Report on the Hoover Institution and Stanford University

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Presentation to the Faculty Senate

February 11, 2021

Professors Joshua Landy, Stephen Monismith, David Palumbo-Liu, David Spiegel

Click Here for Audio Recording of Meeting with the Faculty Senate

Introduction

We begin today by offering our condolences to the Hoover community and the family of George Schultz on his passing.

We acknowledge the real benefits the Hoover Institution brings to Stanford—its many excellent fellows, such as George Schultz, the help it gives Stanford in terms of recruiting important scholars, and of course its priceless archives.

We were also interested in many of the initiatives Director Rice outlined. We see the present moment as a real opportunity to address what the future relationship between the Hoover and Stanford might be. Although we will name problems, we are optimistic that with the proper information to guide us, we might enter a new and better historical era in this relationship.

As Director Rice pointed out, this relationship has long been the topic of discussion and debate, and today we find ourselves at another such moment.

Needless to say, given what has occurred in our country—and in the world—for these past four years, the last thing any of us want is more polarization, more hardening of positions, and more enmity, especially amongst ourselves in the Stanford community.

Nevertheless, as Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “Peace is not the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.”

We are here today to show how some aspects of the Hoover work not only to the detriment of Stanford, but also in fact to the detriment of the Hoover’s aspirations to be truly excellent, aspirations which we wish them the very best in achieving. We regard our presentation as a way to signal where weaknesses lie and where improvements might be made to make sure the relationship between the Hoover and Stanford University can progress and grow in ways that benefit both.

We envision a relationship that could, in fact, be dynamic, interactive, and mutually beneficial not because we are exactly the same, but precisely because we are not exactly the same. Sharp debates between people who are well-informed, armed with opinions based on facts, and willing to give and take, are invigorating and help us learn from each other. Some of this occurs already, and that shows a potential that has only barely been tapped.

But too much of what we have seen coming out of the Hoover has made a travesty of honest intellectual debate, because an excess of partisanship has led some Hoover fellows out of the realm of fact, science, and good faith argumentation.

We understand that you may well have come to this meeting thinking it will be an angry partisan attack.  We acknowledge that such thoughts are understandable: members of our group have been vocal about our criticisms of the Hoover, and we stand by those criticisms.

However, that is not the point of this particular meeting, and our role today is not as critics of the Hoover but as members of the Stanford faculty who are going to lay before you facts that unfortunately were absent from Director Rice’s presentation two weeks ago, facts that we feel warrant consideration by an impartial, objective committee. 

This committee will be entirely your creation, the creation of the Faculty Senate. And we will want it to do its work with autonomy and in good faith.  If it ends up deciding no adjustment needs to be made to the Hoover-Stanford relationship, then at least we’ll know we have put these concerns through an objective and fair process. 

Not only Stanford, but the Hoover as well might benefit from receiving, through an impartial body, information and ideas that will make the relationship between the two optimal, and remove all sources of friction and misunderstanding, on both parts.

With that in mind, let us now begin our formal presentation.

Partisan Think-Tank

One of the fundamental difficulties we see is that while Stanford is an academic research institution, we believe that theHoover is a partisan think-tank, and this has deep consequences with regard to the way each defines the roles its citizens should play.

To be sure, not all instances of this are problematic. But some are so problematic that to move forward without addressing them would be a disservice both to Stanford and to the Hoover. We believe you will agree.

In her presentation to the Senate, Director Rice claimed that the Hoover is not a partisan think-tank, and that its mission statement merely articulates “values,” just like those of the Clayman Institute or the School for Sustainability. We believe there’s actually a big difference. The values pursued at those institutes—sustainability, for example—are values held by the university as an institution and articulated by the administration.

Consider, by contrast, the values enshrined in the Hoover’s founding documents and mission statements. SLIDE 2 

In 1959, Herbert Hoover established the HooverInstitution of War, Revolution, and Peace on the basis of the idea that, quote,“the Federal government should undertake no governmental, social or economic action, except where local government, or the people, cannot undertake it for themselves.”

The Hoover’s official mission statement, as you can see, echoes this claim, and clarifies that part of its mission is, quote, to “limit government intrusion into the lives of individuals.”  SLIDE 3 

We see such language echoed again in the 2018 Strategic Plan, which returns to, quote, “private enterprise and limited representative government.”   SLIDE 4 

The Fellows page goes even further.  SLIDE 5

Here we are told that Hoover fellows are“advancing public policy interests to promote free markets [and] limited government.”

