Slow Learners at Stanford

Federal appellate judges James Ho and Elizabeth Branch, who announced last year that they would cease hiring clerks from Yale Law School (and were then joined by several other federal judges), have added Stanford Law to their boycott list. Good for them.

Meanwhile, the president of Stanford, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, has welcomed students back for the spring quarter today with a special message preaching the importance of tolerance and “diversity” of viewpoints:

Several conditions are required for us to be successful in our foundational mission of learning. First is a commitment to academic freedom and to the expression of diverse viewpoints. In the past few weeks, there has been an intense focus on these principles as a result of recent deeply disappointing events at the law school in which an invited speaker’s talk was disrupted. In response, Dean Martinez wrote to the law school community to address academic freedom, free speech, and those events. Her forceful message does a superb job in, among other things, explaining university policies and how they relate to the First Amendment and California law, and in reaffirming that the university must be a place that supports and encourages expression of a diversity of views. Those who disagree with a speaker are fully within their rights to express their views and even protest; what they may not do is disrupt the effective carrying out of the event. I encourage you to read the memo in full.

Let’s roll the tape back six years to 2017. The outgoing provost of Stanford, John Etchemendy, wrote an article for the Stanford News entitled “The Threat from Within.” Here’s the relevant excerpt:

I’m actually more worried about the threat from within. Over the years, I have watched a growing intolerance at universities in this country – not intolerance along racial or ethnic or gender lines – there, we have made laudable progress. Rather, a kind of intellectual intolerance, a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for. It manifests itself in many ways: in the intellectual monocultures that have taken over certain disciplines; in the demands to disinvite speakers and outlaw groups whose views we find offensive; in constant calls for the university itself to take political stands. We decry certain news outlets as echo chambers, while we fail to notice the echo chamber we’ve built around ourselves.

This results in a kind of intellectual blindness that will, in the long run, be more damaging to universities than cuts in federal funding or ill-conceived constraints on immigration. It will be more damaging because we won’t even see it: We will write off those with opposing views as evil or ignorant or stupid, rather than as interlocutors worthy of consideration. We succumb to the all-purpose ad hominem because it is easier and more comforting than rational argument. But when we do, we abandon what is great about this institution we serve.

It will not be easy to resist this current. As an institution, we are continually pressed by faculty and students to take political stands, and any failure to do so is perceived as a lack of courage. But at universities today, the easiest thing to do is to succumb to that pressure. What requires real courage is to resist it. Yet when those making the demands can only imagine ignorance and stupidity on the other side, any resistance will be similarly impugned.

The university is not a megaphone to amplify this or that political view, and when it does it violates a core mission.

Memo to president Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Stanford Law dean Jenny Martinez: nothing is going to change until you diversify the viewpoints of your faculty. Everything short of this is just pretending. Etchemendy noted this:

We need to encourage real diversity of thought in the professoriate, and that will be even harder to achieve. It is hard for anyone to acknowledge high-quality work when that work is at odds, perhaps opposed, to one’s own deeply held beliefs. But we all need worthy opponents to challenge us in our search for truth. It is absolutely essential to the quality of our enterprise.

Nothing is going to change at Stanford, of course. Because Stanford obviously learned nothing from Etchemendy’s observations six years ago. Let the Stanford boycott spread.

P.S. We covered Etchemendy’s warning at the time here.

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