Dialogue — July 2021

July 2021

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The Call of Community

In May, we featured the 50th anniversary of the Stanford Powwow.

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Man performing a dance

One of the reasons I am so excited to join @StanfordLaw is that @Stanford is one of the few beautiful clusters where Native people built a community to thrive in at a University over generations. Attending the 50th annual Stanford Powwow was AMAZING! Can’t wait to call it home. 
Elizabeth Reese (Yunpoví) Assistant professor of law
Proud to have done my part in organizing it during my time at Stanford. 
Anthony Marquez, ’06, MS ’08

I know that grass dancer ~ that’s my husband :) 
Indira Hood-Esparza 

Photo: Courtesy Dean A. Eyre III, ’80 

Free Exchange

We received more than two dozen responses to our May feature on academic freedom and its application at Stanford amid faculty debates over COVID-19 policy and the role of the Hoover Institution on campus. A representative sampling of those letters is excerpted below.

Your article was the most fair-minded thing I’ve ever read in Stanford! I assumed an article about academic freedom would be the typical thing I get from Stanford: conservatives are wrong, ignorant and bad people. When I read the articles, I silently put together obvious contradictions within and counter-arguments to the author’s points. Sometimes I go so far as to type them out. In the end I don’t send them. Odds are, it would either do nothing and be ignored, or I’d suffer damage somehow for expressing myself.

As you clearly understand, unpopular views are sometimes right in the end. You don’t have to subscribe to them, but if they are suppressed and free speech curtailed or censored, everyone loses.

You listened to both sides honestly, presented both sides fairly, and really did a great job to let the reader make up their own mind and hopefully gain a bit of insight into the other side’s thinking. That is what is missing in most of our discourse these days.
Tyrus J. Valascho, MS ’02
Clarkston, Michigan

The article filled a critical need to inform Stanford alums of the university’s position, philosophy and approach on a topic where many of us—including “good liberals” too—worry about the trend against free thought in academia.
Alyse Graham, JD ’95
Washington, D.C.

Kathy Zonana cites President Tessier-Lavigne as saying that “academic freedom fortifies the First Amendment.” This statement makes it sound as though academic freedom is simply turbo-charged freedom of speech, granting academics all the rights they have as ordinary citizens plus more, so that they may, essentially, say or write anything they like in absolutely any context.

Zonana would have done well to consult Robert Post, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale, who is an expert on academic freedom, having written two books on the subject. (No one cited in “Says Who?” has anywhere near this level of expertise.) Post makes it clear that universities do in fact hold their professors to certain standards: “[A]lthough the First Amendment may prohibit the state from penalizing the New York Times for misunderstanding the distinction between astronomy and astrology,” for example, “no astronomy professor can insulate himself or herself from the adverse consequences of such a conflation.”

Relatedly, chemistry professors may tell tall tales at a party, but they’re not allowed to falsify data in experiments. Stanford, like other universities, formally prohibits the latter and even imposes penalties for noncompliance. “Academic freedom,” concludes Post, “is not the freedom to speak or to teach just as one wishes. It is the freedom to pursue the scholarly profession . . . according to the norms and standards of that profession.”

There’s a reason for this difference, adds Post: Whereas the purpose of the First Amendment is to further the rights of individuals, the purpose of academic freedom is to further the interests of society. “If the First Amendment protects the interests of individual persons to speak as they wish, academic freedom protects the interests of society in having a professoriate that can accomplish its mission.” It goes along with this that, while we rightly welcome a very wide variety of viewpoints, we should not turn a collective blind eye when academics fail to meet intellectual standards. And when scientists blatantly flout the scientific method, we should probably not compare them to Galileo.

None of this means that anyone should lose their job (in this debate, people have an unfortunate tendency to leap to extremes). But it does mean that, in the eyes of one leading expert at least, the issue is far more complicated than Stanford’s current leadership appears to assume.
Joshua Landy
Professor of French and of comparative literature
Stanford, California

Kathy Zonana’s article cleverly poses a problem facing not just academia but our country: When does a difference of opinion pose a danger rather than an irregular path to finding the truth? Disagreement is crucial to the development and refinement of knowledge.

