Academics and students at California's prestigious Stanford University have launched a vigorous protest against the appointment of Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow to a right-wing campus think-tank, saying the former defence secretary and architect of the Iraq war offends their ideals of truth and tolerance.
Mr Rumsfeld's appointment as a one-year visiting fellow to the Hoover Institution was announced two weeks ago. Since then, more than 2,300 people on campus have signed a petition calling for the appointment to be revoked – among them an eminent professor of psychology who specialises in the wellsprings of bestial human behaviour.
The professor, Philip Zimbardo, lambasts Mr Rumsfeld in his most recent book, arguing that the defence secretary established the conditions that allowed low-ranking US military personnel to abuse Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Explaining his support for the petition, Professor Zimbardo told The New York Times: "It is unacceptable to have someone who represents the values that Rumsfeld has portrayed, in an academic setting."
The petition, drafted by a history professor, Pamela Lee, reads: "We view the appointment as fundamentally incompatible with the ethical values of truthfulness, tolerance, disinterested enquiry, respect for national and international laws and care for the opinions, property and lives of others to which Stanford is inalienably committed."
The university has defended its choice, saying Rumsfeld's experience at the very pinnacle of government makes him a desirable presence on campus regardless of people's opinions of him. Assuming the appointment goes ahead, he is expected to visit Stanford no more than five times over the year-long lifetime of the fellowship. He may give lectures but he won't do any classroom teaching.
The furore is part of an old pattern at Stanford. The Hoover Institution is a well known haven for right-wing ideologues and former Republican politicians, among them Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, and George Shultz, Ronald Reagan's secretary of state. That, in turn, pits the Institution against the more liberal leanings of Stanford. Condoleezza Rice, the present Secretary of State, was provost of Stanford before being called to Washington by President Bush and endured bitter criticisms from campus liberals during her stormy six-year tenure. She has indicated her intention to return to Stanford when the second Bush term ends in 2009, but some faculty members have said she will not be welcomed back.
In the late 1980s, a campus protest successfully sabotaged a plan to house Ronald Reagan's presidential library on the Stanford campus. More recently, campus protesters forced President Bush to cancel plans for a dinner with Mr Shultz at the university.
Professor Zimbardo, most famous for conducting the so-called Stanford prison experiment in the 1970s, in which students asked to play the role of prison guards quickly became sadistic and students asked to play their prisoners became passive and depressed, has been particularly outspoken about Mr Rumsfeld's role in prison abuse scandals.
Mr Rumsfeld, he writes in his latest book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Become Evil, created the conditions for troops to commit war crimes and torture by sidelining and disparaging the Geneva Conventions.Reuse content