This makes the Hoover very different not only from Stanford generally but also from other institutions on campus, such as the Freeman Spogli Institute, which explicitly separates itself from ideological commitments for the sake of objectivity and scholarly research. SLIDE 6 

It also differentiates the Hoover from institutes like the Clayman, an example proposed by Director Rice. The Clayman’s mission statement speaks of, quote, “advancing equality through gender research,” and describes its “vision for the future” as, quote, “one in which all people—women, men, girls, and boys—will have their contributions valued and voices heard.” SLIDE 7

I think we can all agree that these are values endorsed not just by the Clayman and its fellows but by the university as a whole, as we can see from numerous official statements. To take one example among many, here is Provost Drell’s 2019 statement on gender inclusion. SLIDE 8

It is this, as we see it, that marks the difference between a value-driven research institute and a partisan think-tank. 

We are not, of course, suggesting that allHoover fellows believe in limited government—nor that belief in limited government is intrinsically problematic. We are simply pointing out that this is a partisan position, rather than a politically neutral value endorsed and promoted by the university as an institution.

What’s more, when it comes to those values promoted by the university administration and practiced by the university as a whole—values such as inclusiveness, diversity, equality, and sustainability—some statements by Hoover fellows even imply an adversarial relationship toward them.

HOOVER AGAINST DIVERSITY, GENDER, SUSTAINABILITY

On gender: 

We just saw the university as an institution declare an inclusive attitude toward gender. That attitude is not shared by senior Hoover fellow Harvey Mansfield.    SLIDE 9

In this strange piece, Mansfield suggests that, quote, “feminist women call on the government to supply their needs,” “to avoid the trammels of marriage.”

Mansfield’s statement draws on the Hoover’s commitment to limited government in order to create this scenario critical of feminists.

On diversity:

Another example is diversity. One Hoover fellow suggests that Harvard’s policies—which are arguably similar to Stanford’s—are causing a “lurc[h] toward mediocrity,” and advises us to defer instead to free market reasoning.   SLIDE 10

Again, we find the commitment to free markets stepping well beyond that realm to comment on racial and gender diversity. In its worst cases, some Hoover fellows have the habit of leaving their fields of expertise and knowledge, standing on the Hoover platform, under the Stanford banner, and saying things that oppose Stanford’s values and initiatives. Today we will see example after example of this.

On climate change: 

A third example is one of Stanford’s most recent and heralded initiatives—the School for Sustainability.  SLIDE 11

Hoover fellow John Cochrane accuses it of indoctrination, and thanks heaven that it’s not also a school for diversity and equity.

On History:

Most important are remarks that go directly to the relationship between academic research and partisan policy-making.

Here the prime example is History, as practiced by faculty in Stanford’s History department, or by History faculty elsewhere in the country.

Here is Hoover Fellow Mark Moyar attacking the 1619 Project, which includes contributions by historians Khalil Gibran Muhammad of Harvard and Kevin Kruse of Princeton. SLIDE 12

According to Moyar, this project represents a “harmful influence” that must be “removed.” This is just the first of several instances of hypocrisy when it comes to the Hoover seeking protection under the principles of academic freedom, free speech, and diversity of ideas--here Moyar is advocating the purging of decades of scholarship and replacing it with a partisan message he prefers.

As we now know, the Trump administration produced a response to the 1619 Project, called the “1776”report. This report was lambasted by reputable historians,   SLIDE 13

with James Grossman, the executive editor of the American Historical Association calling it, quote, a “hack job”and as “a work of contentious politics designed to stoke culture wars.”

The Washington Post noted that, quote, “most of those listed as authors lack any credentials as historians.”

One of the committee members for the 1776 report was a Hoover fellow who is indeed a historian--but of classics and military history.  He has, however, no credentials in US history. 

The 1776 Report is precisely the kind of work Moyar was calling for: a revision of history undertaken not by qualified historians of American history but by a combination of non-experts, non-historians, and non-academics. As Grossman remarks: “There are no historians on this commission. Would you take your car to a garage where there’s no mechanic?”   

