NYT article defends the DEI dean at Stanford who escalated a judge’s talk into a conflagration and bad publicity for Stanford Law School

April 10, 2023 • 11:00 am

Well, author Vimal Patel, in a bizarre NYT article in which nearly every paragraph is just one sentence, has decided to take a new tack about the fracas at Stanford Law School (SLS) that involved the deplatforming of a visiting conservative judge, the disruption of his talk by a bunch of unruly and juvenile students, and the escalation of the mess by the dean of SLS. Patel has decided to praise dean Tirien Steinbach as an advocate of free speech and friend of the conservative Federalist society. Sadly, what Patel says seems like a pathetic attempt to defend the indefensible.

I’ve written before about this whole sad tale (see posts here): Circuit Court judge Kyle Duncan was scheduled to give a talk at SLS about the relationship between his court and the Supreme Court. The talk was sponsored by the conservative Federalist Society. Before the talk, the DEI dean of SLS, Tirien Steinbach, got the students heated up by sending them an email, telling them how harmful judge Duncan’s decisions had been (see below).  Then, when his talk got interrupted by the inevitable shouts and noises from protesting students, Duncan asked for help from an administrator (four were present). Steinbach took it upon herself to get up and read a short prepared speech directed at both the students but also at Duncan, again telling him how harmful his decisions and opinions had been.

SLS dean Jenny Martinez, along with Stanford’s President, wrote to Duncan apologizing and saying that changes will be made. Martinez then wrote a long letter to the SLS community saying that the student behavior was against Stanford rules, that there would be changes so that students would learn about how free speech works, and, tellingly, that Steinbach was on leave.

This piece praises Steinbach; if you read it, you wouldn’t know that she really did anything out of line, but was standing up all the while for free speech.

A few excerpts:

The Back Story

That bare-bones narrative missed a more complicated situation, illustrating the perils of rushing to judgment based on a viral video.

To begin with, Ms. Steinbach had a cordial, productive relationship with the leader of the student-run Federalist Society, Tim Rosenberger Jr.

Ms. Steinbach, who started at Stanford in 2021, said she wanted to expand the role of D.E.I. to include groups like veterans, older students and conservatives. She viewed herself as a bridge builder.

. . .In January, when Mr. Rosenberger could not find a co-sponsor for an event with Nadine Strossen, a former head of the American Civil Liberties Union and a champion of free speech, he found a partner in Ms. Steinbach, who moderated the event.

“That took some courage,” he said.

Well, very cordial of Rosenberger. But it’s not really courageous because Steinbach anticipated that there would be disruption, sent out an email that would promote disruption, and had prepared some remarks that called out the judge—an extraordinary flaunting of her virtue exactly where it wasn’t needed!

On the morning of Judge Duncan’s talk, Ms. Steinbach sent an email to the entire law school, approved by Dean Martinez. She summarized the concerns that students had with Judge Duncan but said that students who tried to stop speech “would only amplify it,” and she linked to the free-speech policy.

Ms. Steinbach’s connection to students might have made her confident that she could be the broker between the two sides.

Well, you can read Steinbach’s email here, which begins this way (her links):

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.

A coalition of SLS students have expressed their upset and outrage over Judge Duncan’s invitation to speak at SLS.  For some members of our community, Judge Duncan, during his time as an attorney and judge, has “repeatedly and proudly threatened healthcare and basic rights for marginalized communities, including LGBTQ+ people, Native Americans, immigrants, prisoners, Black voters, and women,” and his presence on campus represents a significant hit to their sense of belonging.

Then she pays lip service to free speech, but during her PREPARED REMARKS during the disruption, she questioned whether “the juice was worth the squeeze” (i.e. does freedom of speech justify the harm it does?) and FIRE has posted Steinbach’s prepared remarks, which include these remarks that were directed to the judge himself (bolding is mine):

Steinbach:. . . . 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 [the topics of Duncan’s speech] 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. And I do want to hear your remarks, and I do want to say thank you for protecting the free speech that we value here of our speakers and of our protesters, and I want to remind you all of one thing: I chose to be here today. You all chose to be here today. Many people go before Judge Duncan who do not necessarily choose to be there. And they have to listen to everything he says. Literally thousands of people. You have a choice. You do not need to stay here if this is not where you want to be. You can stay if this is where you want to be right now. But make that choice.

