The Graduate School of Business (GSB) will host its Academic Freedom Conference November 4-5. The conference, which sparked controversy over its speaker list and initial decision to close to the media, “aims to identify ways to restore academic freedom, open inquiry, and freedom of speech and expression on the campus and in the culture at large”, according to his website.
The conference drew criticism when Stephanie M. Lee, a reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education, wrote on Twitter on October 19 that his request to attend the conference was refuse. The conference organizers later decided to direct the conference.
A open letter criticizing the conference, titled “A Closed Conference on Academic Freedom Is a Contradiction,” has garnered more than 50 signatures — most of them Stanford professors — as of November 2.
The letter raised fears that the conference was giving “shelter and immunity” to racism. He quotes speaker Amy Wax, who has already inflamed controversial for his racist remarks about blacks and Asians. Wax’s 2017 complaints that she had rarely seen black students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she is a professor, graduating in the top half of their class, were later refuted by Penn Law School Dean Theodore Ruger.
“When [Wax’s] zeal to make a racist point takes precedence over his obligation to set the record straight or provide any evidence for his statements, we have a deep problem, one that no false calls for academic freedom can or should conceal” , the letter declared.
The rest of the speaker range also raised eyebrows.
Speakers include Niall Ferguson, a Hoover Senior Fellow who resigned of his leadership position in a campus free speech program after it was revealed he had urged a group of conservative students to conduct “opposition research” on a progressive student activist. Scott Atlas, Hoover Senior Fellow and former Trump adviser on the coronavirus who threatens suing more than 100 Stanford doctors and researchers who signed an open letter condemning his views on COVID-19, is also part of the lineup.
John H. Cochrane, senior Hoover scholar, speaker and member of the organizing committee, wrote in an email to The Daily that the organizing committee had invited a wide range of people, including those now critical of the conference – many of whom, according to Cochrane, ignored or declined the invitation. Other Stanford affiliates on the organizing committee did not respond to requests for comment.
Professor of French and Comparative Literature Joshua Landy said he was surprised to be invited to be part of a panel on biomedical sciences as a professor of literature. He declined and recommended that organizers attempt to recruit medical experts outside of Stanford if necessary.
“When it comes to matters of public interest, like medical matters, academic responsibility requires us to be careful what we say and to prioritize expert research,” Landy said.
The open letter also said the invitational nature of the conference is contrary to academic freedom. According to the letter, academic freedom is meant to encourage discussion, but conference organizers have created a “tightly sealed event.”
Cochrane wrote that the conference is invitation-only due to limited space and budget for food.
Reactions to the conference organizers’ decision to broadcast the conference live have been mixed.
Landy said he thought it was “great” that the conference was being broadcast live. “I just find it a bit sad that it excludes outside voices,” he said.
“I think it would have been even better if they had decided to open it up,” Landy said.
Cochrane, however, wrote that having hundreds of people does not make a “very good forum for open exchange”.
Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu said the decision to livestream was “not good enough”. He added that the live broadcast would not give people the opportunity to challenge the speakers.
Some students have also criticized that the conference does not uphold the spirit of academic freedom.
Mallory Harris, Ph.D. in biology. student, said true academic freedom challenges power imbalances, but speakers include people in power who have used intimidation. Taimur Ahmad MA ’23, a master’s student in international politics, said events like this conference make it harder for people to find common ground.
Landy also said he feared the event was a “missed opportunity for bipartisanship,” citing Florida law. sign by Governor Ron DeSantis earlier this year, restricting discussion of race in schools and businesses. “Academic freedom is not a question of left or right,” he said.
When contacted for comment, GSB spokeswoman Amelia Hansen shared a statement from GSB Dean Jonathan Levin, stating that faculty and students have the freedom to support the creation of a “collision of ‘ideas’.
“However, not all talks, symposiums and lectures will represent the full range of viewpoints, and some may include controversial viewpoints precisely because of this freedom,” Levin wrote.
In response to criticism, Cochrane wrote that people who don’t like the way the Academic Freedom Conference is organized can organize their own conferences. “They don’t have to silence us to make their voices heard,” he wrote.
Engineering and oceans professor Stephen Monismith said he thought the University should sponsor an open conference on academic freedom, which he said he and a few others had proposed but “didn’t go very far”. Palumbo-Liu also mentioned past efforts to host an academic accountability event that did not receive support. The University did not respond to a question about past efforts to hold events.
“You can’t have a ‘collision of ideas’ if you’ve closed the conference [and] only admitted it to a passive audience,” Palumbo-Liu said. “So you basically do [an] almost a parody of academic freedom.