Persis Drell Should Resign as Stanford’s Provost

Edwin Dorsey
9 min readJul 12, 2021

During my time at Stanford, I personally experienced retaliation and corruption by Stanford’s Provost, Persis Drell. Here is a brief summary:

· In 2017, Stanford demanded I take down an article I wrote that criticized Care.com, a donor-affiliated tech company. I refused and repeatedly complained about the incident.

· I was marked as a “person of interest” in a Stanford database and received the lowest housing draw number possible (999 out of 999) my senior year.

· Shortly after I filed a grievance appeal with Provost Drell, her office called other Stanford administrators about me and had my provisional housing revoked.

· As a result of Provost Drell’s retaliation, I spent three weeks living in a motel during my senior year.

· Provost Drell assigned the Dean of Expulsions to meet with me one-on-one to discuss my grievance and her staff suggested I “withdraw” my grievance appeal to regain my provisional housing.

· The Stanford Ethics Office launched an investigation into Provost Drell’s conduct. Two weeks later, without interviewing me, the Ethics Office ended the investigation and only concluded “your claims of retaliation do not fall under the University’s Non-Retaliation policy.”

· Stanford forged a key document and then threatened the employment of the document’s author.

· Provost Drell has engaged in a pattern of misconduct at Stanford.

· In August 2020, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General referred my complaint about Provost Drell’s misconduct to WSCUC, Stanford’s accreditation board. That investigation ended last week.

Update 2/22/2023: You can find additional articles regarding the Stanford administration at TheyMustResign.substack.com

My initial dispute with Stanford began in November 2017. I was researching a publicly-traded babysitting platform called Care.com and read numerous complaints that the company’s background checks were not as robust as advertised. I decided to test the company’s “background check” process by applying as Harvey Weinstein. To my surprise, I was approved, and I documented the whole process:

I shared my research on Twitter. It went viral, the stock fell, and a Care.com board member resigned. A few days later, Stanford’s Dean of Students, Christine Griffith, emailed me with a “request to meet” about “your online activities that could be in violation of the University’s Network Usage Policy.”

The meeting was held in a windowless conference room with Dean Griffith, me, and Michael Duff, Stanford’s head of computer security. They said that they had talked to David Krupinski, Care.com’s co-founder, about my violations of Stanford’s Wi-Fi policy. Dean Griffith called my Wi-Fi violation a “serious violation” because I had broken Care.com’s terms of service while using Stanford Wi-Fi. Stanford suggested I take down my critical article to remedy the situation. I refused.

Dean Griffith also said Stanford’s General Counsel wanted to meet with me about my “serious violation.” I declined.

In a follow-up email, Dean Griffith suggested I could face an Office of Community Standards investigation if Care.com complained again (which would likely happen if I kept my article up).

Care.com has numerous ties to Stanford. At the time, three Care.com board members were Stanford alumni and Care.com’s largest shareholder was Google, whose CFO is on the Stanford board.

I continued to research Care.com using Stanford Wi-Fi and published a follow-up article on the last day of classes. A year later the Wall Street Journal published a front-page article on safety issues at Care.com.

Care.com’s CEO, CFO, and General Counsel all resigned. Dean Griffith is no longer employed by Stanford.

I complained about the Care.com incident to numerous students, professors, and journalists and became a vocal critic of the current Stanford administration. I was marked as a “person of interest” in a Stanford database and received the lowest housing draw number possible — 999 out of 999 — my senior year.

Other peculiarities, errors, and problems followed in my housing process and I ultimately filed a formal grievance about the situation. On November 2, 2019, I appealed the grievance to Provost Drell — that changed everything.

Following my appeal to Provost Drell, I lost access to provisional housing I had been offered. When I asked Klarese Donnelly, the Residence Dean for my dorm, about the situation she said someone from the Provost’s office had called and there was nothing she could do.

After losing my provisional housing I began living off-campus, first with a family friend and then in a motel for three weeks. Provost Drell’s office suggested I could regain my provisional housing by “withdrawing” my grievance. I refused.

I wrote Provost Drell and said that revoking my provisional housing was clear retaliation against me for filing an appeal. For two weeks, Provost Drell ignored emails related to my appeal. Instead, I received multiple unsolicited phone calls from Stanford administrators and was pressured to withdraw my grievance.

