The University's Mission and Politics
In my inaugural address, I emphasized that it is a university's freedom and obligation to provide a forum for the most searching and candid discussion of public issues. But, I said, quoting the First Amendment scholar Harry Kalven, a university "cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives." Kalven continued, this viewpoint arises "not out of a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints."
Members of a university community must not shy away from the social and political issues of their time, from shaping the social and political values of society. But the mission of the university as a whole is to respect free inquiry, to enable the search to know, and to provide fora for uninhibited, robust, and wide-open debate.
It is fair to say that surprisingly few people seem to agree with my position that the university was not established, and I was not appointed, to push my personal political preferences. Of course, I realize that people mostly do not really want me to push my political agenda, but their causes. Various interests on and off campus believe I should use whatever power the Stanford presidency confers to support their preferences in any number of controversial issues. The pressures come from both the left and the right--if these categories mean anything. A writer for The New York Times criticized my abstemious position for the timidity it supposedly displayed and compared me unfavorably to such giants of the past as Robert Maynard Hutchins of Chicago and James B. Conant of Harvard.
In 1994, the integrity of university decision-making and political leveraging of the university were tested. More or less out of the blue, student protesters demanded a grape boycott and repeated calls for more ethnic studies. Ultimatums were issued. Some students demanding Asian American studies disrupted a Faculty Senate meeting until the Senate responded by adjourning. Some other students staged a four-day sit-in in the Quad, including four Chicanas who chose to engage in a fast. (The protest also extended to the layoff of a Chicana administrator.) The provost and I suspended most other business and met with the students several times over three days. We ended up agreeing to the establishment of two committees to examine the concerns in depth and make recommendations.
It was crucial to Provost Rice and me that the university's constituted processes for making decisions be followed. If we shortcut argument and reason, yield to ultimatums, we abandon the essence of the university. If universities make their substantive decisions for political rather than academic reasons, they have no particular claim to untrammeled existence. While, of course, I understand that the line between the academic and the political is frequently less than clear, it is nevertheless a line that we must strive to observe.
On the issue of ethnic studies, under the leadership of Dean John Shoven, the appropriate bodies of the School of Humanities and Sciences and the university decided on November 21, 1996, after two years of study, to establish an interdisciplinary Program in Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity that combines existing programs and that attempts to integrate studies of race and ethnicity across group-specific and disciplinary lines. The program offers students a choice among four tracks. Given the need for bringing new intellectual resources to bear on the study of ethnic, including cross-ethnic, issues, the outcome is a deliberate and welcome one.
On the issue of serving grapes on campus, in 1988, the university had responded to a demand for a grape boycott in support of farm workers and improvements in their working conditions by giving members of each student residence a choice. After the 1994 demands, and a year of inquiry into the issue, we concluded that the called-for university-wide boycott of grapes was not justified (though we did not overturn the old policy). In a joint statement, Provost Rice and I said:
We understand...that the grape issue is of significance to members of the Chicano community, an essential and valued part of Stanford University. Stanford is committed to access to higher education for all and has worked hard to diversify its student body, faculty and staff. That increasing diversity makes it more important than ever that the university not take political stands on the ground that a particular group, or a portion of a group, feels strongly about a specific cause. Doing so would cast the president and officers of Stanford as judges of the relative moral and political weight of the positions of the university's many voices. Taken to its extreme, the university would become a patchwork of limitations and regulations based on the political causes of different groups. That we cannot permit....
[T]he university is foremost a place for teaching, learning, and research. Its fundamental purpose is not the resolution of political issues--no matter how pressing or how important. Only when such issues directly affect the core teaching and research mission or other important institutional interests should Stanford's officers attempt to bring the university's weight to bear on the political process.
For the most part, the delicate task of balancing the myriad interests and beliefs of Americans, and of collectively resolving social issues, lies elsewhere--in our democratic institutions. There, as citizens, Stanford students, faculty, and staff influence the course of events through the exercise of individual rights and responsibilities.
During the Vietnam-era protests at many universities, Stanford included, even those students and faculty members who were not among the protesters stood largely by while their universities were made vehicles for opposition to national policies--and, in the process, were severely damaged. Has it been learned that universities are very fragile institutions? I hope the answer is yes. While Provost Rice and I clearly had the support of many, even more remained silent. I hope their silence did not signify lack of understanding or concern about that fragility.
On another question touching core values of a private university, I found myself to be part of a small minority--at times seemingly a minority of one. May 1994 also brought a lawsuit against the university by conservative students who challenged the so-called Grey Interpretation of the Fundamental Standard, the measure of conduct for Stanford students since 1896. First, the Fundamental Standard:
Students are expected to show both within and without the University such respect for order, morality, personal honor, and the rights of others as is demanded by good citizens. Failure to do this will be sufficient cause for removal from the University.
As a preliminary observation, I think it would stretch credulity to assume that this one-hundred-year-old language was meant to give students the right to defame or employ racial epithets against other students or a faculty member. The Fundamental Standard's ultimate criterion is, after all, "good citizenship."
