Dialogue — July 2023

July 2023

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A collage of aerial photography showing humans effect on Earth.Marking Time

In May, we dug into the work of scientists to designate a new phase of the geological time scale—the Anthropocene—relying on radionuclides from atomic testing as key markers.

I regard the Anthropocene as a useful concept, but for ecological purposes and with a vague start date. For the Anthropocene to be considered a true geologic epoch, it should be recognizable by geologists 10,000 years from now. By then, most radioactive products in sediments will have disappeared or dispersed, and extinctions of terrestrial animals will not be recorded in marine sediments. Epochs of the Cenozoic era are best distinguished by the appearance and disappearance of calcareous marine microfossils. My prediction is that the Anthropocene will be defined by widespread extinctions of calcareous plankton due to ocean acidification caused by increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which hasn’t happened yet but will.
Bill Neill, MS ’75
North Hollywood, California

The Anthropocene has dubious scientific value (the evidence could be communicated as an event using any other name) and is therefore almost entirely about cultural influence. This is why I wish the author had dug deeper into the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) itself.

A valid criticism of the Anthropocene is that it is a uniquely Western, technocentric concept that perpetuates a sense of dominance and control while distributing blame worldwide. Of the AWG’s 23 voting members, almost half are from the United Kingdom, and half of those work at the same university. Two come from outside Europe and North America, and only one comes from outside academia. Four out of five are men. There are no voters from Africa, South America, Oceania, or the Southern Hemisphere.

If the Anthropocene will “redefine some of humanity’s most basic guidelines around how we live,” maybe the more interesting story is not about Golden Spikes but the responsibility of the AWG to open up and listen. Right now, it looks like an exclusive group pushing to write the future for everyone else.
Angela Hessler, PhD ’01
Danville, California

Both Sides Now

Our May issue included an excerpt of dean Jenny Martinez’s memo to the Stanford Law School community following the disruption of U.S. Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan’s talk at a Federalist Society event.

Jenny Martinez’s spot-on defense of the First Amendment deftly navigates the issue of defending inclusion while not trying to prevent unpopular views from being heard, and manages to find a space for both. It is the most important article I have read in your publication in years, and I hope it is widely read not only within the Stanford community but far and wide. 
Leif Wellington Haase
Kensington, California

The fact that Law School students feel that because Judge Duncan’s views are contrary to theirs, that gives them the right to shut down a speech, shows that maybe Stanford’s selection process needs some work. Is there a more fundamental right than the freedom of speech? If these law students don’t understand that, then maybe the Law School’s faculty and curriculum should be reviewed.
Patrick C. Crow, ’81
Sloughhouse, California

As an openly lesbian alum of Stanford Law School, a former First Amendment litigator, and a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, I think Dean Martinez is drawing the proper line between dissension and disruption. I wholeheartedly agree that “strong protection for freedom of speech is a bedrock principle that ultimately supports diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Amelia Craig Cramer, JD ’86
Tucson, Arizona

I thought that I agreed with Dean Martinez all the way—until I remembered [philosopher] Karl Popper’s admonition: “In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance.” I agree that disrupting a lecture at a university is bad form, but there is a larger question that her essay did not resolve. When should we fight back against intolerance? When does intolerance become so grievous that an unequivocal response becomes absolutely required?

It is not surprising to this old grad that there might be a Federalist Society active on campus. However, I wonder if this reactionary organization is representative of the highest ideals of the quest for greater knowledge and understanding. We look to the past not to resurrect it but to guide the future.
Bruce Eichinger, PhD ’67
Seattle, Washington

The dean’s exegesis fails to grapple with a speaker, reputed for wreaking havoc, who walked into the presentation filming the crowd. Elsewhere, the dean has expressed an intent to plan for possible future efforts to raise awareness about LGBTQ+ rights in the current legal environment. If Judge Duncan has his way, that will mean no rights at all. That’s why every civil rights movement is accompanied by disruption and disobedience. Had the dean started with concern for the well-being of marginalized students, she might still have concluded that the crowd’s conduct was inappropriate. Or she might revisit some aspects of the Law School’s speaker policy in order to mitigate the damaging effects of hate-mongers. The dean and administration say “that our LGBTQ+ students, faculty and staff are valued members of our community of scholars.” Saying it isn’t enough; they need to act like it.
Kathleen Purcell, ’74, JD ’77
San Francisco, California

