As student antiwar activists work to make their case against war persuasive to ambivalent classmates, the leaders of a Stanford University peace group have launched a different kind of campaign–to reform a conservative think tank on campus with dubious ties to the Bush Administration.
The 84-year-old, Stanford-based Hoover Institution, long famous for its influence over national Republican policy, currently wields substantial power at the Pentagon, with eight Hoover fellows sitting on the Defense Policy Board advising Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on the war in Iraq. But the institution makes an impact, albeit of a different sort, at its home in California, too. A generous sum of Stanford’s endowment goes to Hoover each year (the university donates $1 million in general funds to Hoover’s library and archive annually) and some of the institution’s right-leaning fellows teach in Stanford’s economics and political science departments. Additionally, the two are linked in name and through shared property, and Hoover’s director reports directly to Stanford’s president.
The student-run Stanford Community for Peace and Justice (SCPJ) says that such formal ties are a violation of the university’s code of academic freedom. The group, about fifty students working for nonviolence, charges that the Hoover Institution is guided by a politically charged mission statement that factors into the hiring of Hoover fellows, some of whom end up in the university’s classrooms. That statement declares, in part, that Hoover seeks to “limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals.” In the past it has also defined its mission as “to demonstrate the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx,” and previous director W. Glenn Campbell (who led Hoover from 1960 to 1989) had a fundraising strategy that focused on fighting communism abroad and on campus.
John Raisian, Hoover’s director, contends that the mission statement is not partisan, but a historical statement: “It enunciates constitutional principles relating to freedom,” he says. But activists counter that an institution with such a philosophy is taking a job candidate’s political views into account when hiring decisions are made and has no place at a university where academic freedom is guaranteed.
To make their point, in February SCPJ presented to Stanford president John Hennessy a petition signed by more than 600 students protesting the discrepancy between Stanford’s academic freedom policy and Hoover’s mission statement. SCPJ is calling for Hoover to alter its mission statement; barring that, they want Stanford to sever ties with the institution. “Our basic idea was that as student activists, we need to organize students not just to go to rallies but to empower them to see that they can create concrete changes in their own lives, their own campus and the structures that connect them to war policy,” says Calvin Miaw, a senior and SCPJ co-coordinator.
The group set out to publicize their campaign and gain support by canvassing the campus with their petitions. Kate Skolnick, a sophomore and SCPJ co-coordinator, said that the hours she spent circling the dining hall gave her a chance to try her arguments out on people. “Overwhelmingly, people were very hesitant to sign the petition, to put their name on something,” she said. And though some students were dismissive, she was encouraged by their interest in debating the issue. “It sounded like people were really thinking about things.”