Sixteen Stanford professors allege, in a Stanford Daily op-ed and a diatribe in the Faculty Senate, that the Hoover Institution's mission violates a “spirit of open inquiry that is a fundamental element of liberal education.” Specifically, these professors contest a line from Herbert Hoover’s 1959 statement to the Board of Trustees on the purposes of the Institution, which reads: “Both our social and economic systems are based on private enterprise from which springs initiative and ingenuity… Ours is a system where the federal government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves.”
I’d expect some of my well-meaning but misinformed peers, who tote Che shirts and write glowing Facebook posts about the Green New Deal, to be perturbed. But sadly, this brief historical summary and echo of the 10th Amendment is controversial among professors. And dear Stanford parents: you’re paying $60,000 a year for them to educate your children.
To these sixteen indignant professors, Hoover’s mission constitutes a “pre-determined ideological point of view.” But, what’s their counterpoint? Did American social and economic progress spring from public enterprise? Is the differentiating characteristic of American civic life centralized decision making in a swampy city on the Potomac? Did John Rockefeller, Henry Ford, and Steve Jobs transform American life under the direction of government bureaucrats? I suppose the Civil Aeronautics Board ordered Southwest to turn around a plane in 20 minutes, Capitol Hill interns invented R.H. Macy’s “goods suitable for the millionaire at prices in reach of the millions,” and scary capitalists like Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates stuffed their ill-gotten gains under their mattresses. I gather the federal government’s War on Poverty has been a resounding success.
These professors disregard for America’s secret sauce aside, in the context of other University organizations, Hoover’s mission isn't unusual. Here’s a selection from the mission of Stanford’s Clayman Institute: “We conduct our research using a gender lens, which allows us to understand how gender shapes our cultures, communities, and lives. Through that lens, we discover novel approaches to advancing equality.” The Faculty Senate would probably agree this is an important field of study even though most Clayman Fellows likely vote for a certain political party. Without changing the consequence of Hoover’s mission, its controversial line could be rewritten: “We conduct our research using a lens of social, economic, and political freedom, which allows us to understand how private enterprise and the rule of law shape our cultures, communities, and lives. Through that lens, we discover novel approaches to advancing prosperity and peace.” Would aggrieved professors be more comfortable with this woke-sounding version of Hoover’s mission, or do they just dislike the conclusions which ensue from studying revolutions to Communism, Nazism, and Nationalism?
Classics professor Rush Rehm describes Hoover as a “right-wing think tank.” But if Hoover has an ideological fixation, it’s doing a poor job of sticking to it. Hoover’s Senior Fellowship includes esteemed liberals like William Perry, Michael McFaul, and Gerald Dorfman. The late Seymour Martin Lipset, a life-long Democrat and renowned expert on political sociology and labor unions, and Sidney Hook, a self-described social democrat, were also Senior Fellows. For decades, Hoover Fellows have often been leading advocates of legalizing drugs, school choice, ending the draft, nuclear disarmament, and even open immigration — hardly a cornucopia for the right wing.
The Daily op-ed goes on to slander Hoover director Thomas Gilligan’s appointment to Cardinal Conversations’ advisory board as ex officio. Gilligan, however, received a Ph.D. in economics at Washington University, taught at CalTech and USC, held a visiting appointment at Stanford, and was dean of the McCombs School of Business. Some professors might be happier if, at the height of the Cold War, Gilligan had been wearing tie dye shirts at Berkeley protests rather than flying reconnaissance missions over the Soviet Union. Alas, he is more than qualified to work on the Conversations’ board.
Thankfully, Herbert Hoover’s prescience in segregating the Institution from the tentacles of an increasingly left professiorate means Stanford, unlike most elite universities, has retained a degree of intellectual diversity. To her credit, Provost Persis Drell defended Hoover in the Faculty Senate as “an asset to the Stanford community.” Now in its 100th year, Hoover is a unique benefit to Stanford, helping the University attract the brightest minds in economics, political science, law, history, classics, and international relations. As for controversy over Hoover’s mission, I’m reminded of former Hoover director W. Glenn Campbell’s quip: “I see nothing wrong with it, do you?”