A group of Stanford professors are fighting back against a woke online tool that lets students anonymously report each other for discrimination.
More than 75 professors argue in a petition to school administrators that the online tool threatens free speech on campus, with one telling the Wall Street Journal it reminded him of systems in place in the Soviet Union and China.
The Maxient reporting system, employed at 1,300 institutions around the country, has already been challenged by free speech advocates in Florida, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma.
It has apparently made Aaron Hark, 42, a millionaire, owning a $900,000 dollar home in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his family’s own vineyard.
Hark set up the firm with wife Celeste, 41, with the pair now enjoying the fruits of their woke tattle-tale software in more ways than one.
Back at Stanford, school administrators say the system is necessary to ensure a respectful campus, despite criticism that it is creepy and Orwellian.
Russell Berman, a professor of comparative literature created a petition calling on Stanford University to investigate free speech and academic freedom on campus after becoming aware of an online tool that allows students to anonymously report their peers for discrimination
The school has been using the third-party system since 2021, when it became widely used at universities across the country for students to report their colleagues who were not wearing masks.
But university professors said they did not know of the system, run by third=party contractor Maxient, until the school newspaper reported on an incident in which a student was reported for reading Mein Kampf.
‘I was stunned,’ Russell Berman, a professor of comparative literature who created the petition, told the Journal. ‘It reminds me of McCarthyism.’
According to the company’s website, Maxient is the ‘software of choice for managing behavior records at colleges and universities across North America.
‘Our centralized reporting and record-keeping helps institutions connect the dots and prevent students from falling through the cracks,’ it says, noting: ‘Maxient serves as an integral component of many schools overall early alert efforts, helping to identify students in distress and coordinate the efforts of various departments to provide follow-up.’
Maxient was founded in 2003 and is now being used at more than 1,300 institutions across the United States.
At Stanford, students can use the system to report a Protected Identity Harm Incident, which is defied as conduct targeting an individual or group on the basis of characteristics like race or sexual orientation.
The system defaults to anonymous reporting, allowing students to describe how they saw bias, which would trigger an inquiry within 48 hours.
Both parties are then contacted, but participation in the inquiry is optional. Administrators would then work with the students to resolve the matter.
Only Maxient and a small number of people within the student affairs office have access to records, Stanford spokeswoman Dee Mostofi said, though she declined to say how long the records are stored.
A dashboard maintained by the school, though, the Journal reports, lists a few incidents students have reported using the anonymous system, including the removal of an Israeli flag and a racial slur written on a white board hanging on a dorm room door.
Stanford University has been using the Maxient system since 2021, allowing students to anonymously report a Protected Identity Harm Incident
School officials say it is necessary to maintain a peaceful and respectful campus
It is meant to ‘build and maintain a better, safer and more respectful campus community,’ according to the Stanford’s website.
As Mostofi explained to the Journal: ‘The process aims to promote a climate of respect, helping build understanding that much speech is protected while also offering resources and support to students who believe they have experienced harm based on a protected identity.”
Professor Juan Santiago helped Berman collect 77 faculty signatures, saying that the system could make students with differing view points feel ostracized
DailyMail.com has reached out to her for clarification about her assertion that ‘much speech is protected.’
And senior Christian Sanchez, the executive vice president of Associated Students of Stanford University, the school’s student government, said he believes the system is necessary, noting that he bristles when another student refers to him as ‘G,’ short for gangster because he is Latino.
Sanchez told the Journal he lets those comments slide off his back, but the Maxient system provides less thick-skinned students a path for redress.
‘People need to be aware of what they’re saying and who they’re saying it to,’ he said. ‘There are a lot of instances of stereotyping,’ he said, ‘and people should have a resource to report it if they want to.’
But free speech advocates say the system is draconian, with Stanford mechanical engineering Professor Juan Santiago saying it could make students with differing view points feel ostracized.
‘If you’re an 18-year-old freshman and you get contacted by an administrator and told you’ve been accused of some transgression, what are you going to do?’ he asked, rhetorically.
‘They may not call that punitive, but that can be very stressful.’
Santiago has since helped Berman collect 77 faculty signatures to petition the school to investigate free speech and academic freedom on campus, the first step in getting rid of the Maxient system at the school.
Among them was Professor Ivan Marinovic, who said the system reminds him of the way residents in the Soviet Union, East Germany and China were encouraged to alert authorities of anti-government rhetoric.
‘It ignores the whole history,’ said Marinovic, a business professor at the school. ‘You’re basically going to be reporting people who you find offensive, right? According to your own ideology.’
The Maxient system was created in 2003 by Aaron Hark, 42. He is pictured with his wife Candice and his two children
The Harks own a sprawling nearly 5,000-square-foot four bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home in Charlottesville, Virginia worth an estimated $900,000
The system is still being used at other schools as well, including at the University of California’s 10 campuses.
During the 2021 – 2022 school year, the university system recorded 457 acts of ‘intolerance or hate.’ Nearly 300 of those reports were defined as using offensive speech.
The University of California said those incidents include ‘gestures, taunts, mockery, unwanted jokes or teasing and derogatory or disparaging comments of a biased nature.’
Free speech advocacy groups like the Goldwater Institute, the Foundation for Individual rights and Expression and the Alumni Free Speech Alliance have challenged the system at other schools.
As a result, the universities of Texas, Michigan and Central Florida all disbanded their systems.
And an ongoing legal case against Oklahoma State University for using a bias response system lists three students as plaintiffs.
They say in court documents that they do not believe abortion, same-sex marriage or affirmative action should be practiced, and think the Black Lives Matter movement to race relations.
But, they argue, they are afraid to discuss their views publicly on campus out of fear of being reported to the school’s bias response team by students who disagree with them.
In 2015, the couple bought 70 acres of open land to build their own vineyard
Hark Vineyards advertises that it provides ‘spaces for gatherings as well as quietude’
Meanwhile, the man who created the system seems to be doing well for himself.
Aaron Hark owns a sprawling nearly 5,000-square-foot four bedroom, four-and-a-half bathroom home in Charlottesville, Virginia worth an estimated $900,000.
And he and his wife, Candice, also run their own vineyard in the city.
The website for Hark Vineyards says Aaron and Candice first bought the original 70-acres in 2015.
‘In the years since,’ it says, ‘the land has been methodically cultivated to maximize the site’s winegrowing potential, create spaces for gatherings as well as quietude and bring to life the vision that is Hark Vineyards.’