Perhaps the only thing uglier than the Stanford Law School building is the events that took place there on Thursday. The Stanford Federalist Society’s event with Kyle Duncan, a judge on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was disrupted by a mob of unruly law students and a Stanford DEI Dean who prevented the judge from speaking entirely. The Federalist Society routinely invites Circuit Court judges to give talks on a variety of legal topics. This time Duncan spoke on “Covid, Guns, and Twitter.”
Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez rightly apologized to Judge Duncan on Saturday, stating that “what happened was inconsistent with our policies on free speech.” But at the center of the debacle was not the group of unruly law students, but Stanford Law School’s own Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach.
After constant heckling, Judge Duncan asked for an administrator, hoping to calm the unruly crowd. However, Dean Steinbach took the podium with a notebook and prepared remarks, ready to slam Duncan as well. “Your work has caused harm… and I know that must be uncomfortable to hear,” she told him. This time, when Judge Duncan tried to interject, the students shouted, “let her finish!” and Steinbach finished her speech with ease.
Steinbach stated her supposed commitment to free speech: “Me and many people in this administration do absolutely believe in free speech,” (note how she said many people and not all people, perhaps a Freudian slip), “We believe that it is necessary. We believe that the way to address speech that feels abhorrent, that feels harmful, that literally denies the humanity of people—that one way to do that is with more speech and not less. And not to shut you down or censor you.”
Yet Steinbach did censor Judge Duncan. She even sympathized with the movement to end free speech on campus—protected by the First Amendment and the Leonard Law, something one would expect a Law School Dean to know—saying, “I understand why people feel like the harm is so great that we might need to reconsider those policies. And luckily they’re in a school where they can learn the advocacy skills to advocate for those changes.” And she ended by encouraging the protests: “I’m really grateful to be in this institution. I look out and I don’t ask ‘what is going on here?’ I look out and I say, ‘I'm glad this is going on here.’” The biggest perpetrator of the incident was not the group of students, but the Stanford administrator who actively encouraged students to go against Stanford’s free speech policy.
Stanford’s apology to Duncan stated the obvious: this shouldn’t have happened. Judge Duncan graciously accepted the apology. In doing so, he reiterated that he never should have been shouted down in the first place and that staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so. He reiterated how poor the behavior of Steinbach was, stating that “the administrators’ behavior was completely at odds with the law school’s mission of training future members of the bench and bar.” The apology also said that Stanford would take steps to ensure this does not happen again. However, it is unclear what Stanford plans to do to prevent such disruption in the future. Firing Dean Steinbach is a good start.
The university’s apology will be completely meaningless unless concrete actions are taken to rid the administration of anti-speech zealots. Stanford claims that they “are taking steps to ensure that something like this does not happen again.” If Stanford cares about free speech, it must fire any administrator who actively encourages these unruly actions against it. Someone who is so eager, at the behest of an unruly mob, to shut down free speech, which Stanford itself considers “a bedrock principle for the law school, the university, and a democratic society,” has no place as a Stanford dean. She helped engineer chaos with her email before the event, delivered prepared remarks interrupting his speech, took the spotlight for herself, and has shown no remorse since.
Indeed, we at the Review are concerned about what example this sets for these future lawyers, judges, and Supreme Court Justices. Amidst the screaming and heckling, crude signs read “Judge Duncan can’t find the clit.” Meanwhile, Steinbach seemed to have little objection. “I’m glad this is going on here,” she said. If these law students are to be trained for bench and bar, it certainly should be with a deep respect for the bedrock principle of free speech. Steinbach’s actions not only degrade the principles of free speech but degrade the prestige and reputation of Stanford Law School itself.