A Letter From Michael McFaul to FSI

On June 8, 2020, Michael McFaul sent the following letter to FSI faculty, students and staff following an open forum discussion about racial injustice.

Dear FSI faculty, students and staff,

Thank you to all who participated in our open forum on racial injustice and police brutality in the United States. I appreciate the emotion, candor, thoughtfulness, and ideas that everyone brought to the discussion. It was really great! I write now to codify a few next steps, and also to reach out to those who could not attend today.

Our conversation — as well as many other conversations, email threads, tweets, and forums among FSI staff, students and scholars over the last two weeks — underscores how deeply many of us have been affected by the horrific killing of George Floyd. His murder has punctuated a long, tragic history of racial injustice and police violence targeted at the Black community.

This moment calls for all of us to reassess our work and how we can move our local community, nation and the world to achieve racial justice. It was great to hear today and over the past several days how many individual members of our FSI community already have responded to these tragic events through action, be it public statements in the press or social media, op-eds, other publications, petitions, letters or protest.

Individually, I know I have been consumed with the news, reading research on topics new to me, and writing, blogging, speaking and participating in various ways on these issues to the best of my abilities. Some in our community, including most prominently Professor Beatriz Magaloni and her colleagues at PovGov have been researching and offering policy solutions specifically on police violence in comparative perspective for many years. More broadly, the Program on American Democracy in Comparative Perspective at CDDRL has conducted research and proposed reforms of the American system of government. Throughout the institution, many other individual scholars have made contributions to the study of these issues, as well as issues of food insecurity, unequal access to healthcare, and voting rights, to name only some of what we do at FSI. I am grateful to have these scholars and their research at FSI and we can use this as a basis on which to build more work on racial justice and inequality. I was also excited to hear today about other ideas on how FSI as a community can contribute more on these issues in the future.

Statements of outrage or highlighting the work of individuals, however, is not enough. FSI as an institution also needs to reexamine our research priorities and policy outreach efforts, and also interrogate our own commitment to diversity and social justice in all that we do, including staff and faculty hiring, student admissions, curriculum development, and programmatic activities. FSI is a non-partisan institution, committed to producing world-class research to inform and shape public policy debates, as well as teaching future global leaders. We can remain committed to this core mission while also reflecting on our institutional responsibilities for addressing racial injustice and promoting diversity, not only internationally, but also within Encina Hall. I find it particularly problematic, for example, that we have failed to retain Black senior fellows, researchers and lecturers, and that we currently have only one Black senior fellow (by courtesy) at FSI. We as an institution do not have in place adequate spaces or training to discuss race. We as an institution exist within a constrained context — including mostly joint hires with other parts of the university; a mission to focus on international studies, distinguished from other programs, centers, and departments on campus dedicated to domestic public policy issues; and now an immediate financial challenge triggered by COVID-19. But even within these constraints, we as an institution — not just as individuals — must do more now to nurture intellectual inquiry, research, teaching and policy outreach on race, since racial issues permeate so many of the subjects we already study. We must do better.

We started today. I greatly appreciate all the important feedback and ideas that we just received, including, maybe most of all, the importance of humility and listening. We will continue this discussion in the days, weeks and months ahead. And, we can take some additional small first steps right away. On Thursday, June 11, Master’s in International Policy (MIP) Director Francis Fukuyama will be hosting a Town Hall discussion for MIP students to discuss MIP’s role and responsibilities in addressing racial injustice, including curriculum issues, admissions and anything else of concern. Beginning this summer, we will devote some of our FSI seminars on Zoom and our podcast, World Class, to these questions. Dr. Didi Kuo, associate director for research at CDDRL, will launch a working group on Building (Racially) Inclusive Democracies. The working group centers racial injustice as a democratic problem, and draws lessons from comparative work on policing and violence, subnational authoritarianism, inequality in ethnically divided societies, and related topics to inform policy solutions in the United States. This summer, we will launch a task force on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion to examine how FSI can better advance the battle against race-based injustices, both by increasing diversity within FSI faculty, staff and students, and expanding racial justice work within our mission to improve governance, security, international development and global health. If you would like to participate, please be in touch with me directly. FSI also will engage actively in the various new projects related to these issues that are being initiated by Stanford’s president and provost. Others just now, but also in emails and letters already have suggested additional ideas worth exploring such as greater racial diversity of those who teach our MIP classes, hiring a diversity officer, greater efforts to recruit more students from underrepresented backgrounds, and hiring lecturers and senior fellows to teach more courses on race relations, state coercion and human rights from a global perspective.

If you have other ideas, either big or small, please send them my way.

Thanks again for participating in this conversation. Keep engaging!

Mike McFaul
Director, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies

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