Stanford Law School’s DEI Dean, currently on leave, argues that DEI and free speech can coexist

March 24, 2023 • 9:45 am

The DEI Dean of Stanford Law School (SLS), Tirien Steinbach, is now on leave from the University after helping escalate a disruption between law-school students and a visiting Appellate Court Judge, Kyle Duncan, invited by Stanford’s Federalist Society to talk about the relationship between his court and the Supreme Court.  It’s not clear whether Steinbach voluntarily took a leave, was forced to take a leave, or whether she’ll be fired (they’re pondering that now). No matter what, she is in trouble. The President of Stanford and the Dean of SLS, apologizing to Duncan, singled out Steinbach’s confrontational approach to the judge, and SLS Dean Jenny Martinez’s letter, sent yesterday to the SLS community, said this (her emphasis):

Enforcement of university policies against disruption of speakers is necessary to ensure the expression of a wide range of viewpoints. It also follows from this that when a disruption occurs and the speaker asks for an administrator to help restore order, the administrator who responds should not insert themselves into debate with their own criticism of the speaker’s views and the suggestion that the speaker reconsider whether what they plan to say is worth saying, for that imposes the kind of institutional orthodoxy and coercion that the policy on Academic Freedom precludes. For that reason, I stand by my statement in the apology letter that at the event on March 9, “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”

. . . First, Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach is currently on leave. Generally speaking, the university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters, and so I will not do so at this time. I do want to express concern over the hateful and threatening messages she has received as a result of viral online and media attention and reiterate that actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the law permits. Finally, it should be obvious from what I have stated above that at future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard.

It’s clear from all the apologies and SLS correspondence that Dean Steinbach’s actions were regarded as disruptive and not conciliatory. (There’s also a swipe at the three other Deans in the room who did nothing.) But in a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (what a weird place to publish this!), Dean Steinbach tries to justify her actions by arguing that diversity and free speech can coexist at Stanford.  And that’s true, so long as free speech is given primacy. What cannot coexist is the current form of DEI initiatives, such as those represented by Steinbach, and freedom of speech, for free speech is perceived by many in the DEI community as offensive and harmful. Regardless of what she says, Dean Steinbach was not trying to harmonize DEI (represented by the upset students) with free speech; she was trying to be divisive.

In this op-ed, as in her remarks to Judge Duncan when he asked for an administrator to cool the disruption, she waffles—indeed, I see her remarks as deliberately disingenuous. She says she’s in favor of free speech, but then asks, as she did during Duncan’s talk, whether “the juice is worth the squeeze”. What she means is that we must ponder whether free speech policy produces results that we’re happy with. That totally undercuts her claimed defense of Stanford’s policy.  Remember, too, that the morning before Duncan spoke, Steinbach sent an email to the SLS community that started this way (read the full text here):

Today, Federal Judge Kyle Duncan (Fifth Circuit) will be speaking at an event on the topic of The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns and Twitter.  While Judge Duncan is not expected to present on his views, advocacy or judicial decisions related directly to LGBTQ+ civil rights, this is an area of law for which he is well known. Numerous senatorsadvocacy groups, think tanks, and judicial accountability groups opposed Kyle Duncan’s nomination to the bench because of his legal advocacy (and public statements) regarding marriage equality, and transgender, voting, reproductive, and immigrants’ rights. However, he was confirmed in 2018. He has been invited to speak at SLS by the student chapter of the Federalist Society.

Yes, the topic was not about Duncan’s own legal decisions and views, but on this: ““The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, guns, and Twitter.”  Nevertheless, Steinbach could not restrain herself from criticizing Duncan’s political views and giving copious links. This email was one of several elements that brought a mob of SLS students together to disrupt Duncan’s talk.

Now, like Lucy, Steinbach has some “‘splaining to do,” and you can read that ‘splaining below. Click the screenshot to read:

As you can see from the title, she’s trying to hold two opposing positions at once: that free speech and diversity can coexist, and whether full-on free speech is really worth the reasons it’s become policy. Her entire whole post is a whitewash of what she did (and does not mentioning her inciting email). So she claims to favor free speech:

 I supported the administration’s decision not to cancel the event or move it to video, as it would censor or limit the free speech of Judge Duncan and the students who invited him. Instead, the administration and I welcomed Judge Duncan to speak while supporting the right of students to protest within the bounds of university policy.