But when it comes to recent cases of violating academic standards for the sake of partisan advocacy, the most striking is a series of high-profile statements about COVID-19.

THE CASE OF SCOTT ATLAS

Let us start by recalling the words of the 2018 Strategic Plan: the Hoover, it says, stands for “limited representative government.” We think it’s worth considering the meaning of that phrase in the context of our national COVID response. 

The problem we must address is the occurrence of a toxic combination of anti-government bias, pseudoscience, and lack of oversight either by Hoover or Stanford University. Let us start with Hoover Fellow Scott Atlas.

Atlas reportedly called for herd infection. SLIDE 14

He also dismissed the use of masks. SLIDE 15

And he used dangerously provocative language inresponse to Covid restrictions.   SLIDE 16

In an article just published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Former Medical School Dean Pizzo, Professor Michelle Mello of the Law School and I pointed out that Atlas’ speech and actions violated the AMA’s standards for ethical medical conduct.   SLIDE 17

We reiterated the Faculty Senate’s resolution condemning Atlas for violating the core values of our faculty and the expectations under the Stanford Code of Conduct.  And we explained why such a resolution is entirely compatible with academic freedom. SLIDE 18

As we wrote there, “to add speech is not to suppress it”; “even where the First Amendment applies… courts have long held that it does not require officials to remain silent.”

It’s worth noting that Atlas is not an expert in the field of epidemiology, infectious disease, or public health; he is, instead, an emeritus radiologist.

It’s also worth noting that Atlas ended up having the ear of the previous president. On the basis of his statements on Fox News disparaging safety measures and his affiliation with Stanford, he was appointed a member of the Coronavirus Task Force and an implementer of public health policy that discouraged public safety measures and failed to arrange for the efficient distribution of vaccines.

We don’t know how much damage was done by his statements, but on his watch tens of thousands of Americans died.  TheUnited States, the richest and supposedly the most advanced nation in the world has just 4% of the world’s population but 17% of its Sars Co-V-2 deaths. That is currently 462,437 dead Americans, more than twice the number of any other country in the world. Yet despite all this mismanagement and tragedy here his irresponsible statements still are posted on Hoover’s website, under the Stanford banner. SLIDE 19  

You can still find these articles there today.

That fact is all the more astonishing when you consider that the former Dean of the Medical School, Philip Pizzo, was informed he could not put the letter contesting Atlas, signed by more than 100 Stanford faculty experts, on our Medical School website. 

That, apparently, violates Stanford’s standards concerning advocacy; yet the misinformation we find on the Hoover website, apparently, does not, even though we find, as always, the Stanford banner sitting at the top. SLIDE 20

COVID MISINFORMATION FROM OTHER FELLOWS 

Nor is Scott Atlas the only Hoover fellow to have strayed outside his area of expertise and made misleading pronouncements about COVID-19. Another is legal scholar Richard Epstein, who predicted only 500 deaths from the pandemic.  Epstein later claimed he meant five thousand, not five hundred. So even if that carelessness was a ‘mistake,’ the death toll was one hundredfold greater:  462,437 American deaths as of last Sunday.  Is this acceptable Stanford scholarship?  SLIDE 21

A third is Victor Davis Hanson. SLIDE 22

A classicist by training, rather than an epidemiologist or infectious disease expert, Hanson has made numerous statements about COVID-19, including this one that recommends herd immunitywithout mentioning vaccination.

A fourth is a Political Scientist.  SLIDE 23

And if you go to the Hoover’s website, you’ll find yet more non-specialists weighing in on pandemic responses, usually in the same general direction.  It would merely be embarrassing were the consequences not so tragic.

It is worth recalling that Twitter and Facebook have taken concrete steps to counter Covid misinformation. SLIDE 24

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the Hoover, where the articles we mentioned can still be found, with no warning labels attached.

Given that we’ve all known about the issue for some time, that the Med School open letter has been out since September, and that the Senate has censured Atlas, we find this quite surprising.

When the issue came up two weeks ago, DirectorRice spoke of updating the website to emphasize the full range of thought at the Hoover. That is a welcome plan, to be sure, but it falls far short of taking the kind of action that would prevent the spread of dangerous misinformation. 

