Tag Archives: Stanford University

The Undead Amy Biehl

Editor’s Note: Today marks the 25th anniversary of American voting rights activist and Fullbright scholar Amy Biehl’s violent death in South Africa. With South Africa already in the news over the past week a recent retrospectives have been issued by Biehl’s alma mater, Stanford University, and weeks earlier in the Los Angeles Times, the latter of which played a major role in publicizing Biehl’s apparent August 25, 1993 demise. The Biehl murder event took place at a decisive moment, as African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela’s presidential bid turned on his portrayal as a “peace candidate.”

Author and attorney Alison Maynard, a longtime reader and supporter of MHB, examines the unusual circumstances surrounding the death and establishes a case that it was likely a publicity stunt carried out by transnational forces seeking to maneuver the troubled country’s political trajectory toward certain desired ends.-JFT

By Alison Maynard

Saturday, August 25, 2018, will mark the 25thanniversary of the violent murder of American voting rights activist and Fulbright scholar Amy Biehl in South Africa.  Amy was a blond, blue-eyed Stanford graduate aged 26 when she was pulled from her car in Guguletu Township outside Cape Town on August 25, 1993.  While a mob of 300 black students shouted, “One settler, one bullet!” and “Kill the settler!” hoodlums pulled her from her car, stabbed her in the heart, and bludgeoned her head with a brick.  One day after her death, a professor of Amy’s at Stanford, Larry Diamond, pinned blame for the murder on the Pan Africanist Congress, “a relatively small, extremely militant political fringe group in the black community in South Africa … that has been more inclined to commit violence against whites.”

The Los Angeles Times on Sept. 2, 1993, recounted the heart-wrenching personal visit Melanie Jacobs, Amy’s best friend and roommate in South Africa, made on Sept. 1, 1993, to Newport Beach, California, to bring Amy’s ashes to her parents.  Melanie was accompanied by her 14-year-old daughter, Solange.  It was Melanie who identified Amy’s body after the murder.  According to the L.A. Times, Amy—amazingly–climbed into a police vehicle after being mortally injured, and was driven not to the hospital, but to the police station, where she died on the floor.  Melanie, summoned to identify the body, recognized Amy by the “clunky black shoes sticking out from under the pink blanket.”  She could not bear to look at the face.  Melanie herself died tragically from a fall from a balcony in 1998.Amy’s parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, went on after Amy’s murder to form the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust, a charitable organization committed to providing skills training, such as bread-baking and knitting, to impoverished black Africans in South Africa.

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Watch Your Words, Professor

The Case of Edward A. Ross

Editor’s Note: University professors in the United States today seldom engage in public speech that may even remotely threaten their employment. This is partly due to the fact that close to three-quarters of teaching faculty are non-tenured contract workers, and thus readily recognize their lack of tenure protections. Yet the many who have earned tenure regard it as more of a guaranteed sinecure than a guard against potential administrative retaliation for personal beliefs and/or public statements. 

In fact, the institution of tenure in American higher education is largely rooted in the controversy surrounding Stanford University’s dismissal of Professor Edward A. Ross in 1900 for his public speech. Ross was a highly-regarded economist, sociologist, and even an early mass media critic. Jane Stanford, widow of railroad magnate and university founder Leland Stanford, was disturbed by Professor Ross’ political views, evident in the popular faculty member’s enthusiastic public support of the Populist Party’s “free silver” platform of the 1890s, and his subsequent condemnation of “Chinese cheap labor.” Following these remarks Ms. Stanford successfully pressured university president David Starr Jordan to terminate Ross’ employment. 

The retaliatory firing of Ross became known as the “Ross case” and is historically recognized as a principal motivating factor in Professors John Dewey and Arthur O. Lovejoy’s founding of the American Association of University Professors that advocated for tenure across the US higher ed landscape.

As the following article from Stanford’s alumni publication (somewhat tepidly) chronicles,

At the time of her death in 1905, Mrs. Stanford was still associated with the Ross Affair. An obituary in the New York Times called it “the only serious cloud that ever lowered over Stanford University.”

By Brian Eule
Stanford
(January/February 2015)

In 1900, Jane Stanford forced out a respected faculty member. Was he a martyr to academic freedom or a racist gadfly who deserved what he got?

Department of Special Collections and University Archives (right); Image D-07548 Courtesy of the Royal BC Museum, BC Archives

ON A TUESDAY AFTERNOON in November 1900, Edward Alsworth Ross gathered several student reporters in his campus office. Ross, 33 years old and a Stanford economics professor of seven years, had joined the university just two years after its opening. He was a captivating sight, 6-foot-5 and nattily dressed in a suit that favored his athletic physique.

Ross was popular with students and esteemed in his field. David Starr Jordan, the university’s first president, had recruited him not once but twice. Plucked from Jordan’s former home at Cornell, Ross was emerging as a scholarly star. Now, his time at Stanford was coming to an abrupt end.

Ross held a lengthy written statement he had prepared for the San Francisco newspapers. He handed it to the students.

“Well, boys,” he said, “I’m fired.”

ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, the reasons for Ross’s departure remain in dispute. The matter was precipitated by a series of public pronouncements Ross had made on political matters between 1896 and 1900, a practice that put him at odds with university co-founder Jane Stanford. Was he forced out because of his outspoken opinions or because he broke rules prohibiting partisan advocacy? What is not in dispute is that Mrs. Stanford insisted that Ross be sacked despite the vigorous objections of Jordan, who finally relented.

Ross’s dismissal drove a wedge between Stanford faculty and the administration and resulted in a spate of resignations by other professors. More broadly, it galvanized efforts to codify protection of academic freedom and indirectly led to the establishment of tenure. As it turned out, that hastily arranged press conference in Ross’s office was a seminal moment in the history of higher education.

LONG BEFORE HIS NAME became synonymous with academic freedom controversies, Edward Ross was an enigmatic figure. Born to a farmer and a schoolteacher in Illinois, and orphaned at age 10, he was taken in by neighbors on a nearby Iowa farm. His new family viewed him as a prodigy, praising him so extravagantly that some boys in the area thought him pampered.

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