As a member of the Stanford Law School administration—and as a lawyer—I believe that we should strive for authentic free speech. We must strive for an environment in which we meet speech—even that with which we strongly disagree—with more speech, not censorship.

I wonder what she means by “authentic” free speech. Is there “inauthentic” free speech? I think she’s implying here that Duncan’s views, if promulgated, would not be “authentic free speech”, because they would be harmful (see below).

Then she claims that she stepped up to the podium to “de-escalate the situation”, another lie:

As soon as Judge Duncan entered the room, a verbal sparring match began to take place between the judge and the protesters. By the time Judge Duncan asked for an administrator to intervene, tempers in the room were heated on both sides.

I stepped up to the podium to deploy the de-escalation techniques in which I have been trained, which include getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people. My intention wasn’t to confront Judge Duncan or the protesters but to give voice to the students so that they could stop shouting and engage in respectful dialogue. I wanted Judge Duncan to understand why some students were protesting his presence on campus and for the students to understand why it was important that the judge be not only allowed but welcomed to speak.

First, the verbal sparring match was initiated by the students, not by Duncan, though he did react angrily later.  Second, her job was to de-escalate, not lecture Judge Duncan about why some students were protesting his presence on campus. What she wanted to do was express her own views about Duncan, not educate him on why the students didn’t like him. Her claim here is yet another lie. I wonder where she learned her de-escalation techniques—from Donald Trump?

Steinbach then explains what she meant by asking whether “the juice was worth the squeeze,” saying it refers to “the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech,” which really means “the responsibility not to offend the SLS students.”

Finally, and most disingenuously, she claims that what happened during the lecture is a “microcosm of how polarized our society has become”, which she decries. Yet she herself is largely responsible for the polarization accompanying Duncan’s talk!  Finally, she ends this way:

Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.

God bless America!  Note that there is no “balance” to be struck between free speech and DEI. Free speech at Stanford and at all public universities is NON-NEGOTIABLE; it is not to be quashed or officially tempered so it comports with DEI. Yes, I do advocate civility, and trying to use free speech to create discussion and understanding, but if I have something to say about DEI that I consider worthy of discussion, yet others find it offensive, that’s too damn bad. Free speech trumps offense, non-physical “harm” and the hurt feelings of students.

If you want to see Steinbach’s lecture to Judge Duncan, follow the links from this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, called “Stanford Law’s diversity dean is ‘on leave’ as controversy boils over a disrupted speech.”

The scene featuring Steinbach and Duncan — captured on video and audio — has been thoroughly scrutinized within and outside of higher ed for two weeks.

Watch and listen to the event itself, or you can read a transcript of Steinbach’s remarks at a link I’ve put below. First, a video of Dean Steinbach’s Moment of Glory:


You can read Steinbach’s remarks here (at FIRE).

To be sure, she does tell the students that SLS has free speech and that she’s in favor of giving Duncan space to finish his remarks. Then she chews the judge out in a way guaranteed to ensure that doesn’t happen. I’ve put that bit of Steinbach’s speech below the fold at the bottom.

If you read the comments after her piece at the SWJ, you’ll see that most of the readers aren’t buying Steinbach’s apologia. Here are four:

This would have been a thoughtful response if the video wasn’t in complete contradiction of what you wrote. This is all an attempt to cover the reprehensible and embarrassing behavior you exhibited, but it fails to do so and actually makes you look worse.

How about simply apologizing for your behavior instead of attempting to justify it.

Well said. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. This piece clearly wasn’t written by the same person who was at the event. Nice try.

Well said. Walter Middy couldn’t have recounted a better telling of the story than the Dean.

The hubris of today’s progressives is absolutely staggering. They believe they are so much smarter than everyone else that they can simply re-tell a story in their words and everyone—even those who saw the whole thing—will simply adopt their bent perspective on the world, event, etc.

This woman was no leader in de-escalating the situation; her intervention was a disgrace.

The students’ actions were a disgrace.

Stanford should be absolutely ashamed of this incident.

Belligerent, misbehaved children….


How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion.

Ms. Steinbach resorts to the moral equivalence argument, typical of the left. It doesn’t wash. There is either free speech or there isn’t. No “balance” needs to be made. The students denied Judge Duncan his right to free speech and their tactics were rude and crude. And Ms. Steinbach caved in to the mob.