The steady stream of Covid misinformation coming out of the Hoover, penned by non-experts, has arguably done real reputational damage to Stanford University, as we see here.  SLIDE 25

And it has damaged the public health, too, by fueling discord and doubt about proven public health methods known to contain the spread of a virus, of this virus.

Are Hoover fellows unique in making unfounded claims about Covid-19? No, but there’s a significant difference both in scope and in quality. Dismissive attitudes, as we’ve seen, have been widespread at the Hoover, unlike in other parts of the university; they have come, in good part, from non-experts; and they have sometimes involved straightforward denial of verified fact, such as the efficacy of masks. These unscientific arguments contribute not to the advancement of knowledge but rather to the spread of dangerous misinformation and disease.

 

ACADEMIC FREEDOM IS A PRIVILEGE

Academic freedom is a privilege, and it is dependent on the complementary principle of using knowledge in a responsible manner, and to make the world a better place for everyone.  Former President John Hennessy said this very eloquently in his 2003 Commencement Address: SLIDE 26

“At Stanford, we believe that the rights and privileges of education bring a responsibility to make good use of your knowledge, to change the world for the better and to help ensure that succeeding generations have the same opportunities you have had here at Stanford.” 

Yes, with rights, come responsibilities. We believe that the same should hold at the Hoover.  If Hoover fellows want to lean on the Stanford name, they should take on the responsibility that comes along with that, a responsibility to uphold standards of academic excellence, rather than cutting corners in the service of a partisan agenda. That is not what Jane Stanford had in mind when she spoke of public service.

Novel ideas that upset orthodoxy are crucial to the growth of knowledge and science.  But every paper we write, every grant proposal we submit, depends for its success on a thorough and accurate description of current knowledge in the field as the basis for proposing change.  Without that, papers are not accepted, grants go unfunded.

A discordant idea not built upon a solid foundation of current knowledge is junk science, not real science.  When a clear prediction based upon unorthodox ideas is proven false, that fact must be acknowledged.

Truth has been in short supply in our country recently.  Academic freedom is earned and respected when we set, exemplify, and enforce the standards for it.  Irresponsible speech becomes dangerous when cloaked in the appearance of scientific medical academic discourse that it does not deserve.  Unfortunately, some members of a think tank in the middle of but not part of Stanford University have used Stanford’s name to lend legitimacy to their propagation of misinformation and distortions, rather than as an opportunity to engage with Stanford’s commitment to the free and open development of knowledge.  This repeated combination of political bias with pseudoscience is toxic and has no place at Stanford.  It has brought shame to our University, and has damaged our nation.

 

HOOVER AS A FEEDER OF ALT-RIGHT PROPAGANDA

Most alarming, there’s something else to note about the Covid misinformation featured on Hoover’s website, something that truly tarnishes both Stanford’s reputation and that of the Hoover Institution as well. 

Many of these opinion pieces and pseudo-research papers are directly linked to alt-right media. 

Here’s one example.  SLIDE 27

Notice that we’re still in Hoover webspace here, and at the top you see the Stanford banner. All you have to do is search for Scott Atlas and this will be an article you find. But what happens when you click on it?  SLIDE 28

What happens is that you are taken immediately to the Daily Caller.

For those who do not know, the Daily Caller is a right-wing website started by Tucker Carlson, which has hosted at least one white supremacist as an editor/ writer. SLIDE 29

Carlson broke his association with the Daily Caller precisely because of this and other far-right, anti-Semitic and white supremacist involvements--the Daily Caller proved to be a liability for him.  And yet the Hoover, and by extension Stanford, has maintained this direct link to the Daily Caller. 

The Daily Caller is also cited (along with Russian propaganda organs like RT news, which Atlas also appeared on) in an Oxford University study as a prime source of Covid misinformation.      SLIDE 30

This study calls theDaily Caller a “junk news source,” and warns, I quote, that “leading… academic institutions may... be unwittingly lending junk news sources their online institutional reputation, further enhancing the visibility of those junk news sites.”

Why has the Hoover not, and why has Stanford not been careful enough to notice something we did by simply clicking on a few links on the Hoover website? 

There are plenty of other examples.  Here’s one.  SLIDE 31

Here’s another.   SLIDE 32

And here’s another.  SLIDE 33

We are certain that most of you, and Director Rice, have far better things to do than scour the Hoover website. And yet there has to be some stronger oversight--not for the sake of censorship, but for quality control. 

