Hoover’s Double-Bind: Woke For Me, But Not For Thee

The Hoover Institution puts on a conservative show for its donors, but the reality is that Hoover is abandoning its conservative roots.

Hoover’s Double-Bind: Woke For Me, But Not For Thee
This article is the second in a series covering the Hoover Institution’s turn leftwards. Read the first piece here. Senior Fellow Niall Ferguson published a response in the Review yesterday.

For an institution claiming to be a bastion of freedom rather than activism, Hoover doth protest too much.

Last week, I published an article in the Review detailing Hoover’s woke-ward shift, entitled “Hoover Goes Woke”; Dr. Niall Ferguson wrote a response characterizing my argument as misguided. He urged me “to take a closer look at all the Hoover Institution has to offer.” Okay.

I did some more digging and wrote this article as a result of conversations with a number of Hoover Fellows and donors who spoke anonymously due to fear of reprisal.

Several sources inside the Hoover Institution have confirmed that Director Condoleezza Rice handpicked Caroline Hoxby, a professor in the economics department, to serve on Hoover’s formal search committee. Hoxby physically assaulted a Stanford student in 2014 and recently defended anti-Asian affirmative action policies in court. Those on the search committee are tasked with handing out what is effectively tenure: Senior Fellows at Hoover have continuing term contracts, meaning they will stay on at Hoover unless something egregious happens. Senior Fellows also sit on the “core governance group” which, along with the Board of Overseers, is one of the most powerful bodies at Hoover.

As a result of Director Rice’s appointments to the search committee, nearly half of Hoover’s fellows are now Democrats. However, Hoover does their best to shield this from the donor class: more conservative Senior Fellows are specifically chosen to mingle with donors at events, furthering the illusion that Hoover is a conservative institution. Hoover is a conservative institution to the donors, but not to the university.

Hoover hasn’t learned its lesson from the outcry that came as a result from my previous article. Today, the Hoover team sent out an email advertising their Juneteenth event (taking place a week late, on June 27). Celebrating Juneteenth itself is not objectionable, but this email includes information about a “discussion on Leveraging Institutions to Promote Racial Equity.” Not equality—equity, a left-wing buzz word that demands equality of outcomes, not opportunities. Equity is antithetical to liberty, Hoover’s alleged core value.

Though Hoover’s spokeswoman Eryn Tillman has claimed in an earlier conversation that Hoover is scarcely involved with the planning and execution of these “affinity group” events, Director Condoleezza Rice herself is speaking on the panel. “Leveraging institutions” directly translates to “leftist administrative takeover” that extends as far up as Hoover’s director. The panel also will feature Stanford’s Associate Dean of Students Darrell Green (his pronouns brazenly listed on his webpage); if any group has facilitated the dissemination of progressive values throughout Stanford, it is administrators like him.

When asked about the email promoting the Juneteenth celebration, Tillman said she was out of the country and had not seen it yet. When asked about Hoover’s ideology, she stated, “we let our values define our ideology.” When asked what those values are, she said, “individual liberty, limited government,” but couldn’t recall a third. When asked how an event promoting a “discussion on leveraging institutions to promote racial equity” aligned with those values, Tillman once more deflected, stating that she hadn’t yet seen the email.

Yet another example of Hoover’s faltering loyalty to its principles, particularly Hoover’s allegiance towards freedom, is Hoover’s failure to sponsor last fall’s Academic Freedom Conference. What Dr. Ferguson misses in his rebuttal was any answer as to why Hoover refused to sponsor the conference. He argued that because Hoover Fellows individually chose to be involved, the institution implicitly supported the event. But, there is an obvious difference between financial sponsorship from a large institution versus a few speakers who happen to be affiliated with Hoover talking on panels. The point is that Hoover rejected both hosting and financially sponsoring the event. A source close to the matter says “there was [a] direct decision by Director Rice for Hoover to have no institutional involvement at the academic freedom conference.” We can only wonder why. If Hoover will no longer use its resources to defend free speech and academic freedom, what does Hoover stand for?