I was quoted correctly noting that Scott Atlas’s “Siccing a lawyer (in fact, one of the former president’s lawyers) on a group of 105 faculty . . . is not welcoming disagreement.” In the article, Atlas went out of his way to tell the Stanford College Republicans that he is an expert in health policy, “my field, my lane.” He accuses his critics on the faculty of being “ignorant of the data about the pandemic.” Atlas is a retired neuroradiologist, with no expertise in infectious disease, epidemiology or public health. The 105 Stanford faculty who signed the letter are experts in these fields. Atlas’s remarks and actions as an adviser to Trump about the pandemic undermined widely accepted public health measures such as masks, handwashing and social distancing, and therefore cost lives. With just 4.25 percent of the world’s population, the United States has suffered 15.7 percent of the world’s COVID deaths (597,594 as of June 15, 2021). As Zonana correctly noted, “not every member of the general public can differentiate between the results of a peer-reviewed paper and a scholar’s off-the-cuff remark, especially if it’s taken out of context and amplified by an internet outrage machine. Either way, they consider it ‘Stanford speaking.’”

What this debate is really about is academic responsibility, not academic freedom. It is deceptive and misleading to pretend to have expertise one does not have under the cover of an academic title. We faculty should indeed be free to speak out, as are Atlas and others who have misrepresented the facts about the pandemic. But it is irresponsible to make claims that are not supported by science. This calls for institutional disavowal, as professor of pediatrics and of microbiology and immunology Philip Pizzo, professor of law and of medicine Michelle Mello, ’93, and I stated in a recent JAMA article, “When Physicians Engage in Practices That Threaten the Nation’s Health”: “To take the view that respecting freedom of speech requires institutional silence when science is being subverted is to misunderstand the concept.” Indeed it is a violation of the American Medical Association’s code of ethics to misrepresent established knowledge in a field, especially if one disagrees with it. Tragically, doing this has cost many, many lives.
David Spiegel
Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
Stanford, California

It was refreshing to see an academic article that supports the free exchange of ideas.

Your article triggered me to investigate further the underlying issue and I came away with a different perspective on what was important. Pizzo and the 104 colleagues seem to have no appreciation for the need to prevent a panic in the United States, where we were already hoarding masks and other medical supplies needed by our health workers. Nor was there any mention that previous pandemics did require herd immunity to get us safe; no one knew when we would get a vaccine. I find the letter did not support the principle of “first, do no harm.” It did the opposite.

Second, you said that Stanford did not take a position on Atlas’s statements. Technically speaking that is true, but the 105 colleagues took that role away from the university when they made the letter public, and then Stanford officially said, “His views are inconsistent with our approach.”

I think that Etchemendy is right that we will not know the right approach for weighing the economic and mental aspects with the medical ones until a lot later. But perhaps the missed story is that Stanford failed to support the critical thinking needed to get to all the science around the pandemic.
Sid Heath, MS ’66
Fort Myers, Florida

It was a thought-provoking article and generally speaking I believe the university is doing a good job of walking the tightrope in this difficult political environment.

Having said that, regarding Scott Atlas, his behavior cannot be shielded by “academic freedom.” It doesn’t require expertise in epidemiology to know that wearing a mask and social distancing will reduce the spread of an airborne, respiratory virus. Neither does it take a degree in philosophy, history, communications or linguistics to know that “people rise up” is blatant, revolutionary rhetoric.
Greg Everett, MBA ’82
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

We are fortunate indeed to have Marc Tessier-Lavigne, John Etchemendy, Condoleezza Rice and Persis Drell in current and former senior administrative positions at Stanford for their commitment to academic freedom, especially in these times when the left slant of university faculty is as extreme as I have ever seen it. I was at Stanford when H. Bruce Franklin, PhD ’61, was removed of tenure for incitement of violence during anti-war demonstrations. Faculty bias is much worse now.

