Almost as long as universities have existed, students have complained about professors whom they believe are deliberately trying to target them–either by not letting them speak during discussions or shafting them in grading papers and exams. But this scenario became reality in horrifying fashion late last week. A research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution is under well-deserved fire for trying to dig up dirt on a liberal student who got on his bad side.
On Friday, Stanford’s student newspaper, the Stanford Daily, detonated a bombshell. A month earlier, it had gotten its hands on an email exchange in between Niall Ferguson, a leading conservative historian and senior fellow at Hoover, and two members of Stanford’s College Republicans. Ferguson thought that Michael Ocon, a Stanford sophomore, might cause trouble at Cardinal Conversations, a speech and lecture program run by Hoover.
Ferguson, who was one of the program’s faculty leaders, told the two students in on the February email exchange, Max Minshull and John Rice-Cameron, that it might be “worthwhile” to do some “opposition research” on Ocon–or “Mr. O,” as Ferguson called him–as part of a larger effort to turn the screws on “SJWs” at the Farm. He also hoped to rally the more conservative members of the Cardinal Conversations steering committee to put the heat on Ocon. Minshull, Ferguson’s research assistant, quickly agreed to “get on” the effort to target Ocon.
Some of the emails make for chilling reading. Rice-Cameron–best known as the son of Obama UN Ambassador and National Security Adviser Susan Rice–hoped to “crush the Left’s will to resist.” Ferguson hoped that the members of the steering committee could bury their “past differences” to concentrate on snuffing out Ocon and other liberal activists.
Needless to say, it is beyond inappropriate for a professor to be anywhere near any attempt to target a student for political reasons. As if he had a choice, Ferguson resigned from his leadership role at Cardinal Connections on April 16, soon after Stanford officials learned about the emails. He also issued a statement expressing regret for “having written” the emails, which he reiterated in a mea culpa op-ed published in The Times of London.
However, Ferguson’s statement seems somewhat disingenuous. In his Times article, he says that he felt the need to “mobilise the college Republicans” after getting word about an emergency effort to change the structure of the steering committee. And yet, he has been a lecturer and professor on both sides of the Atlantic for the better part of three decades. If you believe that he didn’t realize how it would look for a professor to get involved in an effort to target a student for political reasons, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that you may be interested in buying.
Can you imagine the furor that would ensue if a liberal professor tried to target a conservative student activist in this way? It would be unacceptable and flat-out wrong–just like what Ferguson did here was unacceptable and flat-out wrong.
We also have to ask–is it appropriate for a professor, regardless of political shade, to keep his post if he finds it acceptable to target people who disagree with him in this way? If Ferguson even thought this was a good idea, Hoover may need to consider whether he has any business being there.
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