Finally, the lesson of this post is twofold:

1.) Free speech is not always compatible with DEI or its initiatives. When they conflict, free speech should win

2.)  Dean Steinbach is desperate to put a good face on her remarks by claiming that DEI and “authentic” free speech—whatever that is—are compatible. But all she does is get herself into a bigger muddle. Her best policy would have been to apologize for what she did. Now that would have flummoxed the SLS students!

Below the fold I’ve put a transcript of the place where Steinbach lectures judge Duncan. Click “continue reading” to see her word:

Steinbach: . . .  I’m also uncomfortable because it is my job to say: You are invited into this space. You are absolutely
welcome in this space. In this space where people learn and, again, live. I really do, wholeheartedly
welcome you. Because me and many people in this administration do absolutely believe in free speech.
We believe that it is necessary. 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. And not to shut you down or censor you or censor the student group that invited you here. That is
hard. That is uncomfortable. And that is a policy and a principle that I think is worthy of defending, even in
this time. Even in this time. And again I still ask: Is the juice worth the squeeze?

Duncan: What does that mean? I don’t understand…

Steinbach: I mean is it worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes? Do you have
something so incredible important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that that is worth this impact
on the division of these people who have sat next to each other for years, who are going through what is
the battle of law school together, so that they can go out into the world and be advocates. And this is the
division it’s caused.

When I say “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” that’s what I’m asking. Is this worth it? And I hope so, and I’ll
stay for your remarks to see, because I do want to know your perspective. I am not, you know, in the
business of wanting to either shut down speech, because I do know that if they come for this group today,
they will come for the group that I am part of tomorrow. I do believe that.

And I understand why people feel like the harm is so great that we might need to reconsider those
policies. And luckily they’re in a school where they can learn the advocacy skills to advocate for those
changes. I hope that you have something to share with us that we can learn from. I hope you can learn
too while you’re in this learning institution. I hope you can look through the spectacle and the noise to the
people holding the signs. The people who are here to learn. The people just like you who absolutely are
fighting for, working for freedom. Just to be free, to be themselves. That is what they are here for.

They are here because they feel harmed not just by your speech. If it was just words that would be one
thing. You have authority, and you have power to make decisions that impact the lives of millions. And I
hope if you learn anything that you can listen through, if you can listen through your partisan lens, your
hyper-political lens and just look and see human beings who are asking you to take care, and like all
guests on our campus, we ask that you come with good intentions and respect.

Note the patronizing way she talks to the judge, and how she hopes he learns that his speech (note: NOT IN THIS TALK) has “harmed people” and has the potential to make (indeed, has probably made) decisions that have hurt millions of people.

32 thoughts on “Stanford Law School’s DEI Dean, currently on leave, argues that DEI and free speech can coexist

  1. “. . . the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed. . . .” This makes it sound like they have rules for how to disrupt events. I also agree that tacking “authentic” on to free speech is not a good thing. It undoubtedly means a qualification. By the way, according to a piece in Free Press yesterday, Standford has 10,000 administrators, which is slightly more than one for every two students (undergraduate and graduate).

    1. “…Standford has 10,000 administrators, which is slightly more than one for every two students (undergraduate and graduate”

      And I assume that a significant portion of them are “DEI” administrators. It has quickly become a racket to create administrative bloat and struggle sessions created by outside “consultants,” creating sinecures for a certain class of academics at the expense of students and employees at institutions from schools to corporations. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen the rise of such a racket so fast.

      1. Quite the racket indeed! According to the economist Mark Perry, 142 “diversicrats” are employed at the U of Michigan, costing 18M annually. Also of interest is the piece written by Adam Andrzejewski (posted last month at RealClearInvestigations) on the ever-increasing size of the collegiate bureaucracy, well-situated to facilitate endless Maoist struggle-sessions.

        1. 18,000,000 / 142 = ~$126,760

          Of course, there will be a couple of heads who are making 400k a year.

    2. That is a shocking # of Admins! Even after the common problem of administrative bloat is weighed in. You know, as a lefty, I have to say that this sort of problem is one that only a righty might solve.

