A week after protestors and DEI Dean Tirien Steinbach shut down Judge Kyle Duncan’s talk at Stanford Law School, the question is why did this fiasco unfold the way it did? Why was Steinbach there in the first place? Why did administrators not do anything? Why were protesters so insistent on getting Steinbach to speak?
Both public information and new evidence uncovered in my investigation suggest that Steinbach's intervention was planned in collusion with the protest and that administrators failed to remove the disruptive students due to favoritism rather than negligence.
Throughout the event, protesters showed signs of knowing that Steinbach would be delivering her speech. Within seconds of Steinbach asking to “say something,” students instantly drowned the entire room with vicious shrieks of “Let her speak!” One student yelled “This is not your court!” and another, ironically, evoked free speech rights, shouting “You’re gonna censor her speech!” At this point, Steinbach had said that she merely wanted to “answer [Judge Duncan’s] question [about whether the disruption was appropriate]…to this room because [Judge Duncan is] asking it to the room as well.”
Setting aside the odd reasoning behind this request, it is clear that any bystander would be completely unaware that Steinbach was going to be defending the protesters in the first place: after all, her job was to enforce Stanford’s free speech policy, which prohibits disruptions that prevent the “effective carrying out of a University function or approved activity…” In fact, as I discuss later in this piece, Steinbach was actually reputed to be too close with the Federalist Society. And yet, every protester somehow knew that she would be vouching for them.
Moreover, protesters knew that Steinbach would be making a specifically ideological defense of their cause. After Steinbach asked once more to “say something to [Judge Duncan],” another student—presumably a leader of the protest given that he sat at the front of the room next to the other leaders—shouted: “If you want a marketplace of ideas, you have gotten what you wanted—take it! Like do you want an echo chamber? What’s the issue?” Again: how exactly did this student know that Steinbach would be delivering an ideological criticism of Judge Duncan?
Every source I have spoken to reported being perplexed and confused by what was unfolding before them. To the uninitiated, it was not even remotely clear what Steinbach meant by ‘answering questions to the room.’ In fact, Judge Duncan himself had this same reaction: in response to Steinbach saying “I’m an associate dean and I would love to answer your question,” Judge Duncan responded, “to me?” Likewise, after Steinbach stated “I would like to help. Can I help?” Judge Duncan skeptically asked, “In what way?” Considering that this was a completely unprecedented situation, Judge Duncan’s reaction was completely normal. The protesters, on the other hand, seemed to know something that Judge Duncan did not.
Yet another sign of collusion was revealed after Steinbach’s speech. As Steinbach concluded her remarks, students immediately began leaving the room. This was before Denni Arnold, one leader of the protest, asked: “half the folks [to] walk out in protest.” Of course, it is standard for protesters to plan some walk-outs in advance. But how did students know to walk out right after Steinbach’s speech? It is highly unlikely that they had been responding to Steinbach’s comment that “[they] do not need to stay here if this is not where [they] want to be.” Protesters already knew that and they had been comfortably heckling for the past twenty minutes. The only realistic way that protest planners could have coordinated the walk-out around Steinbach’s speech was if they had known about the speech beforehand.
After all, Steinbach did plan her stunt in advance. After ousting Judge Duncan from the podium at the event, Steinbach recited a pre-written speech. In other words, Steinbach knew the entire time that she would be speaking to the entire room—and, considering how the protesters behaved, protesters knew as well.
Why would Steinbach go to such lengths to publicly shake Judge Duncan? According to an SLS source, the Federalist Society event with Nadine Strossen in January was moderated by none other than Steinbach herself (Ironically, the topic of discussion was “free speech and election law”). During the event, Steinbach was “seen [by the left] to be too accommodating.” As per the same source, it is hard to ignore the possibility that “part of her calculus [in deciding to disrupt Judge Duncan’s speech] was that it put her back on the right side [with this group of people].”
If you take a step back, it becomes clear that what really happened was far uglier than initially thought. This was not a protest run amok. A Stanford administrator colluded with SLS students to prevent a federal judge from speaking on campus. Protesters rode the wave, feverishly snapping along the way. With this level of planning—some explicit and some more subtle—the event was doomed to fail from the start: what happened on Thursday was not the product of negligent miscalculation, but a ‘set-up’ par excellence.