On Friday, April 19th, I was placed on administrative leave by Stanford University pending an investigation. I write this article to explain the events leading up to my leave.
I have used drugs and I feel they have been a positive influence in my life. I have watched the ever-escalating war on drugs with increasing apprehension and disapproval. When the federal government forced Stanford to adopt a new alcohol and drug policy that apparently nobody at Stanford wanted, I felt that I could no longer sit idly by.
I attended many of the discussions about the new policy to see how it would be translated into action. The impression I got was that little would change. Stanford would continue to internally stress its policy of respecting privacy as long as individuals behave responsibly, but would appease the government by publicly acknowledging a more stringent policy.
Many people have said to me, "Why can't you accept that? As long as Stanford does the right thing, what does it matter what we say?" I understand this point of view, but I personally have never been able to live with hypocrisy. The expectation that people should and will lie, particularly to the government, seems to be an increasing phenomenon in American culture, but I've never learned to lie without feeling some loss of integrity. That is why I wrote my Daily article last October and sent it to various government officials. In all, I have done four things that some find objectionable.
First, I violated etiquette, and this is the criticism that nobody seems to want to make public. I was angry that the federal government coerced Stanford into accepting a policy that it didn't want and that Stanford was too cowardly to object. I have vented that anger in a series of letters to the government. My letters have been intentionally provocative and have purposely targeted the most ignorant and objectionable officials (e.g., Dan Quayle, Jesse Helms, and Ronald Buckham, who was quoted in The Daily as saying that Stanford should get more "rules-oriented" RAs to police the dorms). This, I am told, is rude; it's not the way to get things done. Thus, some people tell me, I have brought this catastrophe on myself, and I agree with them to a great extent. But if this country has reached the point where I, as a university staff member, may not attack the government and university officials when I disagree with their policies, then there is no hope for preserving liberty in this country.
Second, I have demanded that the university respect my privacy. In particular, I refuse to allow the university to dictate what I will and won't carry in my backpack while on campus. I have carried illegal drugs in my backpack since the new policy was instituted, which is a direct violation. Carrying drugs in my backpack is not, in all honesty, essential to my continued happiness. I did so to draw attention to the larger issue of violation of privacy. Students are much more adversely affected than I am because the same policy that applies to my backpack also applies to their dorm rooms. How can students feel comfortable at Stanford if they have no place that they can think of as private and exempt from meddling rules that limit victimless behavior? There is also the question of escalation. If this violation of privacy is acceptable, why not require drug tests of entering freshmen and random drug testing of faculty and staff? This idea has been seriously proposed by several proponents of the war on drugs. The backpack may seem trivial, but to me it symbolizes the entire debate, which is why I chose it as my "battleground." Oddly enough, there has been little attention paid to the backpack, although it might yet prove the official grounds for my dismissal.
My third offense came about rather unexpectedly and has been reported only to university officials, not to the government (mostly because it happened just two weeks ago). I run a contest in CS106X and take the winning section to dinner at McArthur Park. I use my unrestricted funds to pay for this event (money that I earn when I teach courses on instructional television). When we arrived, we ordered drinks. Most students were either over 21 or ordering non-alcoholic drinks, but some underage students wanted to order alcoholic drinks. It seemed silly to me that I should check their IDs or scold them for drinking underage, so I said that I was not going to interfere in their personal choices. The waiter did not ask anyone for IDs, and so a few students who were over 18 but under 21 had a single before-dinner alcoholic beverage. And for this Stanford will fire me? If so, I think this sounds the death-knell for relaxed interaction between faculty and students at social events like dinners and wine-and-cheese get-togethers.
My fourth violation has drawn the most attention from all sides, and it is the one that I am most convinced is not a violation of university policy. I bumped into a student that I know while we were both waiting to take the 7-F bus back from the airport after Thanksgiving break. Before the bus arrived he sheepishly said, "Can I ask you a personal question?" When I said yes, he told me that he wanted advice on whether or not to experiment with the drug MDA that I had mentioned in my article. That started a fascinating hour-long conversation about drug use and what we thought we could learn intellectually and spiritually from our drug experiences. He had two major concerns about MDA: addiction and loss of control. In response to the former, I informed him that MDA is not physically addictive. To respond to the latter, I first asked about his previous experiences. LSD, for example, is a drug that I caution people about exactly because users often experience a significant loss of control while under its influence. He had tried LSD several times, so I was able to allay his fears. I told him that loss of control is rare on MDA if taken in moderate doses, and that in any case, it was certainly no worse than the loss of control experienced while under the influence of LSD. In answer to his question, then, I told him that his two reasons for not doing the drug sounded like bad reasons and that I personally have had excellent experiences on MDA. In essence, I recommended that he try it.
