Rumsfeld’s appointment upsets Stanford faculty

PALO ALTO, Calif. — Disgruntled Stanford faculty will meet with Hoover Institution Director John Raisian to question the criteria used in the controversial appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as a “distinguished visiting fellow” — a title they say gives undeserved eminence to the former defense secretary.

After a heated meeting Thursday, the university’s academic senate — a select group of faculty — voted to meet with Raisian to discuss the Rumsfeld appointment, which was not endorsed by the larger university community and has brought unwelcome publicity to Stanford.

But the faculty’s challenge is unlikely to rescind the appointment of the 75-year-old Rumsfeld.

The faculty has no authority over the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank that uses the Stanford name and is centrally located on the liberal-leaning campus, but operates independently of the university.

At its simplest, the debate centered on the use of one word: distinguished.

For Hoover, the title “distinguished visiting fellow” is a title it gives to U.S. and foreign scholars, diplomats and government officials who visit Hoover with expertise and ideas.

Rumsfeld will meet four to five times a year with a new Hoover Task Force on the Middle East and terrorism. He will not live on campus, and he will not lecture, teach or host seminars.

A public policy research center founded in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, “the Hoover Institution has always been independent, with its own budget, director and staff,” said Michele Horaney, a Hoover spokeswoman.

More than 3,800 members of the Stanford community signed a petition to protest the appointment.

“The title is what bothers me,” said Jeffrey Koseff, a professor in the School of Engineering.

“It implies Stanford’s endorsement,” said David Spiegel of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.

“I worry about the use of Stanford’s name,” he said. “This is a serious problem for us. … It is hard to understand the reasoning behind the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld.”

But Russell Berman, professor of comparative literature, called the effort “an implicit threat” to Hoover and “a kind of McCarthyism.”

Stanford President John Hennessy cautioned that faculty protests over Hoover appointments might be seen as an infringement on academic freedom of speech.

“We’ll open ourselves up to scrutiny for any visiting appointment,” he said. “Do we want to take that step to an open door?”

— Lisa M. Krieger

San Jose Mercury News