Demysterifying Hoover ….



What happens in the Hoover Institution stays in Hoover. Usually. Sometimes some debate about this bastion of conservatism spills over to the adjacent university, and all the hell breaks loose in Stanford. So how did the liberal West Coast’s premier university end up with a conservative thinktank on its campus?

The 84-year-old Hoover Institution is the legacy of former Republican President Herbert Hoover, a graduate of Stanford’s first class, who retired to Stanford after his disastrous presidency and presided over the cataloging of papers and documents he acquired in his early days. Until his death in 1960, Hoover ruled his institute (later renamed institution to rival East Coast’s Brooklyn Institution) with an ironfist from his ninth floor office at the Hoover Tower, Stanford campus’ most ironic and iconic building.

From shelves inside the lanky tower, the collection itself has expended greatly—now there are two annexed wings and a vast underground storage where the non-browsable library in tightly guarded. The institution’s treasures include the video footage of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima (one of the most requested archival items), a skull X-ray of Adolf Hitler (from which picture’s bad teeth appearances that experts deduced the Fuhrer has contracted some sort of STD) and recently, the Saddam Hussein papers—the diaries and governmental papers of the late Iraqi dictator which the university agreed to keep from public for next seven years.

Originally funded directly by the university, the institution now has an endowment of $450 million and is generously supported by donors–some famous, some controversial—which include Boeing, Exxon and Chrysler. However, more controversial than its donors themselves is the institution’s distinguished fellowship program. Originally named to distinguish itself from ordinary fellowship (which any scholar wishing to study at the institution can apply to), the Distinguished Fellowship are nominated by any of Hoover’s research taskforces in a process not much different from the one the university’s various departments use. However, since the Institution’s director is answerable to none but the President of the Stanford University, the nominations are usually scrutinized under a different light.

Distinguished fellows are usually invited to lead or to participate in the institution’s research departments, but under a system formulated by Mr. Hoover’s handpicked successor at the institution, W. Glenn Campbell, many of them ended up teaching in Stanford’s economics and political science departments—a fact the liberal student body cannot stomach. Distinguished or visiting fellows in the past included Newt Gingrich, George Shultz (whose honorary fellowship was commuted/demoted to a distinguished fellowship by the current director), Gen. John Abizaid, Edwin Meese, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele, and Amy Zegart—the list has become Who’s who of Republican Party in recent years that under the Bush administration, as many as eight Hoover fellows sat on the Defense Policy Board advising Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who after his resignation would also be nominated for the fellowship.

Historically as well, Hoover has always been the centre of controversy. W. Glenn Campbell, director of Hoover from 1960-1989 was a staunch supporter of Ronald Reagan, whose crackdown on student protests of the Vietnam War he vocally supported. Meanwhile, his fundraising, which focussed on fighting communism abroad and on campus was frequently criticized. When Campbell turned 65, he fought vehemently against mandatory retirement age policy and secured a generous retirement package. Although his successor and the current director John Raisian hasn’t made any honorary fellow appointments in his 20-year tenure (and as he confided to me in a dinner last week, he hasn’t no plan to do so in near future), his predecessor did. As it is normally in the politicalized world, none of Campbell’s nominations (not of Margaret Thatcher, not of Ronald Reagan or not even that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn) were well-received. But it is with Mr. Rumsfeld that the sh*t hits….well, you get the idea.

Rumsfeld’s nomination being made in late August of 2007 before the university opened, many faculty members viewed this as Hoover’s deliberate attempt to overstep its authority, to downplay the issue before the students arrive and to bypass the university. Mr. Rumsfeld’s involvement in everything from Iraq War to torture to Abu Gharib was discussed bitterly. Usually politically removed, the faculty itself lend its voice of dissent to student petitions—an action which led to the Hoover Institution being examined by the Faculty Senate.

In front of the Faculty Senate, Raisian expressed his regrets that his nomination was misconstrued but he refused to withdraw the nomination. Mr. Rumsfeld’s own decision not to come to Stanford averted the potential crisis but not before the Standard Daily lampooned the choice with a mock headline: “Fidel Castro nominated as a Hoover Fellow”.

Like it or not, Hoover Institution is here to stay. In 2003, a political on-campus group, SCPJ (Stanford Community for Peace and Justice) petitioned the university’s president John Hennessy and John Raisian to change Hoover’s mission statement and its ‘partial’ political stance. The petition was not reviewed because it is not in par with the university’s policies. Meanwhile, the students may just have to be thankful that in 1987, the plans for the construction of Reagan Library on the campus (a plan not unsurprisingly endorsed by the Hoover Institution) were defeated in the board of trustees, which no doubt thought that the legacy of one Republican President is enough for this already politically divided campus.







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