    3. Has anyone confirmed that figure of “more than 10,000 administrators who oversee” the students? The article links the statement to a 2021 Stanford document. In that, there is a chart that shows the university having 10,896 “managerial and professional staff”. There is, however, a footnote that says this includes clinical educator and research staff. That makes sense, given that Stanford is a research institution with a college attached.

      As much as I deplore the growth in administration and nanny staff in academia over the last 30 years, I think FP may have misfired on this one. Am I missing something elsewhere?

  2. Jerry pointed me to this slate article, which is one of the most execrably dishonest and misleading articles I have ever seen in any publication, ever. It is a diatribe of lies and insinuations explicitly meant to mislead readers into thinking that what has happened at Stanford didn’t really happen; or, to put it in an even worse light, that what happened was completely at odds with the reality of the situation, and that it was all Judge Duncan’s fault.

    It is lies, lies, lies, all the way down. Despicable.

    As recently as just a few years ago, Slate was a website that I could usually rely on for a sane left-wing view. Now, I must wonder if every institution that isn’t already 100% coded as right-wing will be taken over by these nutters.

    The author of the above article is written by the man who also completely mislead his audience regarding the Kyle Rittenhouse situation, so this is nothing new for him personally.

  3. Do you have something so incredible important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that that is worth this impact on the division of these people who have sat next to each other for years…

    Here Steinbach doesn’t seem to be challenging the judge’s right to speak. To use the popular DEI phrasing, she appears to be challenging his right to exist. His mere presence on campus causes such pain that it wouldn’t matter what he was going to talk about — how valuable or interesting or soothing and comforting it is — for the judge has ruled in contradiction to the way the young law students wanted him to.

    Being placed in the grievous and unnatural position of having to share space with such a miscreant could not possibly do them any good.

    1. Oh, she’ll get an even cushier job as a consultant, speechifier, and so on. Count on it.

      (that is, if she gets fired at all. I doubt the school would have the guts, considering how students have already donned black masks and lined the hallways in an attempt to intimidate the Dean and any students who didn’t join their protest with a message of, “if you oppose us, who knows what might happen to you when you’re walking on campus one day?”

      These student protesters actually created a literal unsafe environment.

      Would you feel safe walking through that?

    2. The country has enough corrupt institutions that her ability to find a job won’t be impacted by this at all; on the contrary, in some places, her beliefs — and, more lamentably, her whole babbling, sentimental, self-aggrandizing, clichéd style — is seen to be meritorious: the doubtless sign of a virtuous black woman-warrior. It is more than merely pathetic; it’s dangerous.

      1. I can’t decide what I detest more; her hand gestures🙏 and head bobs, her sanctimonious tone, or her actual words.

        For example, contrary to what she “hopes” 🙏I’m pretty sure the judge isn’t going to learn anything from this situation, except perhaps the urgency with which he needs to tell the heads of lawyer firms to not EVER hire a lawyer from Stanford.

  4. Ms. Steinbach’s WSJ equivocations resemble the waffling in the vein of “freedom of speech BUT” issued by academic administration robots. Nonetheless, this kind of thing, like Brian Soucek’s casuistry about the right way to do Diversity Statements, represents tactical retreat by the partisans of the DEIshchina. Wary of optimism though I am, these maneuvers look to me like a hopeful sign. They are very likely a response to the Defund DEI proposals which are diffusing from Manhattan (see ) to a number of state legislatures, and not just in the South.

  5. Jerry asks: I wonder what she means by “authentic” free speech. Is there “inauthentic” free speech. I think she’s implying here that Duncan’s views, if promulgated, would not be “authentic free speech”, because they would be harmful.

    I agree, and in addition think that “authentic” here is a kind of signal or shibboleth that identifies the speaker’s membership in a particular tribe, the tribe that would put limits on speech which it gets to set. It’s authentic if I say it is. You don’t get a say because you don’t use words like authentic in this way. Like the expressions, “lived experience”, “through a ____ lens”, or “the work we are doing here”, which are never used by anyone outside the tribe. As soon as you hear them, you know who they are.

