April 2, 2003
Stanford Anti-War Activities
Clash With Hoover Institution
and Bush Administration
by Emily Biuso, The Nation Magazine
WASHINGTON -- As student
antiwar activists work to make their case against war persuasive
to ambivalent classmates, the leaders of a Stanford University
peace group have launched a different kind of campaign--to reform
a conservative think tank on campus with dubious ties to the
The 84-year-old, Stanford-based Hoover
Institution, long famous for its influence over national
Republican policy, currently wields substantial power at the
Pentagon, with eight Hoover fellows sitting on the Defense
Policy Board advising Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the
war in Iraq.
But the institution makes an impact,
albeit of a different sort, at its home in California, too.
A generous sum of Stanford's endowment
goes to Hoover each year (the university donates $1 million
in general funds to Hoover's library and archive annually)
and some of the institution's right-leaning fellows teach in
Stanford's economics and political science departments. Additionally,
the two are linked in name and through shared property, and
Hoover's director reports directly to Stanford's president.
The student-run Stanford Community
for Peace and Justice (SCPJ) says that such formal ties
are a violation of the university's code of academic freedom.
The group, about fifty students working for nonviolence, charges
that the Hoover Institution is guided by a politically charged
mission statement that factors into the hiring of Hoover
fellows, some of whom end up in the university's classrooms.
That statement declares, in part, that Hoover seeks to
"limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals."
In the past it has also defined its mission as "to demonstrate
the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx," and previous
director W. Glenn Campbell (who led Hoover from 1960
to 1989) had a fundraising strategy that focused on fighting
communism abroad and on campus.
John Raisian, Hoover's director,
contends that the mission statement is not partisan, but a historical
statement: "It enunciates constitutional principles relating
to freedom," he says. But activists counter that an institution
with such a philosophy is taking a job candidate's political
views into account when hiring decisions are made and has no
place at a university where academic freedom is guaranteed.
To make their point, in February SCPJ presented to Stanford
president John Hennessy a petition signed by more than
600 students protesting the discrepancy between Stanford's academic
freedom policy and Hoover's mission statement.
SCPJ is calling for Hoover to
alter its mission statement; barring that, they want Stanford
to sever ties with the institution. "Our basic idea was
that as student activists, we need to organize students not
just to go to rallies but to empower them to see that they can
create concrete changes in their own lives, their own campus
and the structures that connect them to war policy," says
Calvin Miaw, a senior and SCPJ co-coordinator.
The group set out to publicize their
campaign and gain support by canvassing the campus with their
petitions. Kate Skolnick, a sophomore and SCPJ co-coordinator,
said that the hours she spent circling the dining hall gave
her a chance to try her arguments out on people. "Overwhelmingly,
people were very hesitant to sign the petition, to put their
name on something," she said. And though some students
were dismissive, she was encouraged by their interest in debating
the issue. "It sounded like people were really thinking
After acquiring about 600 signatures, representatives
of five student groups presented the petition to Hennessy in
a private meeting. In addition to SCPJ, the coalition included
members from the Muslim Student Awareness Newtwork, the Young
Communist League, the Stanford Labor Action Coalition and Students
for Environmental Action. Both Hennessy and Raisian maintain
that neither the mission statement nor the university's relationship
with Hoover will change. "I don't see reason to
do either one," Hennessy said. "I don't think they
stand a chance," Raisian agreed, calling the campaign "an
interesting intellectual exercise."
In response to such blithe dismissal,
organizers have decided on a new target to get officials' attention:
Stanford's pocketbook. They are urging parents and alumni to
set aside their planned donation to Stanford in order to urge
the university to act to reform Hoover. They've only
recently started publicizing this effort through fliers and
the SCPJ website (www.stanford.edu/group/peace/ ); it remains
to be seen whether this will be more effective than the petition.
"A lot of the reason this is going to be such a challenge
for us is he [President Hennessy] is beholden to a lot of conservative,
wealthy donors who are very happy to have Hoover here on campus,"
But it isn't just money that stands in the
way of SCPJ's objectives. Activists are also facing resistance
from students and others who claim the group is only charging
a violation of academic freedom because the accused violator
is conservative rather than liberal. "Some people think
we're the ones suppressing opposing viewpoints, which is a misinterpretation
of our intents," Skolnick said. "It's not excluding
conservative opinion on campus. We just don't want it to be
an institutionalized ideology."
The group freely admits that it is
Hoover fellows' involvement in the Bush Administration
that prompted their investigation into academic freedom and
Hoover's mission statement. Had Hoover fellows been involved
in, say, peace advocacy rather than defense strategy, the SCPJ
would probably not have sought reform on the basis of violating
academic integrity. Still, activists don't think their partisanship
dilutes their campaign. "I don't think our motivation destroys
the legitimacy of our argument," Miaw said.
Indeed, the argument has been made
before--most recently by faculty. During the Reagan presidency,
close links between the Administration and Hoover prompted Stanford
faculty to draft a petition demanding investigation into the
relationship between the university and the think tank.
A committee was appointed, but little
else was accomplished besides a "rubber-stamping of Hoover,"
said Ron Rebholz, a professor emeritus of English at Stanford
who was closely involved in the Hoover battle during
Faculty also battled the planned construction
of the Hoover-backed Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
and the Reagan Center for Public Policy on campus. In 1985 Stanford's
trustees, led by chairman Warren Christopher, agreed that the
library and a small museum could be built in the foothills overlooking
campus but that the Hoover-run policy center would have
to go elsewhere. "It was the only victory in my political
career at Stanford," Rebholz said. "We had hoped for
a divorce between Stanford and Hoover. And that would
be very difficult to achieve."
Rebholz, who has met with some of the
students, is happy to see them taking up the cause of Hoover
again, but he is skeptical that Hennessy or the board of trustees
can be convinced. "The trustees are not progressive,"
he said. "No president has ever supported divorce."
Hennessy feels personally, it matters how much pressure we can
apply," Miaw said. "We're transforming the power relationship
between students and the president."
[Editor's Note: Go directly
to the Hoover Libray by
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