The appointment in September of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution sparked intense campus debate, and prompted a petition aimed at rescinding the move.

Rumsfeld, who resigned under fire in November 2006 after more than five years as secretary of defense under President Bush, will serve on a task force of scholars and experts focused on “issues pertaining to ideology and terror,” according to a Hoover statement. He will be on campus three to five times a year for meetings, but will not give lectures or make public appearances, Hoover officials said.

Within hours of the announcement, opposition mobilized. An online petition denounced 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.” As of October 9, the petition had been signed by 3,868 people—including more than 3,000 Stanford students.

Others defended Rumsfeld and decried attempts to keep him out. Senior Calley Means, in a letter to the Stanford Daily, wrote, “Something is wrong with our elite universities when the visit of the most influential actor in international terrorism in the world today [Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] to Columbia receives less of a protest than the appointment of one of the most decorated public servants of this generation [Rumsfeld] to the Hoover Institution.”

Hoover director John Raisian said he extended the invitation to Rumsfeld because of his experience in foreign relations, and his longtime association with the research institute. “Don Rumsfeld has been involved with the Hoover Institution during my entire tenure as director, beginning in 1989, as a member of the Hoover Board of Overseers, as a member of the executive committee of the board, and as a significant supporter,” Raisian said. “Don has had immense experience in public service and has much to contribute to society as a result. I am pleased that he will spend time during the coming year in thinking, writing and advising on important matters of public policy.”