    Shibboleths are harder to mimic than they look. Sure, I might try to defend Judge Duncan’s speech, or the speech at a school board meeting of a parent worried about boys using girls’ bathrooms at school, as “authentic” but it wouldn’t have quite the right ring. American sentries on Japanese-held islands in the South Pacific used “Lollapalooza” as a challenge shibboleth. Even if a Japanese infiltrator knew that the correct response was “Lollapalooza”, his attempt to say it would be heard as “Rorra…” and he would be shot dead on the spot. (h/t Wikipedia)

  6. I wonder what she means by “authentic” free speech

    I suspect that she means that “free speech” is being used as a “dog whistle” and that people supposedly arguing for it really have a hidden nefarious agenda. The same thing happens in the women’s rights debate, with trans rights activists (TRAs) claiming that “child safeguarding” and “women’s rights” are dog whistle phrases and that anyone advocating for them are really right-wing transphobes using them as a smokescreen. It’s very disingenuous and indicative of the paucity of DEI/TRA arguments when genuine concerns are raised against the positions that they hold.

  7. The sweating associate dean is undoubtedly doctrinally confused concerning free speech (quite possibly, deliberately so).

  8. I think there are at least 2 errors in Jerry’s post:
    1.) The title suggests that there is more than one law school at Stanford University: “Stanford Law Schools’s DEI Dean …”
    2.) RE “It’s clear from all the apologies and SLS correspondence that Dean Steinbach’s actions were regarded as disruptive and not conciliatory. (There’s also a swipe at the three other Deans in the room, including Martinez, who did nothing.)”
    Here Jerry seems to say that Martinez was in the room when Judge Duncan tried to give his presentation. In an earlier post on the event Jerry wrote:
    “Apparently, besides Conflagator Steinbach herself, Merino, as well as Associate Director of Student Affairs Holly Parrish and Student Affairs Program Coordinator Megan Brown, were all in the room—and did nothing— as the demonstration unfolded.”
    If Dean Martinez had been present at the event with Duncan this would be an even bigger scandal than what Steinbach did and did not do since Martinez is arguably the highest ranking administrator at Stanford law school.

    1. Thanks. The first is a typo which I’ll correct.
      The second is an error, I misremembered. And you’re right; that would have been a bigger scandal. I forgot the names of the deans. That I’ll fix too.

      Thanks for the corrections!

  9. It’s probably possible to do DEI in a way that’s compatible with free speech but I doubt that there’s any real interest in finding it.

    1. To the great and continuing credit of the University of Chicago, their Dean of Diversity and Inclusion (no E, note) in her address to incoming freshmen last September stressed diversity and inclusion of viewpoints. So I think UChicago in interested. Mind you, a merit approach that embraces dissent and doesn’t mention equity is hardly orthodox DEI.

  10. If you are looking for evidence that activism (i.e., endorsing the view that potentially hurtful speech should be disrupted) is incompatible with academic freedom, her is a survey study we conducted at Berea College in 2018:

    Despite the fact that members of the campus community who endorsed activism claimed they also supported freedom of speech, their judgments of whether scenarios described situations that should receive academic freedom protection were directly proportional to the scenario’s hostility rating. Thus, their explicit endorsement of academic freedom includes the implicit caveat (unless someone’s feelings get hurt.)

    Despite tenure and 17 years of exemplary service, I was fired by Berea College for conducting this study.

    1. Dave, any thoughts as to whether individual differences in threat perception might be driving some of the difference in support for free speech and academic freedom rather than simply being correlated? Perceived threats (to body, self-esteem, ideas) would, of course, interact with individual risk tolerance and empathy, as well as with different preferences about whether threats are best addressed individually or communally. Perhaps it’s an unfair question to ask; it seems like it would be an awful mess from which to tease out causality.

  11. Yes, they CAN co-exist, even absent a DEI tsar, just as they did in the 1970s Time to dismantle the thought police bureaucracy installed in recent years in Universities and Silicon Valley companies whose managements were afraid of being labelled as bigots by the inquisitors of the Pathological Left.

  12. Can’t imagine a lawyer who graduated from Stanford Law School to do anything other than get on their knees and scream “My very right to exist is being threatened by being in the presence of this judge! He is literally killing me!” in the courtroom presided over by a conservative judge. Well done Stanford. What do you charge to create these spineless wimps, a hundred grand or so? We used to make adults out of children. Now we make children out of adults.

  13. I think that “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” is a question that we need to ask about the DEI machine. What of value has the suppression of free inquiry and corruption of science yielded? What about the witch hunts, indoctrination sessions, and loyalty oaths?

    The squeeze has been brutal, so where’s the juice? Are the racial achievement gaps closing?

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