Stanford Law School Dean Doubles Down On Free Speech, Diversity Dean Placed On Leave
STANFORD, CA - MARCH 12: Cyclists ride by Hoover Tower on the Stanford University campus on March 12, 2019 in Stanford, California. More than 40 people, including actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, have been charged in a widespread elite college admission bribery scheme. Parents, ACT and SAT administrators and coaches at universities including Stanford, Georgetown, Yale, and the University of Southern California have been charged. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez doubled down on her support of free speech — regardless of who agreed with it — in a memo published Wednesday.

Martinez joined Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne in apologizing after students — and at least one faculty member — verbally accosted Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan, a guest of the campus chapter of the Federalist Society. She, in turn, was quickly attacked for defending the judge.

Martinez addressed the situation in a memo, making it clear that she would not be bullied into changing her position. Noting that her original intent had been to wait until after final exams to fully address the situation, she said that the continuing attacks and even threats had convinced her that more immediate action was necessary.

“In the message below, I respond below to many of the questions I continue to receive about why I apologized to Judge Duncan, why I stand by that apology, and why the protest violated the university’s policy on disruption. I articulate how I believe our commitment to diversity and inclusion means that we must protect the expression of all views,” she said.

She went on to argue that while some of the students had claimed that their protest was protected under the First Amendment, their right to speak should not be misconstrued as a right to shout down opposing views until they could not be heard.

“A university classroom setting for a guest speaker invited by a student organization is thus a setting where the First Amendment tolerates greater limitations on speech than it would in a traditional public forum,” she added.

“Some students contend that the judge invited the heckling with offensive comments or engagement with protestors. These arguments misunderstand the nature of the disruption policy. The policy would not be meaningful to protect the carrying out of public events and the right of attendees to hear what is said if it applied only when a speaker said things protesters in an audience found agreeable,” Martinez continued. “Nor does the fact that the speaker departs from their planned remarks and engages with the hecklers justify further heckling that disrupts the event. The Stanford disruption policy prohibits not just conduct that literally drowns out the speaker, but also that which ‘disrupt[s] the effective carrying out’ of the event.”

Martinez concluded by noting that all law school students would be required to attend a training session, during which they would discuss “freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession” and address how “vulgar personal insults” — like the things they shouted at Judge Duncan — could ultimately prove damaging to their professional reputations.


As for the school’s diversity dean, Tirien Steinbach — who joined the disruptors and attacked Duncan herself — has been placed on leave. During the protest, when Duncan called for an administrator to help settle the students, Steinbach took over the podium herself — and turning on the judge, she claimed that his “opinions from the bench land as absolute disenfranchisement” and suggested that he did not deserve a public platform.

Martinez did not comment further on Steinbach’s status, but did say that the students involved were not likely to face disciplinary action — in large part because their administrator had made it appear as though their disruption was acceptable.

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