While I applaud Zonana’s balanced portrayal of the issues, I would like to take exception to a couple of comments by Medical School faculty members in their open letter that went unchallenged in the article regarding Scott Atlas’s public pronouncements. While the Medical School faculty claimed to support only perspectives based on rigorous scientific investigations, or the “preponderance of data” (whatever that means), they seem to have missed the mark set by their own standard. Their claim that masks and lockdowns are effective and should be encouraged (and implying that any person in authority vocalizing a contrary view should be admonished for passing “misinformation”) is not supported by the evidence.

Indeed, a May 9 editorial in the Wall Street Journal references a 2021 empirical data study by University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan that dispenses with the “lives saved” argument and shows that lockdowns increasingly caused family members to congregate among themselves in households where precautions were typically less rigorous than in workplaces, because employers are invested in keeping the workforce safe. Thus, lockdowns resulted in higher infection incidences, with meatpackers being a notable exception.

The reckless comments by the Medical School faculty rose to the level of ad hominem arguments when they implied that Atlas was promoting “misinformation.” While academic freedom applies also to the Medical School faculty’s letter, I have been and remain deeply disappointed by their actions. In time, we will likely see that Atlas’s comments were quite accurate.
Phil Schultz, MS ’74, PhD ’76
Houston, Texas

A crucial point is missing from the article. John Etchemendy has good reason to worry about the future of academic freedom at Stanford, but it’s not the reason he cites. The university administration in fact failed to protect the academic freedom of the signatories to the September open letter countering some of Scott Atlas’s claims. When a lawyer acting for Atlas threatened to sue the letter-writers, the university’s Office of General Counsel declined to represent them. They were therefore forced to seek counsel pro bono, which, as Zonana notes, they succeeded in doing, allowing them to persevere in their efforts to counteract Atlas’s misinformation campaign. Stanford abandoned these members of its faculty at precisely the moment when they needed the university to protect their freedom to speak out on a matter of general institutional concern within their competence as academic experts. Clearly the administration valued Scott Atlas’s freedom to publish whatever he likes on Stanford virtual letterhead over the letter signatories’ freedom to offer reasoned, expert, scientific opposition to it.
Jessica Riskin
Professor of history
Berkeley, California

Editor’s note: The Office of General Counsel also sought pro bono representation for the signatories to the open letter. 

I appreciated the effort by the university to shed light on the recent events related to academic freedom and the Hoover Institution, but I found the analysis lacked important historical context in explaining the rebuke of Scott Atlas for his incendiary statements about the pandemic and the firing of professor H. Bruce Franklin, PhD ’61, for inciting violence many years earlier.

As a White House official, Atlas was no longer merely a fellow at the Hoover Institution whose speech was protected by the university’s academic freedom norms; he was a government official whose words carried special and ominous weight. When I entered Stanford as a doctoral student in September 1970, I was eager to join a community that prized academic freedom, a core value of a great university. But I was shocked by the level of violence at Stanford. That fall rioters smashed all the windows in the East Asian Studies Center, and protests against the Vietnam War that I joined periodically often turned violent. In that context, it did not seem inappropriate Franklin was disciplined after he urged protestors at the Old Union to “make people’s war,” a comment followed by stone throwing, fires and gunfire. I think it essential to clarify speech that is not protected, such as incitement to violence, and that will lead to disciplinary action.
Paul Chapman, MA ’71, PhD ’80
Berkeley, California

Spiegel’s allegation that Atlas’s statements while working as part of the Trump COVID team can be perceived by the “general public” as “Stanford speaking” is ludicrous on its face. Regardless of whatever “internet outrage machine” Spiegel subscribes to, anyone who has been paying attention during the Trump years knows that those working for Trump are speaking for the Trump team or they wouldn’t be there. Spiegel’s “reasoning” logically leads to a conclusion that every adviser to Trump is speaking not for Trump, but for the institution(s) from which they came.
Stan Gibson, ’67
Walnut Creek, California

Kathy Zonana’s article is the best I’ve seen from Stanford on a political dispute as viewed from both sides. My general impression of academic freedom at universities today is that it is drifting toward a myopic view of the world and suppression of views that don’t agree with those of the progressive faculty and left-of-center-trained students. A faculty thinking ratio of 9:1 progressive-to-conservative on solutions to problems and means to betterment of society does not bode well for well-rounded students.
Herb Lindberg, PhD ’58
Grass Valley, California

The article mentions the 9:1 giving ratio to Democrats versus Republicans for Stanford faculty. From reading your magazine and interacting with the university since graduating in 1987, this number seems to severely underreport actual support of Democrats on campus.

