Peter Thiel Makes Sure His Kids Are All Right

(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for New York Times)

Some people never leave college behind; the philosophies they develop as an undergrad stay with them for a lifetime. For Peter Thiel, that means periodically revisiting his 30-year-old love child, The Stanford Review, to make sure the magazine he founded in 1987 still has the independent streak that disrupts the status quo on campus

The Review was where Thiel could test out his formative contrarian options, “generally reflecting on his vision for the paper as a vehicle for stirring the pot and breaking up politically correct platitudes,” writes Andrew Granato in his Stanford Politics profile of Thiel’s relationship with the student magazine.

Although Thiel hasn’t been the editor-in-chief of the magazine since 1989, he still keeps an eye on his baby. This means giving money to the Review — lots and lots of money — and checking in from time to time in person. “Thiel continues to meet with the publication’s editors,” writes Granato, “and he is substantially more open with them about his beliefs than he is with the general public, including on highly controversial issues like race and immigration.”

Highlighting both the intimacy and exclusivity of these gatherings, one email invitation to such an event in 2015, shared by a former editor, reads in part: “Hi, We will be having a Review dinner at Peter Thiel’s house next Wednesday…This is not an open invite; please do not talk about this opportunity with anyone else, especially at the [Review staff] meetings.”

Thiel’s influence on the autonomous Review’s on-campus activity should not be overstated: Students are always in control of the paper, and Thiel does not attempt to orchestrate their conduct. The great majority of The Review’s activity involves its independent writing and reporting on the issues of the day and its weekly meetings, which often feature boisterous political debates. (Amy Shen ’18, the current executive editor, says she enjoys the meetings as a place where “you are judged on the basis of your ideas and nothing else.”)

But Thiel does occasionally host dinners and reunions with Review editors at local restaurants as well as his home in San Francisco, give suggestions of issues to focus on, donate money, and de facto lead a burgeoning network of alumni concentrated in Silicon Valley, many of whom have worked with or for Thiel directly.

As one former editor put it, “[Thiel] sees The Review as his people.”

Speaking about Thiel, many Review and ex-Review affiliates insisted on anonymity. They clearly respect him. Mackenzie Yaryura ’17, a former editor-in-chief, says, “my only experience is that [Thiel’s] been really welcoming, really interesting, being willing to answer questions and share knowledge.”

To what degree does Thiel still care about The Review’s activities on campus?

One former editor believed “he obviously had zero interest in getting to know us as individuals. He was there to figure out what was going on on the campus.” Harry Elliott voiced that “to be honest the thing which most Review alums are really interested in, not just or specifically Peter, is: they want to know what the issues de jour are, what the average Stanford student is like, and what we are doing to try and ensure that viewpoints that are usually not heard as heard.”

Read the story