We are happy to work with Director Rice on these or any other issues, but we do not think it sufficient that the website merely be adjusted, as she suggested last time, to showcase the Hoover’s range. That’s certainly valuable, but it falls far short of exerting quality control when it comes both to recruiting fellows and to curating publications.

 

INSURRECTION

The dangers are not limited to COVID infections and reputational damage. We also need to remember Atlas’s dangerously provocative language about “rising up” in Michigan—a state where, just weeks previously, the governor had been the focus of a kidnapping plot that might have cost her life. 

In this context, it’s vital to mention statements made by Victor Davis Hanson in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election.

We should recall that even William Barr, Attorney General for the Trump administration, said there was no evidence of widespread fraud, and certainly nothing he’d seen that would affect the outcome of the election.

But here is Hanson agreeing that Joe Biden was not elected, but “installed.”   SLIDE 34

Here he is claiming, falsely, that we’d “never heard [the] words” “early voting and mail-in balloting.”  SLID 35 

And here he is saying that today’s voting systems do not allow an accurate count.  SLIDE 36

On social media, such statements have led to warnings and even suspensions. Yet Director Rice has, as far as we know, remained entirely silent about these remarks by Dr.Hanson—someone she referred to, only last September, as one of her go-to people for proper history. And to this day you can find, on the Hoover website, a link to a piece by Hanson from December 31,  SLIDE 37 where he implies that the election may have been, in his words, “unfair or illegitimate.”

Again, to be clear: this false and inflammatory claim sits on the Hoover website, under the Stanford banner, with no cautionary label attached.

We now know that such denials of the legitimacy of the election formed the backdrop to an insurrection that cost 5 lives and threatened the lives of Representatives, Congressional staff, and the Vice President, as well as our constitutional democracy.

Again, these articles are not simply “partisan”or “different opinions.” They are in fact lies, and harmful and even deadly ones at that.

 

WHAT ABOUT FREE SPEECH?

Despite all this, some may still reasonably wonder about the issue of free speech: can’t people just say what they want? Aren’t these pronouncements all well within the right to free speech, as well as within the space of academic freedom? We fully understand the force of that objection, and we are staunch advocates of academic freedom, properly understood. But it needs to be remembered that freedoms and responsibilities often go hand in hand, and we believe it would be helpful to hear as much about academic responsibility as we do about academic freedom.

It also needs to be repeated, since it’s so often forgotten, that academic freedom is not infinite in scope.

For example, faculty are not permitted to publish falsified experimental data; our freedom of speech ends there. SLIDE 38 

Faculty are not permitted to publish plagiarized work; our freedom of speech ends there. SLIDE 39 

And that’s not to mention, of course, categories like hate speech, which are not protected. Our freedom of speech thankfully ends there too.

Even our rights as citizens are not completely limitless.  US law prohibits yelling fire in a crowded theater; it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that it would also prohibit yelling “masks don’t work” in a crowded pandemic. SLIDE 40

Our goal is not for those who promote falsehoods to be subject to disciplinary action, or that they shouldn’t be allowed, in some venue or other, to have their say. All we are saying is that it is highly misleading to present statements of the kind we’ve mentioned as contributing to vigorous intellectual debate. And that giving the implicit imprimatur of Stanford to the Big Lie about the election, or to false or misleading claims about Covid from non-experts, is not only not healthy but frankly dangerous.

 

ATTACK ON FREE SPEECH

There’s actually an irony here, in that it is far from clear that all members of the Hoover have themselves been staunch defenders of intellectual diversity and free speech.  

We’ve already seen Hoover fellow Mark Moyar calling for politicians to, quote, “remove” the 1619 Project. That is not a call for freedom of speech.

But it’s worse than that. In 2018, Hoover fellow Niall Ferguson conspired with College Republicans to conduct ‘opposition research’ on a Stanford undergraduate, this undergraduate being a progressive activist. SLIDE 41

A leaked email fromFerguson speaks of “unit[ing] against the SJWs,” “intimidat[ing] them,” and “grinding them down on the [Cardinal Conversations] committee.”   SLIDE 42

When questioned about it, Ferguson said, astonishingly, that he was doing it in the name of free speech.  SLIDE 43 

Ferguson did not remain on the Cardinal Conversations committee. But the Hoover did not terminate, suspend, or even publicly censure him, despite his suggestion to conduct opposition research on a Stanford student. He is still on the roster today.

