Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne vowed on Monday to protect free speech and open expression after Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan was verbally accosted by student protesters and a diversity administrator.
Duncan, a Trump appointee, was invited last month to deliver remarks at an event hosted by the school’s Federalist Society chapter but was shouted down by leftist protesters who called the federal judge a “liar” and “scumbag.” When he called for a school administrator to defuse the incident, Stanford Law School Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach added to the students’ complaints by lecturing Duncan and claiming he was fomenting “division.”
Tessier-Lavigne, who previously offered an apology to Duncan and asserted that Steinbach’s monologue did not reflect school policy on safeguarding free expression, said in a letter to Stanford employees and students that administrators would introduce new initiatives to “strengthen the norms and values that support a robust learning community at Stanford.”
“Universities are called on to be places of vigorous and thoughtful inquiry, not only of ideas palatable to the mainstream, but of a broad array of ideas, including challenges to mainstream views. Our role is to provide knowledge, nuance, and an approach based in truth-seeking and reasoned discussion,” Tessier-Lavigne wrote. “But we will only be able to achieve that goal, I believe, if we approach new ideas and perspectives with curiosity, and with respect for the dignity of each member of our community. This includes assuming good intent in the people one disagrees with and giving them grace.”
The administrator told students and staff members that the new free expression initiatives would apply to “classrooms, residences, and offices” and will be shared with future applicants who consider Stanford. “As we enter the final quarter of this academic year, let us recommit ourselves to rising above the lowest-common-denominator discourse,” he continued. “Let us aspire to open, curious, and reasoned engagement with one another.”
The additional vow to protect free speech came days after Fifth Circuit Judge James Ho and Eleventh Circuit Judge Elizabeth Branch announced that they would no longer hire any clerks who chose to attend Stanford Law School in reaction to the response to Duncan. Both judges, also Trump appointees, had previously said that they would no longer hire from Yale Law School over similar concerns.
“My concern is how law students are treating everyone else they disagree with. I’m concerned about what this is doing to the legal profession and to our country,” Ho said in a speech for the Texas Review of Law and Politics. “Students learn all the wrong lessons. They practice all the wrong tactics. And then they graduate and bring these tactics to workplaces across the country. What happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus. And it’s tearing our country apart.”
Duncan reacted to the Stanford debacle in a speech at the University of Notre Dame. He contended that the student hecklers were engaged in activity that “had nothing to do with our proud American tradition of free speech” but was “rather a parody of it.”
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“It had everything to do with intimidation. And to be clear, not intimidating me,” he continued. “I’m not intimidated by this. I’m a life-tenured judge. I’m going to go back to my court and keep writing opinions. No, the target of the intimidation was the protesters’ fellow students.”