In 1990, the Student Conduct Legislative Council adopted an interpretation of the Fundamental Standard titled "Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment." The interpretation spelled out when the face-to-face use of racial epithets or their equivalent would be viewed as harassment by personal vilification, and, therefore, as a violation of the Fundamental Standard. The interpretation made use of the "fighting words" exception to the First Amendment. All other forms of speech at Stanford were protected. Indeed, one could argue that the Grey Interpretation--named for Professor of Law Tom Grey--helped to eliminate vagueness and was thus protective of speech. Nobody was ever disciplined under it.
In 1992, the California legislature made California the only state in the union to eliminate the freedom of private universities to deal with speech according to their own values. It prohibited private institutions, other than religious ones, from disciplining students on the basis of speech "that, when engaged in outside the campus...is protected from governmental restriction by the First Amendment." The Corry case challenged the Grey Interpretation under this so-called Leonard Law that, by a sleight of hand, had transformed the First Amendment from a protection of private citizens and institutions against government into a vehicle for forcing private institutions to do what government wanted them to do.
On February 27, 1995, the Santa Clara County Superior Court held that the Grey explication of the Fundamental Standard was unconstitutionally overbroad; that it did not proscribe all fighting words and was thus an unconstitutional viewpoint-based rule; and that the Leonard Law was constitutional.
I was not yet at Stanford when the university adopted the "Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment" interpretation of the Fundamental Standard. Its passage by the Student Legislative Council after eighteen months of discussion and debate left many on campus feeling ambivalent about it. I share that ambivalence and would have preferred the harsh wind of freedom. However, voluntary agreement to principles is not the same as being ordered by the state legislature to follow every twist of case law that is aimed at government.
It is ironic that, while opposing the university's rule on First Amendment grounds, the court endorsed the Leonard Law. I thought the First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of association was about the pursuit of ideas. Stanford, a private university, for better or worse, had the idea that its academic goals would be better served if students never used racial epithets to vilify fellow students. The California legislature apparently did not like such ideas, for it prohibited private secular universities and colleges from establishing their own standards of civil discourse. Religious institutions alone can claim First Amendment protection in this regard.
I was taken aback by the fact that most people did not seem to care about what troubled me then and continues to trouble me. Certainly few "conservatives" rallied around the university's freedom of association. Quite to the contrary, the conservative plaintiffs and their supporters mindlessly invoked the power of the state to impose their ideological preferences on their alma mater. Many true liberals unthinkingly concluded that what is the law for Berkeley must be the law for Stanford.
Among the notable exceptions has been the former president of two important public institutions, the universities of Virginia and Wisconsin, Robert M. O'Neil. In his 1997 book Free Speech and the College Community, he deals extensively with the Stanford situation and supports the position I had tried to articulate. The San Francisco Examiner, on the other hand, called it a "laughable convolution." The Stanford Review says even now that I am trampling civil liberties.
In spite of my strong views, I decided not to appeal. It did not seem appropriate to spend Stanford's limited resources of money, time, and attention to fight a case that, given the superficiality of the debate in the media and public, was portrayed as involving only the legitimacy of what hyperbolically were referred to as "speech codes." I am sometimes asked which decisions of the last five years I regret. Not appealing the Corry decision is a prime candidate.
In 1995, much attention and time were consumed by the increasing intensity and loudness of discussions concerning affirmative action. In California, these were triggered by what became Proposition 209, an initiative aimed at affirmative action by public institutions. While Stanford did not seem directly affected, I decided to reaffirm Stanford's affirmative action policy in a statement to the first Faculty Senate meeting of the fall. While I did not address Proposition 209 directly, I thought it was important not to remain silent on the policy issues that were clearly relevant to Stanford's work as a university. I also was expecting that, notwithstanding Stanford's character as a private institution, demands would be made to follow state policy.
Affirmative action raises issues that are among the most difficult that a society can confront. It is of utmost importance that those who participate in the debate refrain from demonizing their opponents. All of us, on all sides of the issue, are and will be open to criticism. Those who believe, as I do, that American society continues to be color-conscious and therefore cannot yet afford to be color-blind, need to remember nevertheless the arbitrariness of racial and ethnic labeling.
In my statement, I stressed that Stanford had been established to serve "the betterment of mankind" through its activities as a university. In 1902, amending the Founding Grant, Jane Stanford made the point that the "public at large, and not alone the comparatively few students who can attend the University, are the chief and ultimate beneficiaries of the foundation." Jane Stanford had also urged resisting "the stratification of society."
In the Stanford admissions process, all applicants receive careful consideration, and the individual circumstances of the applicant are taken into consideration. These efforts aim at a class characterized by diversity in terms of academic interests, artistic and athletic accomplishments, leadership qualities, and ethnic and social backgrounds. Why should we look for such diversity? The main goals are two. First, we want a rich educational environment to challenge our students. Students learn much from one another. Second, we want to be faithful to our task to educate leaders for a diverse and complex society--a society that will, we hope, overcome the undue tendencies toward stratification. This task cannot be accomplished unless the country's demographic diversity finds a presence on campus.
As we pursue our goals, there is no room for categorical preferences. However, there also is no room with respect to any applicant for making quantitative, scalable admissions criteria the sole touchstone of intellectual vitality, talent, character, and promise. That has never been the case at Stanford, and I hope it never will be. It is Stanford's very characteristic that it has never been one-dimensional, and yet the university has been able, especially over the last four decades, to become one of the world's most selective institutions. Our capacity to pursue many excellences will remain undiminished as long as we continue to get the balance right and do not waver in our commitment to quality.