCR’s president (whose name I will continue to not mention) authored a lie-filled article in the Stanford Review in January about Professor David Palumbo-Liu, which generated death threats against him and his family. Despite the clearly false nature of the accusations that began the controversy, Stanford did not stand by Professor Palumbo-Liu or state that these allegations were false, and failed to protect his safety.
Then, in February (Black History Month, mind you), Stanford’s Cardinal Conversations program (led by the same aforementioned group of conservatives trying to spy on our fellow students) invited Charles Murray, a peddler of pseudoscience who has claimed a relationship between race and intelligence. Stanford’s administration was not only sponsoring this event, but did not condemn these aspects of Murray’s views despite students’ requests.
Then, in March and April, there was a concerted effort by the aforementioned unnamed student to elect, under false pretenses, a slate affiliated with the conservative organization Turning Point USA, whose stated mission on Stanford’s campus includes defunding student organizations it considers “progressive” and using the money to fund right-wing propaganda against student wishes. In May, Turning Point USA reposted the same false article about Professor Palumbo-Liu that garnered him death threats and placed him on a “Professor Watchlist” in an attempt at further harassment of liberals on campus. Despite all this, Stanford has not only not taken action, but is apparently inviting TPUSA onto campus to form a chapter as an official student organization. Stanford has previously seemed to be hesitant about allowing a TPUSA chapter, but I can’t help notice that tone clearly changing after Fox News aired a segment called “Stanford is afraid of Conservatives coming on campus.”
In related news, SCR also invited TPUSA speaker Charlie Kirk to come to campus, and when it did not have the money to pay for the event, attempted to literally hijack another club and steal that club’s funds. Furthermore, SCR manually deleted the tickets of students registered to attend the speaker event, in clear violation of Stanford policy. It is also actively endorsing national candidates on social media despite Stanford’s policy being clearly against this. SCR has not been reprimanded by Stanford for any of these clear policy violations.
And all this happened before the latest twist in this apparently ongoing process to “slowly… crush the Left’s will to resist.” Indeed, it’s quite a lot. As one publication puts it, “this sh*t at Stanford is wild.”
Stanford’s reaction to each one of these incidents has been severely lackluster. And, taken together, these reactions can only be interpreted as one of two things: either Stanford is just as conservative as the SCR folks, and so doesn’t mind (or even likes) these antics, or it is too scared to take action against SCR for fear of the backlash.
I would hope, out of my love for Stanford, that it is not the first possibility. However, on some level, that kind of political disposition would be altogether befitting of a school that would allow the Hoover Institution a $65 million palace in prime real estate right adjacent to the Main Quad while choosing to house one of the world’s most comprehensive collection of Dr. Martin Luther King’s papers and the researchers that study them in a literal shack tucked behind a construction site half a mile from the center of campus.
To me, the second possibility is far more likely. After all, we all know that Stanford cares a great deal about its brand, and given the Trump-infused fervor of the right-wing media these days, I can imagine the kind of media hellstorm it will bring on Stanford should it sanction the SCR (see also: the Fox headline quoted earlier). But, there is a massive difference between what is popular with right-wing media and what is right, and the fact that an institution as powerful and influential as Stanford cannot stand up against the right to do what is right — whether it be protecting the safety of its own students and professors or, at the most basic level, enforcing its own policies on student organizations — is extremely disheartening. The administration seems to care more that Stanford is perceived a certain way, rather than doing anything to ensure that the actual political happenings on campus do not devolve into the horrid mess that it clearly has.
And that brings us back to the incident at hand. It is different than all the other prior incidents because for the first time, Stanford itself — in the form of one of its professors — has been implicated, and that is some truly thorny PR. Instead of a story about some amazing groundbreaking innovation™ or a cutesy feature on some Stanford students™ “working hard and playing hard,” America (and actually, the UK, too) woke up instead to learn that a Stanford professor is apparently trying to spy on his own students, and that a small clique of students are actively wreaking havoc on campus.
If there is one good thing that could come out of this, it is that the Stanford administration should at least recognize that it has played itself. Because for the negative PR, Stanford has no one to blame but itself. This could have been stopped — all of it could have been stopped. At every juncture of the insane political saga that this year has brought, Stanford could have stepped in and taken a stance against the SCR leadership, hell bent on creating ever-more-grievous chaos and discord on campus to the detriment of students. It did not. In every instance, it has sacrificed the safety and well-being of its students in service of some mythical brand appeal. I can only hope that this time, the negative impact of this incident on Stanford’s brand will finally match the negative consequences this entire mess has had on student life, because that, I fear, is the only time Stanford will ever act on any part of this ridiculous debacle.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.