After I began living off-campus and made clear I would not withdraw my grievance, Provost Drell sent a letter to Dean Laurette Beeson, the Dean responsible for student expulsions, and asked her to investigate my grievance and claims of retaliation:

Provost Drell wrote, “Mr. Dorsey’s appeal, his original grievance, and the response to it will be forwarded to you under [sic] separately.” I was never given a copy of the “separate” email. I filed a FERPA request for the “separate” email and Stanford said it was protected by attorney-client privilege because Provost Drell had copied a Stanford attorney (but not me) on the email about my grievance. In a letter to regulators, Stanford would later describe Provost Drell’s conduct as “candid and transparent.”

Dean Beeson met with me one-on-one for an hour. The meeting was largely unproductive, and anytime I tried to talk about Provost Drell’s misconduct she pretended not to hear me and moved on to an unrelated question.

Dean Beeson prepared a private report for Provost Drell, which I was not given. Provost Drell used the private report to author a three-page letter to me that was so false that its only purpose was to mislead regulators that review grievances. Provost Drell also wrote that she found “no evidence of retaliation.”

After I received my diploma, I sent a paragraph-by-paragraph response to Provost Drell’s letter to the Stanford Ethics Office and eight members of the Stanford board of trustees. On July 1, 2020, the Stanford Ethics Office confirmed receiving my submission and was “looking into the matter.”

Two weeks later, without interviewing me, the Ethics Office ended the investigation and only concluded “your claims of retaliation do not fall under the University’s Non-Retaliation policy.” Stanford never provided a reason.

Why did it take Stanford two weeks to determine my claims of retaliation did not fall under the University’s Non-Retaliation policy?

Frustrated, I filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General. They assigned a case agent and recommended I contact the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), Stanford’s accreditation board.

In September 2020, I filed a formal complaint with WSCUC and argued my case is just a footnote in the long history of senseless suffering caused by Provost Drell. Below is a copy of my opening statement:

I also began filing FERPA requests for additional information about the Care.com incident and my grievance. FERPA (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) is a Federal law that grants students the right to inspect records maintained by their schools and universities. Stanford was not enthusiastic to respond.

For example, Stanford originally claimed handwritten notes Dean Beeson took in our one-on-one meeting were protected by attorney-client privilege. I pointed out that wasn’t possible. Stanford later claimed that the notes were destroyed. (I have never hired an attorney or threatened litigation.)

I also filed a FERPA request to determine whether Ruth Porat, Google’s CFO and Stanford board member, ever contacted Stanford to complain about me. Stanford declined to answer directly but said any email correspondence about me, if it existed, would have been protected by attorney-client privilege.

Stanford later denied any correspondence from Ms. Porat existed.

The Stanford FERPA Office did allow me to inspect case notes recorded by Klarese Donnelly, the Residence Dean for my dorm. These case notes recorded many of the key events related to my grievance and appeal.

The case note review meeting was done over Zoom. I was asked to show my ID to the camera, show that no recording devices or other people were in the room with me, and was told that screenshots or screen recording were prohibited. When I read the notes, it was as if they had been re-written by a lawyer in the least favorable way possible. Moreover, one of the misleading notes had the wrong year, 2020 instead of 2019, associated with it.

I asked about the incorrect year and requested an email follow-up about it. This is the email about the incorrect year in the case notes:

The events around my grievance all occurred in 2019. It is exceedingly unlikely that Klarese Donnelly recorded the notes in 2019 and mistyped the date as 2020. When is the last time you put a future date on a document?

Instead, I believe sometime after this grievance became an issue with the board and regulators in 2020 and 2021, Stanford went back and altered the case notes. Because the alterations were occurring in 2020 or 2021 it would be easy to get the dates confused and put the current year in place of 2019. When viewed in a mosaic with the other oddities it is more suspicious that the year on a critical case note was wrong and then privately fixed.

I let Stanford’s General Counsel know that I believed the notes had been forged and received no response.

In May 2021, WSCUC asked Stanford to provide a written response to my complaint about Provost Drell’s misconduct. Around the same time, Stanford announced it was “restructuring” its resident dean staff and some of them would be laid off.

In its letter to Stanford, WSCUC asked for a response within 45 days and wrote, “Per Commission policy, Mr. Dorsey will receive a copy of all materials submitted by Stanford University…”

When I received no materials within 45 days, I followed up with WSCUC and was told, “Our policy does not direct us to give the complainant a copy of the response from the institution.”

WSCUC did ultimately give me a copy of Stanford’s response. I provided a detailed response to Stanford’s response one day later but was told my response was not needed.

Last week, WSCUC determined that Stanford “adhered to established procedure” and “did not engage in retaliatory activity against the complainant.” One of the longest-serving and most esteemed commissioners of WSCUC was John Etchemendy. He is Stanford’s former Provost.

If you have information to share, please contact me at edwin@585research.com or Stanford’s Chairman at boardchair@stanford.edu

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