If you do choose to stay here, I do think we should give space to hear what Judge Duncan has to say, and I hope that also you will take the question and answer and comments section to say what you need to say and ask the questions you need to ask. I’m really grateful to be in this institution. I look out and I don’t ask, “What is going on here?” I look out and I say, “I’m glad this is going on here.”
How patronizing can you get? Note that she says “I’m glad this is going on here,” when was what going on was a fracas. I suppose she was glad she had the chance to deliver her prepared remarks, directed as much to Duncan himself as to the students. It’s simply reprehensible that she had to chew out the judge, but of course that what she wanted to do. And remember—the topic of Duncan’s speech had nothing to do with the policies that Steinbach was calling out as “harmful.”
 More from the piece:


Mr. Rosenberger said that he had been upset by Ms. Steinbach’s remarks in the lecture hall but that she had been something of a “scapegoat” for the university’s broader failure to protect speech.

He said that he wished an official had stepped to the podium and warned students that further disruption would be in violation of the university’s free-speech policy — but that Ms. Steinbach, as D.E.I. dean, was not that messenger.

“If she was the administrator whose job was to enforce the no-disruption policy, then yeah, she totally failed, but that’s not her job description,” Mr. Rosenberger said. “People have called her stupid and incompetent. She’s a smart and good person who was just put in a really bad spot.”

Finally, Patel dug up a professor (not at SLS!) to defend Steinbach, saying she should have received “more support”:

Julian Davis Mortenson, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan and a Stanford alumnus, suggested that there had been a broader failure.

“Law schools need to have plans and protocols in place for controversies like this, which are going to happen with increasing frequency,” he said. “Stanford was not adequately prepared.”

Barring context he is unaware of, he said, he was disappointed that Ms. Steinbach had not received more support.

“An administrator on the ground, in a room literally full of shouting people, got them to stop shouting and also insisted that they should listen to the speech,” Professor Mortenson said.

Did Mortensen actually read the transcript of Steinbach’s remarks? She did NOT get them to stop shouting (though she did ask for respect for the judge at the same time she was disrespecting him), and, moreover, she again went through the litany of Duncan’s “harmful” views and decisions when she addressed the audience–and the judge.

No, Steinbach deserves no support. Yes, she did pay lip service to free speech, but then did everything she could to undermine it. I don’t think, as a DEI dean, she would be unaware of the results. Had she not given the caveat about free speech, she would have been fired instead of been put on leave.  But the NYT, determined to say something different from what everybody else was saying about Steinbach (including the SLS dean herself), decides to defend a dean who asks whether free speech can be justified if it causes harm. She didn’t help her cause when she wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal called “Diversity and free speech can coexist“. Two excerpts:

As a member of the Stanford Law School administration—and as a lawyer—I believe that we should strive for authentic free speech. . . .

I don’t think the word “authentic” is an accident; I suspect she means that inauthentic free speech is speech that harms the audience by offending them. It’s juice that isn’t worth the squeeze.

And this:

. . . At one point during the event, I asked Judge Duncan, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I was referring to the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech: to consider not only the benefit of our words but also the consequences. It isn’t a rhetorical question. I believe that we would be better served by leaders who ask themselves, “Is the juice (what we are doing) worth the squeeze (the intended and unintended consequences and costs)?” I will certainly continue to ask this question myself.

What happened in that room is a microcosm of how polarized our society has become. . . .

Not that Steinbach did anything to increase the polarization! I still think that Steinbach should be fired, though I don’t call for that often. She has become a symbol of the kind of DEI initiatives that increase polarization—something that DEI isn’t supposed to do but does too often.

I don’t favor Duncan’s views, either, and his behavior towards the students was sometimes impolite, but remember that he was repeatedly attacked and egged on. The blame for this falls on both Steinbach and the SLS students, most of whom don’t seem to understand that free speech involves not just the freedom to speak, but the freedom of the audience to listen.

