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Liberal-conservative debate at Stanford's Hoover Institute

By Leon LindsayStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 28, 1983

Palo Alto, Calif.

''You built the knowledge base that made the changes now taking place in Washington possible.'' Franklin D. Roosevelt to members of his New Deal ''brain trust''? Or John F. Kennedy to the two-score Harvard University scholars who helped shape the New Frontier?

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No. The words were addressed by Ronald Reagan to the overseers of Stanford University's Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. The occasion was a White House reception in January 1982, just a year after President Reagan initiated his own conservative revolution in Washington.

Now Mr. Reagan's praise is being turned against the institute established by Herbert Hoover in 1919 and built on the unique materials he collected in a career of distinguished service to the United States and the world. It is cited by critics as an indication that the institute has become, in the words of one, ''a political and partisan organization.''

On the basis of that charge - and others alleging that the Hoover Institution has too much influence on faculty appointments and has amassed too much money and power - the Stanford faculty senate passed a resolution May 26. It urged university president Donald Kennedy ''to consult with the board of trustees with a view to appointing a committee in the near future to explore and reassess the relations between the Hoover Institution and the university, with the goal of promoting more effective and cooperative relations.''

Dr. Kennedy has indicated that such a panel will be recommended to the trustess in the fall.

Dr. Glenn Campbell, director of the institute since being chosen by Herbert Hoover in 1959, is as unwavering in his pride over Reagan's praise as he is in his conviction that any ''reassessment'' will only confirm the institution's value to Stanford and the nation. He also asserts that the phrase ''explore and reassess'' in the faculty resolution replaced the wording of a petition presented by 50 faculty members urging ''an immediate and independent inquiry including a public report.''

The faculty senate, the plain-spoken Dr. Campbell says, ''threw the petitioners a bone.''

Aside from the ''local'' aspects of the controversy at Stanford - which unsurprisingly include elements of campus politics as well as legitimate concerns - is its relevance to a little-publicized, but quietly increasing debate over two matters affecting the character of higher education in the United States: (1) the growing number and influence of ''institutes'' affiliated with colleges and universities; (2) the relationship between academia and such ''outside'' entities as businesses, government, and political parties.

Prof. John Manley of Stanford's political science department, a leader of the present attack on the Hoover Institution, voices a concern expressed by academicians on other campuses when he says the university may be in danger of losing its ''reputation and legitimacy among the American public'' if it appears to have compromised ''the values of objectivity, nonpartisanship, and the nonpolitical search for knowledge.''

In the past, however, this concern has been raised almost entirely in connection with relationships between academicians and industries - acceptance of research grants, consulting, entrepreneurial arrangements, and the financing by private business of certain research facilities.