More than 2,600 faculty and students at Stanford University have signed an online petition to protest the appointment of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as a distinguished fellow to the university’s Hoover Institution, the latest in a string of campus controversies that involve high-profile names and questions about ethics, free speech and political partisanship.
This week alone, there were three such incidents. Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard University who was criticized for questioning whether women have the same innate abilities as men in science and math, was replaced as a speaker at a UC Board of Regents dinner after 300 people from the university system signed a petition.
Erwin Chemerinsky, a prominent liberal commentator and expert on constitutional law, saw his job offer revoked after he wrote an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times questioning the death penalty.
And pundits debated whether it is appropriate for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address American college students at Columbia University during his visit to New York.
The Rumsfeld appointment is being protested by Stanford faculty, staff, students and alumni who do not want the university’s name associated with an architect of the Iraq war.
“We view the appointment as fundamentally incompatible with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested enquiry, respect for national and international laws and care for the opinions, property and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed,” the petition reads.
“This is an appointment that trades on the prestige of the name of Stanford University,” said Pamela Lee, an art history professor who created the petition two weeks ago. “The petition is meant as a signal to the rest of the world that Donald Rumsfeld and Hoover do not represent the overall Stanford community.”
The think tank, which is dedicated to research in domestic policy and international affairs, has a history of appointing outgoing members of Republican administrations, such as George Shultz, secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. The institution has its own endowment and operates free from university oversight, a fact that rankles Lee and other faculty.
“If this were a transparent process that involved all of us, the whole university,” Lee said, “then we could have an open dialogue about it. As it is, they do what they want, and get the name ‘Stanford.’”
Fellows and administrators from the Hoover Institution did not return phone calls on Friday, but John Raisian, the institution’s director, told the New York Times he had appointed Rumsfeld, “…because he has three decades of experience, of incredible public service, especially in recent years as it relates to this question of ideology and terror.”
Rumsfeld will join a task force on ideology and terrorism that includes Shultz; he will visit the campus three to five times to advise the panel.
Tom Wasow, who signed the petition and is chairman of the linguistics department, said he is happy to invite people he disagrees with to campus for debates. Yet the former secretary of defense won’t be engaging with faculty or students through lectures or public conversations, he said.
“They are bestowing honor on a person many of us think brought a great deal of dishonor to this country,” Wasow said.
The Rumsfeld protest is similar to recent academic debates making headlines, said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, in that it reflects a shifting tone on campus “from tolerance to intolerance.” “There’s an idea on college campuses now that wasn’t there in the ’70s, that if you don’t clamp down on speech that’s not agreed upon, then the university isn’t doing enough to protect you,” he said. “And somehow, the university is part of the problem.”
Roger Kimball, author of “Tenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education,” said the Rumsfeld controversy is an example of the way liberals have overtaken college faculties since the ‘60s.
“What’s happened on college campuses is that the faculty likes to proclaim ‘diversity,’ which really means strict intellectual conformity on any contentious social or moral issue,” Kimball said.
Kimball said the Hoover Institution’s full title – the Hoover Institution, War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University – is the ideal place for the former secretary of defense.
“Here’s a man who obviously has insight into what the institution is dedicated to,” Kimball said. “What better person to appoint than a Donald Rumsfeld?”
Lee said the Rumsfeld appointment crystallized an issue for faculty members: distinguishing the goals and hiring methods of the university and those of Hoover.
“We need to determine what the relationship is between the university and institution,” Lee said. “Either we need to integrate the institution into the university, or it needs to become more independent.”