Taking aim at Stanford
Publication Date: Wednesday Nov 29, 1995

Taking aim at Stanford

Former students claim Stanford's diversity policies have "dumbed down" university

Stanford is not without its critics when it comes to the university's emphasis on diversity and tinkering with the curriculum to match the needs and interests of a more diverse student body.

For former students Peter Thiel and David Sacks, Stanford's focus on multicultural issues has meant nothing less than an end to academic excellence.

Thiel was founding editor of the conservative Stanford Review, and Sacks was as a Review editor. The publication has often been critical of the administration.

Thiel and Sacks have also co-authored a book, "The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and the Politics of Intolerance at Stanford," which was recently published by the Independent Institute in Oakland.

The book uses examples from the authors' own experiences and class notes to document what they say are shortcomings at Stanford caused by the push to change Western Culture and the emphasis on racial diversity.

The authors cite the establishment of new courses reflecting the push for diversity which they say have compromised Stanford's academic excellence.

Among they classes they cite, some at length: a history seminar, "Black Hair as Culture and History"; a religion class which included a book, "Jesus Acted Up: A Gay and Lesbian Manifesto"; a history class on "Social Movements of the 1960s in California"; and they cite examples of books that have been taken out of the required freshman course sequence Cultures, Ideas and Values and replaced by what the authors contend are less worthy books.

Neither Stanford President Gerhard Casper or former president Donald Kennedy say they have read the book.

Casper was so irked at Sacks and Thiel over a commentary they wrote in the Wall Street Journal in October, however, that he and Provost Condoleezza Rice wrote a letter to the newspaper in reply, refuting some of the points Sacks and Thiel had published.

In their letter Sacks and Thiel repeated a more brief critique of Stanford's curriculum and then concluded, "The new canon delivers everything but the one educationally justifiable thing it promised--the serious study of other cultures."

In their reply, Casper and Rice characterized the Sacks and Thiel article: "That commentary was demagoguery, pure and simple . . . They concoct a cartoon, not a description of our freshman curriculum."

So why did the two Stanford graduates write the book?

"The great multicultural experiment which began seven or eight years ago has not lived up to its promise and needs to be rethought," Thiel said. "A lot of the curriculum was dumbed down, and it has brought in faculty who are monolithic."

Thiel said his objection to the new CIV courses, which replaced the old Western Culture curriculum for freshmen, wasn't necessarily what was being taught but what wasn't being taught anymore.

"It's a substitution for far more important subjects," he said. "The goal of a humanities education is to produce well-rounded people. That's the part of the equation that suffers."

The whole debate over race and diversity and multicultural issues at places like Stanford won't be settled any time soon, Thiel feels.

"I don't think there is anything wrong with diversity," he said. "But you don't have diversity when you have people who look differently but think alike. We should have intellectual diversity."

--Don Kazak

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