Hoover’s recent concessions towards progressivism have upset higher-ups. In this past February’s meeting of the Board of Overseers, there were two Democrat speakers, including Gina Raimondo, President Biden’s Secretary of Commerce and former Rhode Island Governor. A member of the Board of Overseers who requested anonymity said the speakers were “not favorably received” and skeptical about Hoover’s leftwards movement. This anonymous board member also anticipated that this summer’s upcoming board meeting will put pressure on Hoover’s administration to back away from DEI initiatives. Whatever happens, Hoover’s intense reaction to my article last week is proof that those with power are realizing that Hoover is masquerading as conservative.

Hoover is still woke. Taken individually, a seminar on indigenous politics or a mental health awareness email is “marginalia.” But a focus on the triviality of each detail risks missing the bigger picture. No other ‘conservative’—or even center-right—think-tank hosts Pride Month, let alone one blasts the very latest and Wokest version of the pride flag to an institution-wide email list. No conservative (or even moderate) talks about “leveraging institutions to promote racial equity.” And it is only the ‘woke’ affinity groups that are throwing these events: though an email was sent out about Memorial Day closures at Hoover, there were no Memorial Day events advertised throughout the general mailing lists, as ‘Hoover Pride’ was. Hoover is behaving like the Center for American Progress.

Culture matters. Bureaucratic takeovers of conservative institutions are commonplace. As we have seen in the last decade, absent a robust response to DEI and wokism, progressive ideologies will prevail. Wokism isn’t insulated in social politics: it constitutes an attack on absolute truth, one that has and will continue to flout academic research for the sake of ideology.

To say that Hoover still has many good initiatives is an argumentative fallacy. Stanford may have the finest computer science department in the world, but that doesn't mean there aren’t severe problems with the institution. Hoover might not be at that point yet; but we certainly don't want to risk reaching it.

Hoover’s outsize response to my article—the Director interrogating Senior Fellows and asking them who gave information to the Review, having various Senior Fellows email me and other Review writers criticisms of my article, and Senior Fellow Niall Ferguson’s article itself—is proof that Hoover is in crisis as its hidden progressivism has been revealed. It’s puzzling why Director Rice has deputized Ferguson and other Senior Fellows to defend Hoover rather than come out herself and declare Hoover is not woke. Unless, of course, she is unwilling to do so.

Bureaucratic institutions are experiencing an inextricable shift leftward as the result of administrative capture. Hoover’s disavowal of my characterization of the Institution illustrates this fear. A hit dog will holler.

Hoover is in a double-bind. In my conversation with Tillman, I was consistently reminded that Hoover has no explicit political affiliation, though it has historically leaned conservative and libertarian. But, at the beginning of our phone call, she exclaimed her disappointment, echoing Dr. Ferguson’s concerns of “internecine strife.”

In this same phone call with Tillman, I was told that Hoover is a “research center” rather than a center for advocacy. This means that the Hoover Institution’s public face is declaring that Hoover will back away from promoting conservatism in the public sphere. Activism isn’t a dirty word: it will always be true that Senior Fellows at Hoover will write op-eds, advise officials, work with government bodies, and serve in government. Trying to steer Hoover in an opposite direction is mistaken and diminishes the impact of the Institution.

Either Hoover is conservative or they’re not. Simple. If they’re conservative, they shouldn’t be touting identity politics and using donor money to sponsor “Hoover Pride” and they certainly shouldn’t be hiring as many liberal Senior Fellows as they are. If Hoover is not conservative, donors should be made well aware of this fact. There would be nothing wrong with “Hoover Pride” if Hoover weren’t charading as a conservative institution.

As a quick point of clarification: I worked for Hoover as a Student Fellow from October 2022 until I resigned on May 31, 2023. Though I received Hoover’s communications noted in the first article in the series, the ‘Hoover Pride’ email cited in the article was widely disseminated and was sent to me by a friend over a messaging platform before I had the chance to check my email. But, in the spirit of ethical journalism, my former affiliation is noted here.

If you want to stay tuned as more details come out, subscribe to the Stanford Review. If you have any relevant information about Hoover, send it to eic@stanfordreview.org. And to support the work we do, make a donation.

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