Why Some Stanford Professors Want the Hoover Institution Gone

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tags: conservatism, Hoover Institution, Think Tanks, colleges and universities, COVID-19

At a recent Faculty Senate meeting, Stanford’s provost, Persis Drell, told professors that they shouldn’t think of the Hoover Institution as a separate entity — one that just happens to occupy a 285-foot tower on campus — but should instead accept it as a bona fide part of the university. Many of its fellows, the provost pointed out, are also Stanford professors; what’s more, Hoover’s new director, Condoleezza Rice, has been a faculty member since 1981. “In a very real sense,” Drell said, “and I think this is important to keep in mind, they are, in fact, us.”

That message of unity didn’t go over well in some quarters. There is a long-simmering tension between Stanford and Hoover, which celebrated its centennial last year and considers itself “the world’s pre-eminent archive and policy-research center dedicated to freedom, private enterprise, and effective, limited government.” Hoover is semi-independent: It has its own Board of Overseers, and its fellows, who are given renewable appointments rather than tenure, don’t pass through the same selection process as faculty members (though its senior fellows are granted continuing-term appointments that don’t have to be renewed). At the same time, when a new director is selected, the candidate must be approved by Stanford’s Board of Trustees.

The somewhat less-than-collegial reaction to Drell’s remarks was captured in a Stanford Daily op-ed by Branislav Jakovljević, a professor of theater and performance studies. “When I signed up to teach at Stanford, I was not told that part of my job would be to serve as a living shield for the Hoover Institution,” he wrote. “I refuse to be used in that way. I am not them.”

Lately the source of tension has focused primarily on one person: Scott W. Atlas, the Robert Wesson senior fellow at Hoover and also an adviser to the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He has promoted what’s usually referred to as the “herd immunity” strategy to deal with the pandemic — though Atlas objects vehemently to the label. It’s accurate to say, though, that his views, which appear to align closely with President Trump’s, are outside the public-health mainstream. Anthony Fauci has called them “nonsense,” and Twitter deleted an Atlas tweet that said masks don’t work.


Another letter of protest, signed by more than 100 Stanford faculty members, notes that Atlas has “no expertise in epidemiology.” It also chides another Hoover fellow, Richard A. Epstein, a legal scholar and author of books like Free Markets Under Siege: Cartels, Politics, and Social Welfare, for writing in mid-March that he thought only 500 people in the United States would die from the coronavirus. In a confusing series of corrections, Epstein later revised that number to 5,000 in the United States and predicted that worldwide totals would reach 50,000. (More than a million deaths have been recorded so far globally, 237,000 of them in the United States.)

The letter goes on to say that the signatories are “profoundly troubled” that Stanford’s name is being used to “validate such problematic information.” It ends with a call for Stanford’s Faculty Senate to take action: “The relationship between the Hoover Institution’s way of promoting their policy preferences and the academic mission of Stanford University requires more careful renegotiation.”


Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education

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