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Stanford Oral History Collections

Abernethy, David B. (2017)

purl.stanford.edu/tz353jd0839
Title:
Abernethy, David B. (2017)
Author:
Abernethy, David B. and Gamlen, Tod
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
Description:
In this oral history, David Abernethy, a professor emeritus of political science who served seventeen terms in the Faculty Senate and chaired the body during the 1981-82 academic year, discusses the role and processes of the Faculty Senate and some of the controversial issues it has grappled with, including the evolution of the Western Culture curricular requirement, the university’s investment in South Africa, the relationship between the university and the Hoover Institution, and the possibility of locating the Ronald Reagan presidential library at Stanford. Briefly describing his academic background in African Studies, Abernethy tells how he was completing doctoral research in Nigeria in 1965 when he received an invitation to come to Stanford University. He shares personal recollections of the campus climate in the late 1960s, including the first teach-in on Vietnam, responses to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and a rowdy session of the Academic Council reviewing Stanford President J. E. Wallace Sterling’s decision to discipline antiwar protestors. Abernethy turns then to the 55-member Faculty Senate, which marks its fiftieth anniversary in 2018, discussing in detail its structure, traditions, and processes, especially the alphabetical assignment of seating and the availability of the university president and provost for questions. First voted chair in 1981-1982, he also describes the workings of the Senate’s principal committees and the role of the academic secretary who administers them. Regarding the Committee on Undergraduate Studies, Abernethy offers an analysis of the Western Culture curricular requirement as it changed to meet the demands of a multicultural university and society, beginning in 1976. As he sees it, to highlight Western cultures is a disservice to all non-Western people, and culture can be used as a code word for issues surrounding race and ethnicity. The Faculty Senate discussion of Stanford’s investments in weapons makers and later companies supporting South Africa under apartheid are his next topics. Abernethy talks about his corporate social responsibility work, including urging the university the participate in shareholder proxy votes related to South Africa and meeting with the chairman of Wells Fargo Bank to express concern about a bank loan to South Africa. Beginning with an appreciation of the resource represented by the Hoover Institution’s library and archives, Abernethy turns to Stanford’s fractious relationship during the 1980s with Hoover and its leader, Glenn Campbell. The critical issue became whether and where a Reagan Presidential Library should be located at Stanford, he says, a proposal initiated by Campbell’s independent contacts with the Reagan White House. Despite the potential resources of such a library, Abernethy notes, faculty were concerned about the consequences for Stanford’s image of adding a second campus landmark honoring a prominent twentieth-century conservative president, the first being the Hoover Tower, and the siting of the project. Ending the controversy, the Reagan Presidential Foundation chose to seek a site in Southern California. A related issue, however, dealt with Campbell’s initiative to grant senior fellows at the Hoover Institution membership in Stanford’s Academic Council, Abernethy notes, which raised issues of qualifications and inequitable exemption from teaching responsibilities. Abernethy concludes the interview with an overall evaluation of Stanford’s Faculty Senate.
Topic:
David Abernethy, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, Stanford University. Faculty Senate, universities and colleges--administration, universities and colleges--faculty, anti-apartheid movements, universities and colleges--curricula, and Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Imprint:
June 29, 2017 - June 30, 2017
Collection:
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012