A group of Stanford University faculty members
are petitioning have petitioned for a campus investigation of free speech and academic freedom in light of an anonymous reporting system they say can stifle expression, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Stanford’s Protected Identity Harm Reporting system aims to provide students “a meaningful response and potential resolution” to bias incidents, according to the university’s 2021 rollout announcement of the system.
Reports that rise to the level of hate crime or harassment get referred to police or campus conduct authorities, but the university response to other incidents is neither an investigative nor judicial process, according to Stanford officials, with voluntary mediation one possible outcome.
The professors cited a recent report made to campus officials of an image shared on social media that showed a student reading Mein Kampf, the autobiography of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
The image obtained independently by Inside Higher Ed last month showed a young woman, possibly in a dorm room, reading the book with what appeared to be an exaggeratedly thoughtful expression, a forefinger on her closed lips with fingernail facing outwards and hand beneath her chin.
Russell Berman, a comparative literature professor, told the Wall Street Journal the system “reminds me of McCarthyism,” referring to an era of U.S. politics when many were blacklisted and had careers ruined because of thinly-sourced accusations that they were Communist sympathizers or otherwise disloyal.
The Wall Street Journal reported that 77 Stanford faculty members had signed the petition. The university has 2,304 total faculty members, including medical center faculty, who make up about 48% of all faculty, according to Stanford’s website.
Berman, in an email, said the petition led to the university’s faculty senate on Feb. 9 creating an ad hoc committee to assess any constraints on academic freedom and free speech.
Berman, who joined Stanford in 1979, said the next steps will depend in part on which faculty members get appointed to the committee.
But he said it’s notable that a faculty push is leading to a committee investigation of “activities otherwise solely within the ‘administration.'”
This is as much about the role of faculty in governing the institution as it is about free speech, ideology, DEI etc. I see this small faculty revolt at Stanford in alignment with the academic freedom statement that came out of the MIT faculty in response to issues there,” Berman said.