Stanford has benefited tremendously from its long-standing affiliation with Hoover and desperately needs its more balanced viewpoint as a counterweight.
Daniel Wildermuth, ’87
Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

I am one of the “five professors” who worked on the presentation about the Hoover Institution that my colleagues gave in the Faculty Senate on February 11, 2021.

Hoover Institution director Condoleezza Rice demonstrated excellent instincts of a political scientist when she pointed out that in the 2020 elections, as paraphrased in the article, “Hoover fellows donated in equal measure to Democratic and Republican candidates for office. The Stanford faculty at large? 9:1.” Unfortunately, the article leaves it at that.

One of the things missing from this reporting is any consideration of Hoover’s Board of Overseers, which, according to the institute’s website, “advises and supports the Institution’s senior administration, ensuring that the Hoover Institution follows the path set forth by its founder and reaffirmed by its mission statement.” Publicly available data suggests that the vast majority of the overseers are Republican donors. There, the ratio is more like 57:7. Furthermore, the board includes some of the most prominent figures from conservative circles, such as the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Mercer, ’96, MS ’99, one of the key financial backers of the far-right Breitbart News. And then, there is the deeply troubling case of William Callanan, whose questionable financial conduct was reported nationally in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.
Branislav Jakovljević
Professor of theater and performance studies
Menlo Park, California

I have been thinking lately about where the needle should rest between progressive and conservative views and actions in media organizations and universities. Given the world has become increasingly less tolerant of inequality of wealth and opportunity, there is a good argument for resetting the needle with a neutral position further to the left in 2021 than it was in, say, 1969.

We can no longer expect to have the respect of the average punter by saying “that government should only undertake social or economic action if the people cannot undertake it for themselves.” What has happened to the broader view encompassed by the phrase, “We the people . . .”?
George Clark, MS ’69
Greenwich, New South Wales, Australia

I wish to draw attention to this passage, where my group is mentioned:

When a group of professors raised concerns about perceived partisanship at the Hoover Institution and asked the [Faculty Senate] to form a committee to study the university’s relationship to it, there was [Professor John] Etchemendy again, proposing a compromise: that the policy institute’s new director, former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, and Stanford provost Persis Drell prepare a report on plans for and progress on increasing the interaction between Hoover and the rest of the university. 

This is a rather unusual use of the word compromise. It is like lawmakers asking for a congressional investigation of the relationship between the White House and the Supreme Court, and having the president say he will “compromise” by conducting his own study, with the help of the chief justice.

Professor Etchemendy’s “compromise” replaced a faculty committee with the director of the Hoover Institution and Provost Drell, who has been a vocal advocate for the Hoover. It is strange that Professor Etchemendy, Provost Drell and Director Rice, who each made the argument that we must welcome all points of view and silence no one, supported an amendment that effectively removed all faculty voices and replaced them with those of Drell and Rice. I don’t really see how this is in any way a compromise—it is rather a hypocritical act of censorship, in my opinion.
David Palumbo-Liu
Professor of comparative literature
Palo Alto, California

I was encouraged by the numerous quotations from President Tessier-Lavigne and Professors Etchemendy, Drell and Rice in support of true academic freedom as embodied in Stanford’s statement of principles. I hope they stand firm and do not buckle, even a little bit, to the crescendo of intolerance that unfortunately is coming from a large and vocal fraction of Stanford professors.