I believe that anything I might have said to this student in a private conversation constitutes protected free speech. I was expressing my personal opinion, and the student understood it as such. The government is upset about this incident because my opinion differs from theirs.
The more I see the drug war proceed, the more I become convinced that drug users are viewed in the 90's in the way that communists were viewed in the 50's. They are to be wiped out by whatever means are necessary because they constitute a plague on society. Thus, drug education means convincing people not to do drugs. No sympathetic opinions are to be tolerated.
My suspension and the current investigation of my actions was prompted by a letter to President Kennedy from Bob Martinez, the new national drug czar. Martinez says, "In all candor, I would find it beyond comprehension that a man who openly professes to have encouraged an undergraduate to ingest MDA could continue to enjoy faculty privileges at a pace-setting institution like Stanford University...I can think of no action more radically at odds with the responsibilities of an educator to his students." McCarthy could hardly have put it better. Communists and communist-sympathizers are corrupting the youth of America and must be eradicated.
Ken Down, Associate Dean of Engineering, echos this same sentiment in his letter informing me of my suspension: "I want to be clear about my view that a Senior Lecturer's specifically advising an individual student 'that he...should go ahead and experiment with MDA' is conduct, and not protected speech. If the conduct occurred as you described it, it violates the University's policy on Controlled Substances and Alcohol, and would constitute professional misconduct."
If I had forced the student to swallow a hit of MDA, I can see why this would constitute conduct and not free speech, but I do not comprehend the distinction Ken is trying to make. I believe that it seems different to him and to Bob Martinez because they are so much in the anti-drug mindset that they cannot see how any reasonable person could have a differing opinion, which was also true during the anti-communist hysteria.
I find it ironic that in 1949 Stanford's President Wallace Sterling made a comment that almost parallels Martinez'. He said, "I doubt very much that a member of the Communist Party is a free agent. If he is not a free agent, then it would seem to follow that he cannot be objective. If he cannot be objective, he is by definition precluded from being an educator."
Stanford seems to have decided that the same is true of drug users. This incident indicates that Stanford has become a full partner in the government's war on drugs, including intrusive invasion of privacy, punishment of offenders, and suppression of dissenting opinions. How Stanford and other universities can do this and still consider themselves open environments that foster reason and free inquiry, I do not know.
I expect that the media will portray me as a Timothy Leary who runs around advising everyone to do drugs. In fact, I have never given such advice. I advised a particular student to do a particular drug after having an extensive conversation with him. I don't want to see everyone doing drugs. But I would like to see college campuses having intelligent and open discussions about drugs, and not simply regurgitating the government's "drugs are evil" view. Then individuals would have the knowledge they need to make informed and rational choices about what they think the law should say (or not say) about drugs and what they will themselves choose to do in their personal lives.
Everyone at Stanford knows that underage drinking here is rampant, that drugs like marijuana are used by a large number of students, faculty and staff, and that the university knowingly chooses to ignore such behavior. My guess is that in the grand scheme of things, I am actually a relatively minor offender relative to others at Stanford. But I won't "toe the line." As a result, I expect that in the end the university will fire me for what I've said, but base the action on the two specific direct violations of the policy: my backpack and the alcohol incident.
I will continue to express my views as long as the university and the government allow me to do so. Because I am on paid leave, I have lots of time on my hands, so if any dorms would like to invite me over to discuss this topic, I'd be glad to oblige. The only outcome that would truly sadden me is if I'm forced to leave Stanford and nobody really notices.
I would like to end by quoting from a pamphlet called "Vices are Not Crimes" written over a hundred years ago by Lysander Spooner in response to the debate over prohibition. I did not discover it until after I had published my article, but I was surprised to find that Spooner expresses much more clearly than I can exactly what I feel about the government's war on drugs.
In the midst of this endless variety of opinion, what man, or what body of men, has the right to say, in regard to any particular action, or course of action, "We have tried this experiment, and determined every question involved in it? We have determined it, not only for ourselves, but for all others? And, as to all those who are weaker than we, we will coerce them to act in obedience to our conclusion? We will suffer no further experiment or inquiry by any one, and, consequently, no further acquisition of knowledge by anybody?" Who are the men who have the right to say this? Certainly there are none such. The men who really do say it, are either shameless imposters and tyrants, who would stop the progress of knowledge, and usurp absolute control over the minds and bodies of their fellow-men; and are therefore to be resisted instantly, and to the last extent; or they are themselves too ignorant of their own weaknesses, and of their true relations to other men, to be entitled to any other consideration than sheer pity or contempt.