Saturday, March 11, 2023

The Stanford Law disaster involving a FedSoc event with Judge Duncan

UPDATE:  The Stanford President and Dean Martinez in the law school have now issued an appropriate apology for this fiasco, including an acknowledgment (unlike in Dean Martinez's letter to the SLS community) that Dean Steinbach's conduct was inappropriate.

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The video online gives a sense of the chaos and heckling which disrupted the event.  F.I.R.E. offers a summary of the events, as well as a transcript of the peculiar and inappropriate remarks of Dean Steinbach, the DEI Associate Dean at the Law School.

Stanford is a private university, so the Law School could, of course, adopt the rule that they will not permit Republican-appointed judges to speak on campus, and they will not permit a student chapter of the Federalist Society.  They do not do that, I assume for a mix of reasons of principle and prudence.  Moreover, they have a free speech policy that specifically prohibits disrupting speakers invited to campus.

SLS Dean Martinez's letter to the community is posted below the fold.  I do not think it is a particularly good response (it is in the "mistakes were made, but we have good intentions" genre), but readers will judge for themselves.  A better response would have been simpler:

On March 9, students disrupted a speech by a federal judge invited by a student group.  This violates law school policies, and a disciplinary investigation has commenced, and students found to have participated in the violation will be subject to the appropriate disciplinary procedures.  We apologize to Judge Duncan for the disruption of the event, and administrative staff will receive training about how to manage situations like this to insure that an invited speaker may address students.

Dean Martinez's actual email in response to these events is below the fold:

Dear SLS -

Most of you have likely heard about an event on March 9, 2023 at the Stanford Law School hosted by the chapter of the Federalist Society and featuring Judge Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  A video of a small portion of the event has been circulating online.

The law school advised students who announced that they planned to protest the event of university standards and policies on freedom of speech, including the specific university policy prohibiting disruption of a public event. It is a violation of the disruption policy to “prevent the effective carrying out” of a “public event.” Heckling and other forms of interruption that prevent a speaker from making or completing a presentation are inconsistent with the policy. Consistent with our practice, protesting students are provided alternative spaces to voice their opinions freely. While students in the room may do things such as quietly hold signs or ask pointed questions during question and answer periods, they may not do so in a way that disrupts the event or prevents the speaker from delivering their remarks. 

In the past few years, we have had a number of events with controversial speakers proceed without incident.  Other than someone who hoped to create a meltdown for the cameras to capture, no one can be happy about what happened yesterday. In this instance, tempers flared along multiple dimensions. In such situations, an optimal outcome involves de-escalation that allows the speaker to proceed and for counter-speech to occur in an alternative location or in ways that are non-disruptive. However well-intentioned, attempts at managing the room in this instance went awry.  The way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech.

The school is reviewing what transpired and will work to ensure protocols are in place so that disruptions of this nature do not occur again, and is committed to the conduct of events on terms that are consistent with the disruption policy and the principles of free speech and critical inquiry they support. Freedom of speech is a bedrock principle for the law school, the university, and a democratic society, and we can and must do better to ensure that it continues even in polarized times. 


Jenny Martinez

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