Disgruntled Stanford faculty will meet with Hoover Institution Director John Raisian to question the criteria used in the controversial appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as a "distinguished visiting fellow" - a title they say gives undeserved eminence to the former defense secretary.
After a heated meeting Thursday, the university's academic senate - a select group of faculty - voted to meet with Raisian to discuss the Rumsfeld appointment, which was not endorsed by the larger university community and has brought unwelcome publicity to Stanford.
But the faculty's challenge is unlikely to rescind the appointment of the 75-year-old Rumsfeld, who directed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and then resigned in late 2006 after months of mounting pressure to step aside.
The faculty has no authority over the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank that uses the Stanford name and is centrally located on the liberal-leaning campus - but operates independently of the university.
The meeting shone a light on the unusual relationship between Stanford and Hoover - and the question of whether the university's top leadership should pass judgment on minor appointments.
At its simplest, the debate centered on the use of one word: distinguished.
For Hoover, the title "distinguished visiting fellow" is a title it gives to U.S. and foreign scholars, diplomats and government officials who visit Hoover with expertise and ideas.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is one. So is retired Army Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of the Central Command.
Rumsfeld will meet four to five times a year with a new Hoover Task Force on the Middle East and terrorism, and provide input and possibly policy recommendations. He will not live on campus, and he will not lecture, teach or host seminars.
A public policy research center founded in 1919 by Herbert Hoover, "the Hoover Institution has always been independent, with its own budget, director and staff," said Michele Horaney, a Hoover spokeswoman.
For Stanford, and for much of the outside world, "distinguished" means something different, argued Debra Satz, professor of philosophy. Satz and others say the Iraq war has been a disaster, with poor planning. Critics say there is a wide consensus that Rumsfeld was an unsuccessful secretary of defense.
More than 3,800 members of the Stanford community signed a petition to protest the appointment.
"The title is what bothers me," said Jeffrey Koseff, a professor in the School of Engineering.
"It implies Stanford's endorsement," said David Spiegel of the Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine.
"I worry about the use of Stanford's name," he said. "This is a serious problem for us. . . . It is hard to understand the reasoning behind the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld."
The high-profile announcement by Hoover - without conferring with Stanford administrators, as a student group would have done - showed an insensitivity to what the news would mean to the larger university, faculty members said.
"Donald Rumsfeld does not meet the standards of a distinguished visiting fellow," said Jonathan Bendor, a professor in the Graduate School of Business.
But Russell Berman, professor of comparative literature, called the effort "an implicit threat" to Hoover and "a kind of McCarthyism."
Added Berman: "This is a political statement hiding behind a procedural issue."
Stanford President John Hennessy cautioned that faculty protests over Hoover appointments might be seen as an infringement on academic freedom of speech.
"We'll open ourselves up to scrutiny for any visiting appointment," he said. "Do we want to take that step to an open door?"
Provost John Etchemendy agreed, defending Hoover's right to bring in visitors - and to call them whatever they want.
"We have thousands of visitors," he said.
Any damage to the university's reputation by Rumsfeld's appointment "is far less than the damage done if we centrally try to regulate visitors to the campus," Etchemendy said.
"And just as we don't regulate visitors to campus, we also don't oversee the titles that can be used by units within the university for various visitors and employees," he said.
Although unhappy with Rumsfeld's appointment, Satz and other faculty urged a closer relationship with Hoover - following the model of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs - to improve communication and understanding.
"This is an anomaly," she said. "No other university has an independent think tank sitting within the university."
© 2007 The San Jose Mercury News