Klarman fellow’s research prompts Stanford to investigate its practices

An archive discovery by Cornell historian Charles Petersen reported in an August 2021 newsletter prompted Stanford University to establish a task force to investigate its admissions practices for Jewish students in the 1950s.

On Oct. 12, Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne issued an institutional apology after the task force confirmed that the evidence uncovered by Petersen, a Klarman Postdoctoral Fellow in history, had been accurate

While doing research in the Stanford University archives for his Harvard University dissertation – a history of meritocracy in higher education, Silicon Valley and the Democratic Party – Petersen found a 1953 memo to the president of Stanford at the time, J.E. Wallace Sterling. The memo contained evidence of quotas placed on Jewish applicants overseen by the dean of admissions, Rixford Snyder.

“I was looking at Stanford material from the 1950s and 1960s, a time when the Jewish quota back east had begun to be significantly curtailed and anti-Semitism in general in the US had begun its rapid postwar decline,” Petersen wrote in the newsletter.

Petersen called finding the memo, which he almost overlooked, “probably the closest I’ll come to a historical smoking gun.”

Stanford’s 13-member task force cited the 1953 memo discovered by Petersen as evidence that Stanford had indeed tried to limit the number of Jewish students in the 1950s.

“I’m happy to see Stanford took my Substack so seriously,” Petersen told the New York Times, which reported on Stanford’s announcement.

Petersen’s research and Stanford’s response was covered in dozens of other media outlets as well, including the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

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