The question that everyone wants answered right now is: who paid for two Stanford “researchers” and one researcher Dartmouth College to send 100,000 fake “voter guides” into Montana, with the look and feel of official state voter guides. Stanford has apologized, Dartmouth has been silent. Stanford is also claiming it to have been a part of a political science “study” to see how injecting partisanship into our non-partisan Supreme Court election would effect voters.
There are a few strange circumstances surrounding this whole thing, and we need answers. First, understand that what the mailers actually say isn’t “Paid for by Stanford and Dartmouth” but rather, “Paid for by researchers at Stanford University and Dartmouth College.” This is an important distinction. It means, perhaps, that the University staff might have gotten funds for the project from an outside source. That happens very often as corporate influence grows in academia. Stanford and Dartmouth faculty, as is the case in many major universities, often work for hire and make good money doing it. We know that Stanford and the Hewlett Foundation apparently paid for some of this research, but we do not know if they funded all of it or which parts.
Say I am a professor of political science at one of these schools. I learn that Stanford University prohibits research funded by the tobacco industry. No problem. I have my own company for that. I accept the funds not through Stanford, but through my private research or consulting firm, and yet I still allow Phillip Morris to say the research I did “was conducted by Stanford Professor Dr. Jane Smith.” See how this works?
This very thing, in fact, caused a big controversy a few years ago between former Governor Brian Schweitzer and a law professor at the University of Montana. She published a “study” in which she concluded that the tax climate in Montana was bad for business. Unfortunately, the study was not commissioned or funded by the University but by a private group, the Tax Foundation, which consists of a bunch of right-wing economic imbeciles who spend 40 hours a week worshipping Ronald Reagan. I think this is how many major schools are able to take advantage of corporate money.
We don’t know whether these Dartmouth and Stanford researchers were using such funds, but it is something that I am looking forward to finding out. What if a conservative think tank funded the project? It would be a wholesale corruption of academia and of politics; actually, it’d be corruption by academia of politics.
Although it’s too early to tell what’s going on, the #mtpol crowd on twitter today from railing against Dartmouth and Stanford and acting as if these universities had launched a full scale invasion against Montana. We should all take a deep breath. The state of Montana will still be here Monday, ill conceived though the mailer may have been. Even Jon Tester got into the act, sending a letter to the Postmaster General demanding that he investigate whether federal law has been broken, and sending a letter to Stanford’s President John Hennessy and Dartmouth’s president Philip Hanlon, seeking answers. This comes on the heals of a Linda McCulloch press conference yesterday, which she followed up today by filing a formal complaint with the Commissioner of Political Practices.
Basic questions abound and need answers. For one thing, how can a learned professional who is an expert in politics and government not understand the nature of a mailer that links a candidate in Montana to president Obama, who is at 27% job approval? How could they not understand the basic rules of political practices? Conversely, why would anyone think that a single mailer, which most people glance at and then toss along with 30 other political mailers that arrive at their home, would have any meaningful influence on this race? I assume that these professors were going to do some sort of poll of voters who received the mailer, can compare it to a poll of voters who did not, and then see if the mailer had any effect on the recipients. It just seems kind of silly, given the amount of mail flying around on the judicial race, that these researchers could somehow test the efficacy of the mailer of their choice. Finally, what of the ethical question at the root of this? Namely, should a University be using a state as a petri dish, meddling with our political process and causing real-world results to the citizens of Montana? Doesn’t that cross the line? And what if these professors are, in fact, getting paid by a right-leaning entity so that the Stanford and Dartmouth names are stamped on this effort, to disguise it as a research project?
Unfortunately, neither Dartmouth nor Stanford will say precisely where the money came from. That’s not good, and it entitled us to speculate wildly. I also wonder whether the Stanford University and Dartmouth College faculty senate have even heard of this controversy, or if so, whether they will take action. They need to get in the game and should probably do an investigation of their own. Recall that it was the faculty senate, not the President, that forced Stanford University to ban funding and grants from Big Tobacco for research and development, and to divest the endowment from tobacco stocks. How can Cowgirl Blog readers take action? Give the presidents of Stanford and Dartmouth a shout, and ask them why they are treating our voters like guinea pigs.
President’s.Office@Dartmouth.edu Phone: 603-646-2223 And, let the faculty senates know what’s going on. Russell Berman is Chair of the Stanford University Faculty Senate. He can be reached at:650 723 1069 / 650 723-1068 firstname.lastname@example.org Dean Michael Mastanduno is the Chair of the Dartmouth College Committee of Chairs of the Arts and Sciences Faculty email@example.com 603-646-3999 It might be good to send them both some of the local media reports for background. Here’s the most recent. They should also be asked to demand that these professors disclose who paid for this disaster.
John Michael Carey is Chair of the Department of Government at Dartmouth firstname.lastname@example.org 603-646 1130
It is important to know that Prof. Adam Bonica, one of the authors of the study, is a member of Chair Judy Goldstien’s Political Science Dept. It would be good to ask her why Bonica is meddling in Montana’s elections? Did she know about this? What will she do about this? Does she know who paid for it? Kyle Dropp is under Professor Carey? What does he know about Kyle Tropp’s meddling in our elections?
Richard P. Saller is Dean of School of Humanities & Sciences and he is an ex Officio member Faculty Senate
The Stanford Department of Political Science is part of the School of Humanities. He needs to be asked the same questions posed to Dept. Chair Judy Goldstein.