30 thoughts on “NYT article defends the DEI dean at Stanford who escalated a judge’s talk into a conflagration and bad publicity for Stanford Law School

  1. The DeSantis/Rufo axis have started expanding DEI as “Division, Exclusion and Indoctrination”.

    They have a point. It’s notable how an ideology of “inclusion” so often amounts to casting people out beyond the pale, and how a mantra of “diversity” so often amounts to only one viewpoint being utterable.

    1. “[A] point”? Perhaps. Nevertheless, DeSantis & Rufo are anything but paragons of free speech, American-style.

  2. The NYT story contains one short throw-away line which is the
    key to a million different developments in the groves of academe over the last several years:

    “Ms. Steinbach, who started at Stanford in 2021, said she wanted to expand the role of D.E.I.. ” [My boldface added.]

    1. Why not perpetuate and expand such a lucrative racket, when absurdly-remunerated sinecures are available (at countless universities) to many an apparatchik lacking any real skills or any genuine knowledge?

    2. What very few people seem to mention is that Steinbach (a). used to be a member of the California branch of the ACLU with all that implies and (b). her remarks on the day seem to imply that Judge Dean’s mere presence is ‘harmful’ to the students.

    3. I remember the way that “orthodox” thinking requires the possibility of “heterodox” thinking … which is always a problem for those who think that their “orthodoxy” is the only permissible way of thinking.
      Typical “religious” thinking.
      The last time I counted, non-Newtonian gravitational theories had clocked up between 2 and 4 publications this month. We scientists are going to need a bigger, better bonfire to preserve our unchallenged orthodoxies.

  3. Well the article isn’t getting much love from the NYT commentariat based on my quick scan of the current 1600comments. There might well be more sense in the readership than among many of the opinion writers/editors.

    1. I’m baffled by how one-sided and out of touch some commenters can be, it’s like they aren’t even living in reality:

      “I’m a Stanford law student and feel it’s important to share some missing context here. Judge Duncan did not enter the room with the intention to give a lecture. He taunted people. He recorded a video as he walked in of the people in the room, his phone inches from students’ faces, seemingly to force a reaction to escalate the situation. When students engaged peacefully, such as by asking him pointed questions, he mocked them. (Two examples: one student prefaced a question by sharing that it was a personal question to her, as a survivor of sexual assault, to which Judge Duncan told her “nice story”, and moved on. Another student asked about another one of his decisions that also impacted minority rights and, rather than respond to the question, Judge Duncan told them to read his judicial opinion and moved on.) He called students “appalling idiots”, among other names.

      Meanwhile, trucks paid for by some unidentified groups have been circulating around campus with students’ names and alleged quotes from the event printed on the side. These trucks were even driven outside the homes of parents of four separate students. Not to mention the threats they’ve been getting.

      Many many students engaged much more civilly with Judge Duncan than he engaged with them. And yet they’re the ones being targeted.”


      “Is unfortunate that this reporting, while balanced, missed the ridiculous reaction from FIRE, which originally castigated the response from the DEI dean but didn’t mention hat the dean forcefully defended the judge’s place to speak. FIRE corrected for that error only after being called out on it.”.

    1. Too much muttering and talking out of turn to make much sense of the video but Dr. Yearwood’s claim has merit and I would call it a mainstream view. An expert with only bones to go on can make only an estimate of the probability that a skeleton is that of a male or a female. Even in the shape of the pelvic bones there are no absolutely doubt-removing differences. The only way you could be positive would be if the skeletal remains also included fetal bones in the right orientation to indicate the deceased was pregnant at the time of death. Fetal skeletons are mostly cartilage but they have enough mineral to show on X-ray. I don’t know how well they preserve or whether any human fetal skeletons have ever been found. I’m just saying if you wanted to say for sure that an adult skeleton was female, you would need a fetus “inside” it.
      This discussion is limited to the pelvis, classically regarded as the easiest bones to sex.