Similarly, when epidemiologists, infectious disease and public health experts  at our medical school produced their open letter on COVID-19, Scott Atlas retained an attorney (one of the President’s attornies) who threatened to sue if they did not withdraw the letter they had signed within two days.  SLIDE 44

Neither case indicates a particularly fervent desire for a culture of university-wide free speech.

 

CONCLUSION

Senators, we have set before you our concerns.

Note that we are not proposing to constrain the Hoover.  What we are asking is simply for an impartial committee to be appointed by the Committee on Committees to delve deeper into the relationship between the Hoover and Stanford.

Now some may view this request with suspicion and ask--what are we trying to discover? You may not believe this, but the answer is very simple--the facts.

Only by acting on facts, and not suppositions or biases, can we truly move forward and work together in good faith. If we want to act outside of partisanship, we need a neutral and completely free committee to get the facts it thinks are necessary.

Others might ask a different question: “why now?” Why not wait? Our answer is threefold. First, some of what we’ve seen is connected to recent trends that have led to the loss of human life. Second, as the Provost and others have rightly pointed out, we are at a propitious moment for potential change at the Hoover. And third, Hoover directors have received input from the Senate in previous years, and the necessary changes have not been made. We need to do more, as a university, than has been done before. And we need to do so with urgency. Given what we have shown you, we wonder, if this does not warrant a special study, what will?  We can’t afford to wait.

Some accuse us of singling out the Hoover for attention.

It is not we who ares ingling out the Hoover; it is the Hoover that has singled itself out, and indeed has done so from the start. Here’s what Herbert Hoover, whose directives the Hoover Institution still follows, stipulated at the outset:  SLIDE 45

“The Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace is an independent Institution within the frame of Stanford University. Its relation to the University is that thePresident of the University will propose all appointments, promotions, and the budget of the Institution directly to the Board of Trustees. There will be no reference to any faculty committees between the President and the Trustees.”

Hoover clearly had an advocacy role in mind for his Institution, which, he said, was to be, quote, “no mere library.” And he feared that the academic concerns of faculty would get in the way. He therefore insisted that there be no faculty interference with his plans, or with those of his successors.

As Hoover scholar George H. Nash writes, SLIDE 46

“[Hoover] declared that[public policy institutes] ‘need a strong directing hand of public men,’ lest they slip into professorial control and the wastes of ‘squirrel-cage scholasticism.’”

Hoover’s disdain for faculty and the academic profession clearly stemmed from his belief that faculty and academic scholarship would interfere with his main goal for the Hoover: partisan advocacy. 

You can see from this slide how different the Hoover remains, as contrasted with other institutes connected to Stanford.  SLIDE 47

So the Hoover set itself apart at its founding. It is only rational and reasonable that it be considered, likewise, on its own terms, and in isolation from other institutes on campus. 

We believe that some members of the Hoover community have abused this structural exceptionality—and this freedom from faculty governance—in all the ways we described earlier. Whether in denying science, in denying the truth about the elections, or in other ways, those particular fellows have departed from university-wide standards. They have engaged in partisan advocacy under the Stanford banner, made misformation globally available via alt-right media, caused reputational damage to Stanford, and, quite possibly, contributed to significant public harm.

I will end with this:

A while ago, Persis stood before you and said that the Hoover was us. That statement received mixed reactions.  But after some thought, I can say--yes, and no.  In its finest, most academically and intellectually sound aspects, the Hoover certainly is “us.”  In the aspects we have shown you, it is not.

That said, there is indeed a “we” under which we all fit--our group, you Senators, Condi, and Persis.  No matter what our differences, we stand united against things that damage Stanford's name and the public good.

Today we have a tremendous opportunity to create the best possible arrangement between Stanford and the Hoover--we must not squander it. The first step is to involve the FacultySenate in gathering all the facts that are necessary for an informed assessment and plan for improved relations. 

Thank you for listening. Now here are Stephen Monismith and David Spiegel with our resolution.

 

RESOLUTION 

The following is an outline of the kind of resolution we would like to propose. SLIDE 48