John Raisian, director of the Hoover Institution at Stanford, met with the university's Faculty Senate Thursday afternoon to answer questions about his controversial appointment of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to a one-year post as a "distinguished visiting fellow."
The appointment touched off a furor of criticism, with five faculty members organizing a petition drive opposing it even though the university cannot block visiting appointments to the Hoover Institution, which is largely autonomous.
Raisian had been invited to meet with the Faculty Senate to answer questions and did so candidly.
He defended the appointment of Rumsfeld to a task force that will study terrorism.
"Donald Rumsfeld has a remarkable record of service," Raisian said, noting he was a congressman at age 30, chief of staff for President Gerald Ford and was twice secretary of defense.
"Like it or not, he has had a distinguished career," Raisian said.
It was Rumsfeld's most recent role as defense secretary, responsible for policy decisions in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that sparked the criticism.
Rumsfeld resigned from that post one year ago.
"I don't regret the appointment," Raisian told faculty members.
But Raisian said he erred by not informing Stanford President John Hennessy and Provost John Etchemendy of the appointment before it was announced publicly.
"I clearly blind-sided them with this appointment," he admitted.
Raisian also said that he was surprised by the angry reaction by many faculty members to the appointment. "In retrospect, I was naïve, not realizing the angst this would cause," he said. "I didn't intend to offend."
Faculty members are still critical of the appointment.
"There has been damage done to the reputation of Stanford University and to the Hoover Institution," History professor Al Camarillo said.
Camarillo and other faculty object to Rumsfeld being designated a "distinguished" visiting fellow. But Raisian said that is a common title for visiting scholars, both at Hoover and at the university's other policy and academic centers.