Dean Martinez’s defense of the “right” of the Federalist Society to bring an extremist right-wing judge to the Law School to speak at an open meeting, without recognizing the equal rights of the protesters to attempt to drown him out, misses the point that this speaker and this group is different; that the truly heinous and hateful policies and positions of that judge in particular, and the Federalist Society in general, have adopted are profoundly harmful and dangerous to our society and democracy. He deserved to be shut down, and I applaud the students who did so.
Adrian F. Roscher, JD ’84
Los Angeles, California

We all have at least two media/knowledge biases. One, the more often we see something, the more likely we are to believe in that event or fact. And two, a blind spot to the limited sources of information that we use in our daily lives—and, consequently, a blind spot to the likely skewed viewpoint or database of opinion and position that we draw from. The only way to counteract this—for those interested in actually better understanding a large group or population—is to share the data of that group’s opinions in a scientific form. In the case of your article and related discussions, it would be to collect, anonymize, and share to all the variety of responses, the nuances that the community cares about, and the likely broad agreement of an often quiet (or rather, quieted) majority. We could, of course, be wrong and see in such data only “polarly opposed” groups. In either case, applying data to such discussions—and sharing it—is a starting point for the role, as you say so well in your article, of law and legal thinking to mediate in the university and in our society.
Dan Chung, ’84
Brooklyn, New York

Fun and the Farm

In his column in the May issue, university president Marc Tessier-Lavigne explained how Stanford leaders are working to enhance student social life on campus.

President Tessier-Lavigne’s recent column may be the most disingenuous thing I’ve ever seen the administration promulgate. It’s filled with warm sentimental phrases, like “carefully listening to student feedback,” “to rebuild a campus life that is both enriching, and yes, fun,” and “honoring Stanford’s traditions.” In fact, the opposite is true. The university, with its new army of administrative bureaucrats, is systematically trying to sterilize campus life. Witness the touted neighborhood residential plan, where students will be forced to live in the same sterile format for all four years.

He makes the claim that the administration wants “to preserve the best of Stanford’s traditions, including Greek houses.” Anyone observant in recent years knows they are targeting fraternities for elimination. Probably because they’re in the way of the neighborhood plan. He cites the Band as an example of “unique” and “quirky” student life. They once were—they’ve long since been neutered by the administration. “Simplifying the party planning process?” Just try and have a simple keg party under the new regime.

Two recent student incidents say it all about this hypocritical administration. The law students whose outrageous behavior toward Judge Kyle Duncan’s speech violated campus policy and made a national embarrassment of the school suffered zero consequences. The Tree walked across the football field during a game holding a sign reading “Stanford Hates Fun” and was immediately punished.
Wayne Raffesberger, ’73
San Diego, California

That the president felt the need to write about efforts to create a vibrant student life on campus speaks loudly about how poor the current situation has become for students at Stanford. Perhaps instead of hiring more staff and doing more research on how to help the students have fun, he should consider removing or replacing the staff that created the “no fun” environment in the first place.
Bill Farley, ’66, MBA ’69
Naples, Florida


In May, a letter from Wes Rose of Menlo Park was mistakenly attributed to Wes Rose, MBA ’80, of Menlo Park.

A May feature about efforts to define the Anthropocene epoch misstated when scientists believe the Earth was formed. It was roughly 4.5 billion years ago.

Top image, all photos via Getty images, except Earth photo (NASA), from top, left to right: Bob Sacha; Anton Petrus (2); Avigator Photographer; Paul Souders; Banks Photos; Aerial Perspective Images; jacoblund; Felix Cesare; John Parrot/Stocktrek Images; thitivong; Nuture; pa_YOn; Anton Petrus; Suriyapong Thongsawang; Francesco Bergamaschi; Cristian Martin

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