Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXVII - Welcome Issue 2001 - News
A History of the Stanford Review
by Henry Towsner
1987. Stanford University, under President Donald Kennedy, was at its most liberal. It was in that era that it abandoned the Western Civilization humanities program and replaced it with a politicized, anti-Western program. It was in that era when the University created a speech code to threaten anyone who spoke out in politically incorrect ways. And, in response, it was in that era that the Stanford Review was founded.
Peter Thiel and Norm Book began the Review to provide a different voice on campus from the orthodoxy which many in the University community were attempting to create. The first issue focused on the Western Civilization program and its opponents, who were crusading loudly and publicly for an end to the program. That debate, which resulted a defeat for Western Civ and the creation of the Cultures, Ideas, and Values (CIV) program, received national attention, and politicians and commentators on both sides offered support. While the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke to a crowd notoriously chanting "Hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ has got to go," the Review interviewed William Bennett, who criticized the anti-Western bent of the CIV program. From the first issue on, the Review has offered a politically conservative and often controversial opinion on campus and national affairs. Beyond reporting campus events, the Review focuses on analyzing them and occasionally causing them.
From early on the Review has had a connection to Stanford's Hoover Institution: not surprising since both have often been the targets of Stanford's activist community. Campus liberals, both students and faculty, have repeatedly objected to the University's half-century connection to the Institution. Even today a mural in Casa Zapata, an ethnic theme dorm, depicts Hoover Tower, where the Hoover Institution is located, being torn down by skeletons, while the "Disorientation Guide," a pamphlet with a strong liberal activist stance, includes a picture of the Tower being burned down.
The Review has also made headlines itself on a number of occasions. In 1990 it published an article critical of extending marriage benefits to domestic partners. The paper was attacked as "bigoted and hateful," and the phone number of the author was circulated around campus on a flyer that encouraged students to harass the writer. In 1994, four students staged a hunger strike in the Quad, demanding, among other things, a Chicano/a studies program and a ban on grapes in University dining halls. The Review, unsurprisingly, published a highly critical article about the protest. When several staff members tried to distribute it in Casa Zapata, the Chicano/a theme dorm, the RF and several residents physically prevented the distribution, eventually seizing the papers and throwing them away.
Indeed, campus radicals have often targeted the paper, throwing it away, stealing copies, and, in one instance, burning it in the Quad. On a number of occasions, staff members have been prevented from distributing the paper in dorms even when it was within dorm policy to do so. Although the University officially frowns on such behavior, its reaction has been mysteriously nonexistent. Leftists at Stanford may claim to favor diversity, but some of their actions suggest that they don't include diversity of opinion.
One particularly notable battle in the Review's history was its conflict with the University over the speech code. The speech code was an interpretation of the Fundamental Standard that prohibited so-called "fighting words". The policy was overtly political in nature, threatening punishment for the use of certain words only if they were spoken, for example, by a white student to a black student, but not vice-versa. It was also so vague that it functioned not as a punitive measure (it was not applied once in the first two years after it was adopted) but instead as a deterrent: no one could tell what it prohibited, so many might have been frightened into not saying things they could have. With the help of several Review staffers, the speech code was overturned by the Santa Clara County Superior Court in 1995.
The paper has rarely been on the winning side at Stanford, at least in the short term. It criticized President Kennedy for years, supported the Western Civilization program, opposed the speech code, and opposed the grapes ban. In the last decade, however, it has been vindicated repeatedly. President Kennedy resigned amidst a national scandal; CIV was replaced by the IHUM program, which includes a stronger focus on the classics; the speech code was ruled illegal; and Stanford finally ended the grapes ban in 2000 after the grape workers union itself had dropped the issue. On other points, the Review is still waiting for the rest of the University to catch up. The Residential Education program, while not as overtly indoctrinational as it once was, would still never be described as politically even-handed. Most fundamentally, the faculty, administration, and students at Stanford remain overwhelmingly left of center, at least for the moment. The Review may have won its battles, but the fight for individualism and common sense is far from over. The Review will continue on the front lines for as long as it must to keep Stanford sane.
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