Stanford Law School has announced its associate dean of diversity is on leave, the latest fallout from an event that brought a Trump-appointed judge — and 100 student protestors — to the university earlier this month.
Stuart Kyle Duncan, a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, was invited to speak on “Guns, COVID and Twitter” on March 9 by the law school’s Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian group.
Duncan, who has argued against marriage equality and other LGBTQ+ rights in the past, was met with a flurry of posters, boos and heated comments from student groups both in and outside the classroom where the talk was held.
In a 10-page letter to the Stanford Law School community last week, law school Dean Jenny Martinez wrote that Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach is on leave, but did not say whether that was voluntary or mandatory. The Stanford Daily reported that Steinbach stepped in less than half an hour into Duncan’s remarks. But instead of quelling the crowd, she raised questions of her own.
“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,” said Steinbach, speaking at the event. “I still ask: is the juice worth the squeeze?”
Eventually, the jeers from the crowd led to Duncan’s departure from the podium — but not without his own jabs back. A video from the event shows Duncan calling a student “an appalling idiot,” a statement he later stood behind in an op-ed published by The Wall Street Journal.
In the weeks since, Martinez and university president Marc Tessier-Levigne sent a letter of apology to Duncan, stating that the disruptions at the event were “inconsistent with our policies on free speech.” In a subsequent 10-page letter to the law school community, Martinez denounced the actions of both student protestors and administrators at the event.
But for many students, Martinez’s statement — and her apology to Duncan — have only stirred up more anger. Posters were taped across the whiteboard of one of her classes, reading statements like “COUNTER-SPEECH IS FREE SPEECH” and “WE, THE STUDENTS IN YOUR CONSTITUTIONAL LAW CLASS, ARE SORRY FOR EXERCISING OUR 1ST AMENDMENT RIGHTS.”
In return, the Stanford College Republicans began posting the names, emails and photographs of student protestors on Facebook, encouraging the group’s followers to “demand an apology…for their promulgation of fascist practices.”
It’s not the first time students in the Bay Area have grappled with free speech on college campuses, and which voices should be allowed to be heard. In February 2017, planned protests that turned violent at UC Berkeley — the 1964 birthplace of the Free Speech Movement — led to the cancellation of an event featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right Breitbart columnist who had called feminism a cancer and rape culture a fantasy. Yiannopoulos was also blocked from speaking at UC Davis in January 2017 after heated, non-violent protests.
Those feelings are not unique to California. Last fall, a survey of 45,000 college students found that the majority of students do not support allowing a speaker to come to campus if they say the 2020 Presidential election was stolen, abortion should be completely illegal, Black Lives Matter is a hate group, or transgender people “have a mental disorder.” The survey was conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, an advocacy and litigation group.
Though no Stanford students will be expelled for speaking out, the law school will be holding a mandatory half-day training session on “freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession” for students next quarter, according to Martinez’s letter. Administrators will also be receiving additional training on how to respond to disruption during such events.
“Just as doctors in training must learn to face suffering and death and respond in their professional role, lawyers in training must learn to confront injustice or views they don’t agree with and respond as attorneys,” wrote Martinez.
Neither Martinez nor Duncan could be reached for immediate comments.
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