      1. What Yearwood actually said was that there was no difference between male and female skeletons. That’s hardly a ‘mainstream’ view. See https://twitter.com/IWF/status/1641468030721961984 for Yearwood in action.

        Of course, there are exceptional cases where it is difficult / impossible to determine the sex of the living person from skeletal remains. However, Yearwood claimed that no skeletal sex differences exist when they are, if fact, rather well known.

        To use an obvious analogy, when Caster Semenya was born, he was thought to be female. He is actually, a 46,XY male with a DSD. Exceptions to most rules exist. However, that doesn’t make the rules irrelevant or wrong.

        1. Of course, there are exceptional cases where it is difficult / impossible to determine the sex of the living person from skeletal remains. However, Yearwood claimed that no skeletal sex differences exist when they are, if fact, rather well known.

          American broadcast TV may be different to the UK, but it’s a rare evening where there isn’t at some point a documentary where the sex of an archaeological skeleton isn’t diagnosed, within seconds of first-sight, by an anthropologist/ osteologist.
          A few percent of cases take more than a few seconds.

      2. I am not an archaeologist or anthropologist, but I spent several years documenting an ongoing archaeological project in the south Pacific.

        I can tell you that archaeologists can tell, with a high degree of confidence, the sex, age and race of skeletons dating back decades or even centuries. It is simply not the case that there is much confusion here. It’s not 100%; nothing is. But their confidence levels are, and should be, high.

        1. But how can they know their confidence is well-founded, short of extracting DNA from the bones in question? (Which they often can now, of course.) If they did so, and demonstrated male/female genetics, that would be a cross-check of their osteology judgments. But getting DNA from a bone is not the same as judging the bone itself, which is the point here.

          To both you and Frank, I stand by my view that while there are well-established average differences between the skeletons of adult typical males and typical females (particularly in the pelvises of those latter who have survived childbirth), that is not the same as being able to make an unambiguous determination of sex in any individual skeleton. If he interpreted Ms. Gaines’s question that way, a reasonable answer is, indeed, “No.”

          Frank’s analogy to Caster Semenya’s DSD is beside the point because his/her bones aren’t at issue. But what do you think Caster’s pelvis looks like?

          This has nothing to do with transgender ideology and silly arguments that we shouldn’t speak of sex of old skeletons because we don’t know what gender they identified as. If Prof. Yearwood is manipulating or inflating the uncertainty to claim that male athletes have no advantage over females or that there is a biological basis for transgender dysphoria then shame on him. He didn’t make that claim in the brief clip but was accused of it in the Daily Mail story below. Much as I am a fan of what Riley Gaines is doing, the students in her audience ought not to have laughed at him. Bone mass and pelvic anatomy are important in the list of ways that typical male athletes and violent criminals overpower women but that is a different question from, “Can you tell the difference looking at a random skeleton?” I would like to hear what he has to say.

          In mocking Prof. Yearwood, the Daily Mail did get this right:

          “According to the Smithsonian: ‘Males tend to have larger, more robust bones and joint surfaces, and more bone development at muscle attachment sites. However, the pelvis is the best sex-related skeletal indicator, because of distinct features adapted for childbearing.

          “‘The skull also has features that can indicate sex, though slightly less reliably.'”

          Be skeptical about how we know what we think we know. That, I think, is the spirit of this website and I enjoy being proved wrong.

          1. I’m not sure I believe this, but Riley Gaines is quoted as saying that men have “an extra rib” and that is really how you tell the skeletons apart.

            Gaines noted:

            “Every single rational person knows the answer: men have narrower hips, their skulls are different, they have an extra rib, their femurs are longer, their jaws are different.” [emphasis added]

            I think Prof. Yearwood has the last laugh.

            1. Who is “Riley Gaines” – sounds like a nom de plume to me – , and what are her qualifications in osteology?
              Or is this another Joe (Jane) Random Sixpack talking with an impressively-controlled anal sphincter?

            2. Gabby Yearwood is supposedly a ‘Professor’ with a ‘PhD’. Riley Gaines is an athlete. Riley Gaines can be forgiven for her limited knowledge of human Biology. Gabby Yearwood can not (hence the laughter at his statements). Riley Gaines comes out way ahead in this one.

