In December 2020, Google terminated Dr. Timnit Gebru as technical co-lead of the Ethical Artificial Intelligence Team after Google management engaged in a flawed review process and demanded that she withdraw an as-yet-unpublished paper exposing racism embedded in Google algorithms.
Dr. Gebru responded by describing censorship of this sort as inconsistent with her working at Google. Google intentionally misconstrued that reply as itself a letter of resignation and terminated her employment: Google has no room for whistleblowers.
There has already been widespread criticism of Google’s firing of its AI Ethics team, including a petition on Medium signed by 2,695 Google staff members and 4,302 outside parties expressing support for Dr. Gebru.
Stanford prepares many students to work at Google and similar companies, but Stanford also requires its undergraduates to meet a requirement in Ethical Reasoning. Moreover, Stanford protects the intellectual freedom and integrity of researchers and requires a transparent evaluation process. Stanford therefore has a responsibility to protest against major employers of our students when such companies undermine research and respond punitively to ethical criticisms, especially concerning the exposure of racist practices.
In the past, Stanford has banned military recruitment on campus due to former policies hostile to LGBTQ individuals. By the same token, Stanford should ban Google recruitment from campus until it offers to rehire Dr. Gebru and her AI Ethics team at their former level of employment and salaries, and responds adequately to their criticisms. It is time for Stanford to make its ethical principles clear as well.
We therefore request that the Senate of the Academic Council adopt a resolution calling on the administration to prohibit Google from recruiting on campus until the above conditions are met. This prohibition would send a clear signal to industry that Stanford expects recruiters on campus to meet the high ethical standards to which we hold ourselves.
Students can work for whomever they please. But organizations that recruit on campus must allow their researchers transparent peer review and intellectual freedom.