Overall, I am very worried about the state of academic freedom at American universities. I see it being applied unequally everywhere I look. Stanford has important work to do to maintain, if not strengthen, academic freedom and thought diversity in the current climate of academic bias and intolerance. Its alumni will be paying close attention.
Gary Holzhausen, MS ’74, PhD ’78
Salinas, California

I was troubled by the series of unsubstantiated claims in the article on academic freedom and the Hoover Institution. Giving disproportionate space to the statements of administrative figures, up to the long last word, the article amplifies official views without fulfilling the journalistic obligation to verify them. It reports Provost Persis Drell’s reassuring statement that Hoover fellow Scott Atlas based many of his inaccurate statements about COVID-19 on the work of Jay Bhattacharya, ’90, MA ’90, MD ’98, PhD ’01, and John Ioannidis without verification and without disclosure of the multiple controversies around that work, which made the news. The article quotes Hoover director Condoleezza Rice’s assertion that Hoover is “not singular” in embracing a partisan vision, without testing the accuracy of that claim. It quotes Provost Drell’s commitment to increasing the institution’s diversity without disclosing the reasons for its persistent lack of diversity. In short, your article amplifies without empirical validation the administration’s rationalizations for allowing the Hoover Institution to evade the standards of academic freedom, partisanship and equity to which it holds the rest of the university.

Since the article quotes me without any explanation of my connection to the conversation about the institution: In 2018, as chair of the history department’s diversity committee, I, along with Professor Allyson Hobbs, spoke out against an all-white, all-male history conference held at Hoover, which made headlines and provoked concern about the partisan and noninclusive institution’s lack of accountability to the university’s mission and standards of equity—even after an investigation into equity issues in 2013. After the 2018 conference, damning reports of Hoover events with similar demographics continued to circulate. As I shared with your reporter, in light of the continued absence of improvement, I repeatedly asked Provost Drell to encourage the institution to create a committee on diversity, inclusion and equity—a common basic step for encouraging inclusion in corporate and academic institutions—to no avail.

Apart from inadequate reporting, the article recklessly describes Atlas’s incorrect statements against masking as views with which Philip Pizzo, an infectious diseases expert at the Stanford School of Medicine, “disagreed,” as if this were a matter of opinion rather than scientific fact. The magazine must print a clarification acknowledging unequivocally that the science supports Pizzo’s views, not Atlas’s.
Priya Satia, ’95 
Professor of history 
Stanford, California 

Your piece on academic freedom does not mention Stanford’s rush to comply with ex-President Trump’s Executive Order 13950, which purported to ban academic discussions of key racism questions. Other universities made plans to challenge this clear speech restriction; Stanford instead issued an overbroad checklist implementing it, which would have silenced many speakers. Stanford retreated only after public outcry. Provost Drell’s half-hearted apology communicated concerns about the order but emphasized that the university “abides by its legal obligations.”

This behavior problematizes the usual defense of administrative neutrality put forth in the article that universities must not only tolerate but fund dangerous charlatans like Scott Atlas in order to maintain a shield for all speech. In fact, at the first serious order from the government to shut down speech challenging power, Stanford folded. Stanford—a multibillion-dollar institution, funded by government grants, and with faculty in upper echelons of most administrations—apparently will not reliably assert itself, or take on serious legal risk, to protect speech under threat from the government.

Stanford seems willing to shelter the elite Hoover Institution from criticism with pious bromides about protecting all speakers but is quite uninterested in facing consequences for protecting genuinely unpopular speech. If that’s true, then the pat defense of academic freedom put forward in the article seems like it needs questioning and revision in light of the real power structures and incentives the university faces—including its strong desire to maintain grant funding from federal and corporate sources.
Craig Segall, ’07
Edinburgh, Midlothian, United Kingdom

I am of the firm (if antiquated and Millsian) belief that if you cannot frame the other side’s argument cogently and plausibly, you do not fully understand it and thus cannot confront it adequately. Universities today are too unwilling to allow alternate voices, and too willing to squelch or cancel voices with which they have a disagreement, or merely find uncomfortable.
Keith Wollenberg, JD/MA ’87
Atherton, California

What I most admired about George Shultz was his respectful approach to differences. It seems to me this level of respect is missing today . . . and not just at Stanford or Hoover.