          2. There are average differences in height between males and females. In the US the average male height is 5’9”. The average female height is 5’4”. Using height to determine sex, would lead to considerable inaccuracy (because of the overlap of male and female heights).

            By contrast, using pelvic bones to determine sex is much more accurate. This theory has been tested. See “The reliability of sex determination of skeletons from forensic context in the Balkans” (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15567621/). The abstract reads

            “In this study we have tested the applicability of morphological methods for sex assessment, based on seven pelvic and nine cranial traits, using contemporary Balkans population…. Sex was correctly estimated by the experienced anthropologist in 100% of individuals…”

            Would an examination of pelvic bones give the wrong (or an ambiguous) answer in a few rare cases? Of course, it would. Exceptions exist for most rules. If Yearwood had said something like ‘Sex differences in skeletons are real in almost all cases, but exceptions exist” I doubt the audience would have laughed. Instead he denied that sex differences exist and the audience laughed (with good reason).

            1. I’ll leave this, Frank, because it is off-topic and Jerry is in the air, I think, and unable to enforce closure.
              I do thank you for the reference. The accuracy in male skeletons is indeed high.

            2. Would an examination of pelvic bones give the wrong (or an ambiguous) answer in a few rare cases? Of course, it would. Exceptions exist for most rules.

              My rule of thumb is for a biological characteristic, expect about 10% variation each way.
              Corollary – two characters for a binary condition give a 99% confidence (1% anticonfidence); three characters – 99.9% confidence (0.1% anticonfidence). For correlated characters, probably add about a half-character after the first.

          3. But how can they know their confidence is well-founded, short of extracting DNA from the bones in question?

            Possibly, by comparison against record of thousands (millions? Maybe not. Hundreds of thousands.) of records of Hom.sap.sap whose bones have been measured and little things like intra-uterine (foetal, or co-buried) skeletons have been measured.
            You’re “free” to have your own delusional beliefs, but by the time that an osteologist or anthropologist is on the 4th or 5th character of a particular skeleton that says this sex not that sex, you’re cricling with the anti-vaxxers and “ancient aliens” deluded, not in the company of the sciences.

            1. No need to be insulting. Experts in the field recognize that osteologic diagnosis of sex is not as straightforward as you seem to think it is, even with 18 characters to go by, particularly in women. This 2018 paper cites an accuracy of 70 – 98% in modern skeletons and reports original work on mediaeval skeletons from the collection at St. John’s Divinity School, Cambridge, a blinded comparison of morphology with DNA testing. There are many caveats and pitfalls — that’s why experts do this for a living.


          4. Even DNA does not yield an unambiguous answer in all cases. Yes, it does work in 99+% of cases. However, in very rare cases it does not work. Consider a CAIS person (very rare). DNA would say that the person is male. External anatomy would indicate that the person was/is almost entirely female. An ultrasound would suggest that the person was/is male. So is the person male or female? I would argue that the answer is philosophical and lean towards female. Of course, some persons are genetic mosaics (very, very rare). DNA would be useless in such cases.

  4. …if you can listen through your partisan lens, your hyper-political lens…

    Oh yes. I’m being reasonable; if only you partisans who disagree with me listened and refrained from politicising issues…

  5. I think that, every time Steinbach and her actions are mentioned, it should also be noted that she has not pushed back against the incredibly intimidating presence against free speech she has single-handedly created on campus: https://freebeacon.com/campus/student-activists-target-stanford-law-school-dean-in-revolt-over-her-apology/

    Students dressed in black with masks on lining the hallways, forcing the Dean and any students who didn’t join their protest to walk through their hundreds-feet-long blockade in an attempt to intimidate both the Dean of a law school and its students into taking a stand against free speech? That sounds like actual harm.

  6. I was horrified by that article. That female is the LeBron James of DEI, a superstar grifter. I’m 50 and I’ve never witnessed a greater, deeper scam than DEI.

  7. I found one good comment from the NYT article: “The right believes in the messiah, Trump, the left believes in original sin, racism.

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