Los Angeles Times: COVID-19 Falsehoods Lead Stanford to Examine Ties to Right-Wing Hoover Institution, by Michael Hiltzik:
On Monday, Stanford University took a step that might be career-shattering in almost any field except academia: It formally distanced itself from a faculty member.
The faculty member is Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist who is a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and a former professor at its medical school. At the moment, Atlas is a leading advisor on the COVID-19 pandemic to President Trump.
“Dr. Atlas has expressed views that are inconsistent with the university’s approach in response to the pandemic,” the university said. ...
Stanford’s statement was couched in the neutral terms common in academic disputes. But it points to an increasingly acrimonious discussion on the Palo Alto campus — whether Stanford should formally distance itself from the Hoover Institution, or at least redefine a relationship that has periodically exploded into political controversy.
The relationship has been strained this year by a stream of dubious claims about the pandemic issuing from Hoover Institution fellows, especially Atlas. ...
Herbert Hoover’s personal relationship with the university ran deep. He was a member of its first graduating class, receiving his degree in 1895. He founded the Hoover Institution there in 1919, prior to his presidency but after amassing a fortune as a mining engineer and investor. For more than a decade after his defeat for reelection by Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, he lived in Palo Alto.
The Hoover Institution’s relationship with the university was codified in 1959 through a “constitution” drafted by Hoover and accepted by the university trustees that defined the institution, rather vaguely, as “an independent Institution within the frame of Stanford University.”
The university president formally recommends institution appointments, promotions and budget to the Stanford board of trustees, but academic committees are cut out of the process.
The institution’s “purpose,” as Hoover defined it in 1959, “must be, by its research and publications, to demonstrate the evils of the doctrines of Karl Marx — whether Communism, Socialism, economic materialism, or atheism — thus to protect the American way of life from such ideologies, their conspiracies, and to reaffirm the validity of the American system.”
Chronicle of Higher Education, Why Some Stanford Professors Want the Hoover Institution Gone:
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.
In September, dozens of researchers and doctors from Stanford School of Medicine signed an open letter calling attention to the “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science” they say Atlas has espoused. The former chief of neuroradiology at the school, Atlas threatened to sue his erstwhile colleagues for defamation. He didn’t respond to a request for comment from The Chronicle, but he told the Stanford News Service in a statement that he has used his “unique background, critical thinking, and logic to present the president with the broadest possible views on policy” and that to “claim otherwise is an embarrassment to those who do so.”
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.” ...
he history of friction between Hoover and Stanford dates back a long way. In 2007, Hoover made Donald Rumsfeld a visiting fellow, which led to a petition, signed by nearly 4,000 members of the Stanford community, objecting to the appointment of the former defense secretary. In 2003, student antiwar activists called on Hoover to alter its mission statement or for Stanford to sever ties. In 1983, after a number of Hoover fellows were tapped to work in the Reagan administration, two professors started a petition to begin an “immediate inquiry on the relationship between the Hoover Institution and Stanford.” Two years later, a committee appointed by Stanford’s Faculty Senate published a lengthy report that found a “large sense of grievance” directed at each group by the other and called for more cooperation.
Though that sense of grievance clearly hasn’t gone away, it’s hard to imagine that this recent flare-up will lead to significant changes in the relationship. The two entities are, as the provost said, more entwined than ever, and there is zero indication that administrators are looking to evict the institution, which brought in $34-million in donations last year and boasts a half-billion-dollar endowment.