Your article masterfully embraces a troubling state of affairs with great respect.
Molly McKenna, Parent ’09, ’16  
Hobe Sound, Florida

It was timely, balanced, perceptive and a breath of fresh air. Die Luft der Freiheit weht. Nothing less will do.
Fred B. Miller, ’62, LLB ’65
Vancouver, Washington

I thoroughly enjoyed your article entitled “Says Who.” I was impressed with the way you dealt with the subject of COVID-19 and the differing points of view from the medical people. I was “sucked in” by your “Tale of Two Covers” and completely read the story about George Shultz.
Jay Older, MD ’66
Tampa, Florida

Weighty Words

The May issue included a profile of Stanford’s former dean of freshmen.

Stanford should be a leader in the use of gender neutral and gender-inclusive terms. Please move in the direction of replacing the word freshmen with other options in future publications.

Half of the entering grade class are women. Some students prefer not to identify by a specific gender. There are many other good alternatives, including frosh, freshpeople and first years.
Audrey Gold, ’87, MA ’88
Stanford, California

School Choice?

The May issue included a letter about our March cover story, on COVID-19’s shake-up of K-12 education, that asserted “nothing happens with regard to our educational system unless the teachers unions dictate it.”

The letter insinuates that teachers and their unions inappropriately delayed school reopenings.

The voices of teachers and their unions are particularly needed at a time when many politicians have been pressuring schools to open prematurely before advisable safety precautions were in place. Teachers become teachers because they like to teach and love kids. They certainly did not do it for the money. Teachers, as much as parents, want the kids to be safe, back in school and ready to learn. The letter asserts that the “harmful issues” affecting students from the pandemic “were felt to a much greater extent by students confined to public schools.” This may be true and part of the problem. The pandemic has exposed significant inequality and inequity in our educational system.
Michael Duncheon, ’70, JD ’75
San Mateo, California

Breaking Barriers

In a May essay, Andrew Tan, ’22, wrote about connecting with his ailing grandmother.

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An illustration of a letter and a woman

I had to find quiet, private time tonight to read this. Sometimes the sense of direction or figuring out whether you are progressing through grief or not is so very elusive. Andrew’s article hits home with such a magnitude, I feel like I’m just lost in waves of sorrow. Thanks for sharing this beautiful piece. I’ve saved it in my magazine here at home, thanks to you. 
Laura Hill Temmerman, ’97

Illustration: DaVidRo. Inset: Courtesy Andrew Tan, ’22.

Wrestling’s Win

A story in the May issue celebrated the first national championship for women’s basketball in 29 years.

Your coverage of the Cardinal women’s basketball team on their third national championship is admirable. However, you failed to acknowledge the singular heroics of sophomore Shane Griffith just three weeks earlier at the NCAA wrestling championships. Seeded eighth at the NCAAs due to his comparative lack of matches with the rest of the field, Griffith marched to the final at 165 pounds, where he won in a nationally televised match to become Stanford’s second-ever national champion. All this after the university had decided to drop wrestling from its athletic calendar. Adding to the egg on the administration’s face, Griffith wrestled the entire tournament in a black singlet without any identifying marks, as a way to protest Stanford’s decision to cut his sport. Too bad you missed a good story.
Richard Viken, ’70
Tyler, Texas

Color Me Skeptical

In our May cover story, “Of Viruses and Vectors,” Stanford scientists discussed their fears about the next zoonotic disease outbreak and how people might keep it at bay. 

Congratulations on remembering to throw in the requisite references to “climate change.” That’s got to be the culprit. If not, at least it will placate the substantial “woke” contingent of your readership.
Mark Williams, ’74, JD/MBA ’93
Austin, Texas


The May article on academic freedom erroneously described the resolution proposed by a group of faculty to the Faculty Senate as calling for an assessment of whether the Hoover Institution has a partisan agenda. The resolution called for an examination of the university’s relationship to the institution; the concerns about partisanship were in a separate part of the group’s presentation. 

In the May Farewells section, the wife of Robert Melbourne, MS ’55, and the husband of Margot Lippert, ’56, MA ’57, were erroneously listed as deceased, rather than surviving, spouses.

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