The Graduate Student Council (GSC) debated the Faculty Senate’s resolution on the Hoover Institution, with some councilors calling the response from the University “incredibly upsetting” and “appalling.” Councilors also reaffirmed their stance that Stanford should not invite juniors and seniors to campus for the spring quarter amid backlash from undergraduates at the Wednesday meeting.
The discussion about the Hoover Institution comes less than one week after the Faculty Senate passed an amended resolution that put Provost Persis Drell and Hoover Director Condoleezza Rice in charge of “increasing interaction” between the Hoover Institution and the University. Hoover has drawn heavy scrutiny after its fellows repeatedly spread misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 election. The original resolution sought to convene an ad hoc committee to review the relationship between Stanford and the Hoover Institution, which did not make it into the version that ultimately passed.
Councilor Sanna Ali, a fourth-year communications Ph.D. student who attended the Faculty Senate meeting, said that the original resolution was already a “mild proposal,” and that she was “disappointed” in the University’s hesitation to re-examine its relationship with the Hoover Institution.
“You’re giving a platform to misinformation that is incredibly damaging to people’s lives,” Ali said, referring to Hoover Fellow Scott Atlas’ baseless claims surrounding herd immunity. “Essentially it’s propaganda. Stanford is completely complicit in it and admins just do not care.”
Ali said that the University needs to draw a line between academic freedom and misinformation if Hoover continues to use Stanford’s name to legitimize their viewpoints. She added that she and many others were frustrated by Drell’s aversion to the original proposal. During the Faculty Senate meeting, Drell — who previously said that “they are, in fact, us” about Hoover — said that she was “left quite confused” about the original proposal’s goal. Ali called Drell’s response “embarrassing.”
Councilor Latifah Hani Hamzah, a fifth-year environmental engineering Ph.D. candidate, said that the decision not to form a committee to investigate the relationship is demonstrative of a larger trend within the University. According to Hamzah, this “all falls into a pattern” of ways in which the University has reacted to attempts at reform.
Calls from the Stanford community for the University to rethink how it interacts with Hoover are not new: Since the Institution’s inception in 1959, critics have challenged the “quasi-independent relationship” Hoover shares with Stanford. But the University has maintained that Hoover is important to the University’s commitment to academic freedom, and that the governing relationship between Stanford and Hoover is already documented.
Councilor Jonathan Deemer J.D. ’23, who works as a student fellow at the Hoover Institution, said that preserving a diversity of ideas on campus is important. While Deemer said that Atlas’ actions during the pandemic were “embarrassing” to him and to the Hoover Institution, he warned not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
“To those of us who are more ideologically aligned with Hoover, that is the basis of conservative politics,” Deemer said. “That’s the basis of coming to a university where you’re exposed to different ideal ideologies and thought patterns.”
“That’s different from Scott Atlas, because of the clear distinction between scientific misinformation and sincere policy disagreement,” he added.
But multiple members on the Council said that the debate on the Hoover Institution is not about reigning in conservative thought, but rather is about preserving academic integrity. Ali said that there was no mention of censure or repercussions in the original resolution, and that she was “appalled” that the University would not commit to investigating the relationship: a “low standard for them to meet.”
The Council also discussed how the administration’s response to issues surrounding the Hoover Institution could tie into the potential vote of no confidence in University leadership that the Council has repeatedly weighed over the past month.
Councilor K.C. Shah J.D. ’22 said that he is “starting to have difficulty separating personalities from the Institution.” In light of the decision to have Drell examine the relationship between Stanford and Hoover, Shah added that the GSC may consider asking the University to commit to third-party investigations in future situations that require it in the vote of no confidence.
“Someone who recommends that they’re investigating themselves is truly not being impartial,” Shah said. “No one actually thinks that when someone is going to investigate themselves they actually do so.”
Spring quarter in-person plans
Councilors also doubled down on their arguments for why the University should not invite juniors and seniors to campus for the spring quarter, despite recent criticism that the position was not representative of the student body. Last week the GSC expressed hesitance about the University’s return plan for the spring quarter. Days later, the Associated Students of Stanford executive team sent a memo to University administration in coordination with the GSC recommending that the University not invite juniors and seniors to campus.
Shah said that undergraduates will come to campus with an expectation that they will have a “senior spring,” and will either be disappointed by the reality of the regulations on campus or pose a safety risk to the community by breaking rules.
“If they think that they’re going to be coming back here and doing anything different than what they’re doing at home, then they should not be here,” Shah said. “There’s no way I can support any undergrads coming back.”
Ali added that graduate students primarily rely on Stanford for their residence, whereas many undergraduates still live at home.
GSC co-chair Will Paisley ’20 M.A. ’21 said that the actions of some graduate students on campus who are breaking the campus compact and local health regulations are inexcusable and should be addressed, but that those actions do not change the risk that an undergraduate return to campus would pose.
“As a former undergraduate student, I worry greatly as to the quality of instruction, social life and the ability to be a healthy and whole human being of any undergrad who would come back to campus in spring,” Paisley said. “I worry that any junior and senior who does truly love Stanford may be sorely disappointed at the experience they would have.”
Paisley specified that he was speaking specifically about students who do not have special circumstances. He added that the GSC position is clear and the group does not plan to release any further statements or actions on the topic.
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