Niall Ferguson leaves Stanford role after ordering ‘opposition research’ on a student in free speech row

Niall Ferguson, the prominent British historian, has left his role with a Stanford university free speech initiative after leaked emails showed him suggesting "opposition research" be carried out on a left-wing student.

Ferguson resigned from a leadership position on the Cardinal Conversations programme at at the institution in California, which invites guest speakers from across the political spectrum to give talks.

The academic said he had made an "error of judgment" but had been "deeply concerned" by the reaction on campus against a talk by Charles Murray, the controversial social scientist, who spoke on February 22.

Ferguson said he acted because he believed the Cardinal Conversations programme was being taken over by "elements fundamentally hostile to free speech".

His resignation from the programme’s committee came against a background of controversy over free speech at universities in the US and UK.

Last month Sam Gyimah, the British higher education minister, warned against left-wing bias on campuses, "institutional hostility” to unfashionable views, and the "danger of a mono-culture" where only certain views were accepted.

Ferguson's leaked emails showed him in communication with conservative students including the president of Stanford College RepublicansCredit:
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In the US last year Berkeley cancelled speeches by two conservative political commentators after protesters set fires and caused $100,000 in damage.

Ferguson’s leaked emails, published by The Stanford Daily, showed him in communication with conservative students including John Rice-Cameron, president of Stanford College Republicans, who is the son of Barack Obama’s former national security adviser Susan Rice.

A subject of discussion was left-wing activist student Michael Ocon, who was referred to as "Mr O".

In one email Ferguson wrote that “some opposition research on Mr. O might also be worthwhile" and a research assistant replied they would "get on the opposition research for Mr. O."

Opposition research is the practice of collecting information on a political opponent or other adversary that can be used to discredit or otherwise weaken them.

In another Ferguson wrote: “Now we turn to the more subtle game of grinding them down on the committee. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."

Rice-Cameron, added: "Slowly, we will continue to crush the Left’s will to resist, as they will crack under pressure."

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Ferguson suggested that the original Cardinal Conversations steering committee "should all be allies against O. Whatever your past differences, bury them. Unite against the SJWs (social justice warriors)."

He also indicated that someone with a position at a Christian student publication was "especially good and will intimidate them".

The Cardinal Conversations initiative was launched in January as a "thought-provoking community discussion of key issues across the political spectrum".

Ferguson, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and at the Center for European Studies, Harvard, said his emails had been prompted by the opposition to Murray’s visit.

In a statement to The Telegraph he said: "I very much regret the publication of these emails. I also regret having written them.   

"Having put a great deal effort into creating and organising Cardinal Conversations, I was deeply concerned by the events before, during and after the event that took place on February 22.

"It seemed to me that the Cardinal Conversations student steering committee was in danger of being taken over by elements that were fundamentally hostile to free speech."

He added: "It was, however, rash of me to seek to involve the Stanford Republicans, and reckless to use such inflammatory language. Realising subsequently that I had made a serious error of judgment, I resigned from Cardinal Conversations.

"I remain hopeful that Cardinal Conversations will continue to foster free speech on the Stanford campus."

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