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Stanford denounces right-wing advertisement campaign attacking professor

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The University denounced a paid advertisement campaign accusing associate political science professor Hakeem Jefferson of being one of “Stanford’s most racist professors” on Monday. 

Picture of Hakeem Jefferson
Hakeem Jefferson (Screenshot: Stanford Department of Political Science)

The advertisement, which has since been removed by Facebook, was run by the account “Most Racist Colleges and Universities” and sponsored by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. It claimed that “Stanford loves racist professors” and decried Jefferson’s research on the intersection of race and politics. Accusing Jefferson of blaming whiteness for opposition to school mask mandates, the advertisement was an excerpt of an extended blog post condemning his ideologies and academic work, as well as critical race theory at large. 

David Horowitz Freedom Center National Campus Director Sara Dogan wrote in an email to The Daily,  that the motivation behind the campaign is “to expose and publicize examples of Critical Race Theory put into practice at American colleges and universities.” 

Facebook took down the advertisement after multiple requests from the University and alerted Jefferson when they did so. The advertisement, however, was put back up on Facebook after the David Horowitz Freedom Center made revisions, according to Hogan.

Jefferson said the claims leveled against him in the advertisement are thoroughly untrue. However, the claims did not need to be true in order to be dangerous, Jefferson said. The language in the advertisement put a target on his back and invited racially-charged harassment, the likes of which he has received throughout his years in academia, he added. 

“I have seen what kinds of messages come when organizations like Breitbart and TP [Turning Point] USA or any number of these other organizations choose to single me out in particular,” Jefferson said. “I get emails frequently that use the n-word and that make racist statements about me and my character.”

Jefferson believes that the ad campaign is an effort by the David Horowitz Freedom Center “to stoke a kind of racial fear and racial resentment among a segment of the population.” 

“It’s an attempt to intimidate and to silence scholars like me who are bold and clear and take positions that clarify the centrality of race and white racism in American society,” he said. 

Dogan wrote that the David Horowitz Freedom Center initiated the campaign to “make Stanford alumni and the population at large aware of the growing reach of Critical Race Theory and how it has infiltrated universities like Stanford.”

Dogan added that the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “targeting of Professor Jefferson had nothing to do with his race and everything to do with his comments that opposition to mask mandates–even among non-whites–is somehow attributable to ‘whiteness.’”

The center is classified as a hate organization by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit legal advocacy group, which describes it as a “think tank housing various projects and publications designed to fight Horowitz’s self-described ideological war with Islam and the political left.” 

The University expressed its support for all faculty members to pursue their work freely and fearlessly. 

“At Stanford we strongly affirm the right of all our scholars to pursue their academic work and safely express their views,” wrote Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences Debra Satz in their statement denouncing the ad campaign. “And, if any member of our community is subjected to threats to their personal safety, as has occurred in some instances in the past, we will pursue all measures with the involvement of law enforcement to safeguard their wellbeing.”

Though Jefferson expressed gratitude for the University’s statement, he said it was “not as bold or courageous a statement as I would have written.” He added that he appreciated Stanford promptly petitioning Facebook to take down the advertisement until it was removed. 

But Jefferson said he was disappointed Tessier-Lavigne took several days to release a public statement condemning the advertisement and affirming his credibility as a lecturer. During those days, other professors took to Twitter to express similar frustration toward the University’s delayed public response. 

“As a Stanford faculty member, I also stand with our colleague, Hakeem Jefferson, and urge Stanford to support his research, his academic freedom and his right to safely express his views without being racially attacked,” computer science professor James Landay wrote in a tweet. 

Stanford lecturer Ruth Starkman said on Twitter, “It’s not hard to publicly affirm a junior Black faculty member, whose work improves Stanford culture in every way. Aren’t we committed to hiring and retaining Black faculty?” 

This is not the first time that the University has been criticized for a delayed reaction to instances of racism and other bigotry. This past summer, Tessier-Lavigne condemned a former student for a series of racist, threatening social media posts following numerous emails and petitions sent by other students. After Tessier-Lavigne released his statement, some students took issue that it did not denounce the posts as racist, just violent. 

The University also criticized an open letter from faculty members denouncing Scott Atlas, a Hoover fellow who made false scientific claims and statements undermining public health policies. Tessier-Lavigne released a statement distancing Stanford from Atlas only once the Hoover fellow encouraged the residents of Michigan to rise against their governor.

However, the University’s statement has ultimately been met with widespread appreciation. Freeman Spogli Institute Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution Senior Fellow and German studies and comparative literature professor Russell Berman added that Stanford must protect minority faculty, and he said he is glad they have done so.

“It is always important for the university to defend academic freedom, which extends to lecturers, too, not only to academic council professors,” Berman said. “I think it’s also important to understand the special kind of risk Black scholars face when they study race.”

Beatriz Magaloni, Saad Gulzar, David Laitin and Daniel E. Ho, faculty members on the political science department’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee, expressed their concern for Jefferson’s wellbeing following the viral advertisement, affirmed their support for Jefferson and declared that his voice is “critical to the moment of racial reckoning we are seeing in this country.”

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu, who has also faced online harassment in the past, expressed solidarity with Jefferson and denounced the advertisement campaign. 

“The latest attack on Professor Jefferson is yet another result of purposeful cyber-harassment both here and nationwide,” Palumbo-Liu wrote in a statement to The Daily. “Although such harassment (illegal in California) is largely aimed at liberal and progressive scholars, the people carrying out these attacks target climate scientists, medical professionals and others.” 

A full report on online harassment towards academics, which will include Jefferson’s case, will be presented to the Faculty Senate by the Committee on Campus Climate on Nov. 18. Those who are interested in hearing the report can attend via livestream

According to a tweet by University of California, San Diego professor David Fortunato, there is a connection between the Hoover Institution and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Hoover Institution fellow Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. 

There is no direct relationship between the two organizations, and Bruce Thornton was not involved with this campaign, according to Hogan. 

Thornton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Hoover Institution did not respond to a request to comment.

The Hoover Institution has previously faced scrutiny from faculty members. Last year, a resolution was presented to the Faculty Senate for Stanford to reevaluate its relationship with the Hoover Institution. The resolution failed. 

The University did not respond to a request for comment on whether Stanford would launch an investigation into whether the advertisement campaign had any connection to the Hoover Institution.

This article has been updated to reflect that Russell Berman is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and to include that Facebook put the advertisement back up after the David Horowitz Freedom Center made revisions. This article has also been updated to include comments from the David Horowitz Freedom Center and to reflect the Center’s motivation for the campaign. The Daily regrets this error.

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Carolyn Stein is a contributing writer from Los Angeles, California. She is pursuing coursework in psychology, East Asian studies and comparative literature. On campus, you can find her making loud noises with the LSJUMB. Contact her at news 'at' stanforddaily.com.
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Jed Ngalande ‘23 is a Staff Writer for Vol. 259 Academic News.