Required academic DEI statements challenged in court, and Wisconsin ditches them

May 21, 2023 • 11:30 am

A law school prof once told me that he thought that required DEI statements for hiring academics was illegal: a violation of the First Amendment.  As “compelled speech,” analogous to loyalty oaths, this is a violation of the First Amendment that’s less well known than “the government cannot prohibit you from saying what you want.” Instead, it’s “the government cannot force you to say things you don’t want to say” stipulation, also legally part of the First Amendment.  That’s why no schoolchild can be forced to utter the Pledge of Allegiance.

When I asked the prof if universities could be sued for requiring academic job applicant to produce a DEI statement, I was told that yes, it could, but it would probably require someone with “standing”. That is, someone who had been personally injured by the DEI-statement requirement.  And that, of course, would be hard to do: you’d have to prove, for instance, that you were not hired because your DEI statement was insufficient.  Now there may be such cases, but can you imagine anybody who sued on these grounds could have a ghost of a chance of even having an academic career? Not these days, unless you want to teach at Bob Jones University.

And so, up to now we haven’t had lawsuits against compelled speech represented by required DEI statements. We don’t require them at the University of Chicago, but of course there are ways of trying to find out where a candidate stands on DEI without having a paper record.

As a First-Amendment hard liner, I personally object to DEI statements. They don’t tell us anything about a candidate’s suitability for an academic job, any more than knowing where they stand on abortion or the war in Ukraine. They are loyalty oaths—oaths that pledge fealty to the latest form of DEI. (You can bet that an applicant who parrots Dr. King’s statement that people should be judged by their character instead of their color is simply not going to be hired.) But I didn’t see any way to get rid of these statements save via universities realizing that they violate the Constitution, standing up for free speech, and ditching them voluntarily.

But all of a sudden these lawsuits seem to be in the air, though the first one seems to come from an applicant without standing. We also have another report that the University of Wisconsin system has deep-sixed required DEI statements.  (Click on the screenshots to read; quotes from articles are indented.)

A) The University of California System; article from Higher Ed Dive:

The skinny (which is skinny):

  • A former University of Toronto psychology professor sued the University of California system Thursday over its use of diversity statements in its hiring process.
  • These statements typically detail job applicants’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, and how they have furthered these ideals in their careers. But the ex-professor, J.D. Haltigan, in court documents alleged they are “loyalty oaths,” likening them to the ones that proliferated during the Cold War.
  • A UC spokesperson declined to comment Thursday, saying the system has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Critics like Haltigan argue the statements force job applicants to pledge to progressive views. His lawsuit, alleging constitutional violations, is being backed by a conservative nonprofit, the Pacific Legal Foundation.

Specifically, he is suing UC President Michael Drake, as well as officials at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where Haltigan applied for a job.

“The University administration ensures conformity and compliance by promulgating detailed rubrics and guidelines that tell applicants exactly what to say and what not to say in their Statements,” the lawsuit states.

Haltigan may have standing if he can make a reasonable case that he was denied a job at UC Santa Cruz because his diversity statement was insufficient. But the next article suggests that this isn’t the case:

Another article, from the Santa Cruz Sentinel, says that Haltigan’s statement was targeted not just at the UC System but at this particular campus (UCSC):

An excerpt:

Haltigan, who earned his doctorate in developmental psychology at the University of Miami, is currently an independent scientist and Pennsylvania resident and is being represented by Sacramento-based attorney Wilson Freeman with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

“We’ve been keyed into the issue of DEI statements for a couple of years,” said Freeman. “We think it’s an important issue propagating, what we see as, a sort of orthodoxy throughout the academy. We think it’s a threat to the First Amendment and academic freedom. We think it’s especially bad at the University of California.”

While searching for jobs earlier this year, Haltigan came upon an opening he felt he was qualified for at UCSC. After reviewing the university’s requirement to include a diversity, equity and inclusion statement with the job application, Haltigan wrote about it on an online blog with the viewpoint that DEI statement requirements for academic job applicants have, “contributed to creating a corrosive and hostile environment that is intolerant of viewpoint diversity and is anathema to high-quality research and teaching.”

If you read his diversity statement linked above, you’ll see it’s actually called “Against the use of DEI Statements in Faculty Job Searches”, and includes stuff like this:

However, I believe that the use of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements in evaluating candidates for positions in higher education and academia are anathema to the ideals and principles of rigorous scholarship, and the sound practice of science and teaching—all of which public universities were created to uphold. DEI statements have become a political litmus test for political orientation and activism that has created an untenable situation in higher academia where diversity of thought—the bedrock of liberal education—is neither promoted nor tolerated. Public trust in our universities has been severely diminished as a consequence. As the noted American sociologist and sociocultural scholar Philip Rieff noted decades ago in relation to the vogue for politically engaged teaching and scholarship “inactivism is the ticket.”

But then the possibility of him being hurt in this process is nil, for Haltigan hasn’t yet applied for the job. Apparently he wants to, and wrote the statement above in anticipation that he would. But without palpable damages, can he really sue? Bolding below is mine.

The lawsuit states that Haltigan is “committed to colorblindness and viewpoint diversity. He objects to DEI orthodoxy and believes individuals should be considered based on individual merit.” and also that, “If Dr. Haltigan were to apply for this position, he would be compelled to alter his behavior and either remain silent about the many important social issues addressed by the DEI statement requirement or recant his views to conform to the dictates of the university administration.”

Freeman said that Haltigan, who has not yet applied for a job at UCSC, just wants to be able to without a DEI statement attached.

“All that he wants is to be considered with respect to his qualifications for the position,” said Freeman. “So, an ideal outcome would simply allow him to be considered on his merit. We think that the First Amendment academic freedom demands that outcome, and hopefully we’ll get that.”

Freeman and the legal team with the case are preparing to move for a preliminary injunction in the coming weeks and anticipate the university’s response. According to Scott Hernandez-Jason, assistant vice chancellor of communications and marketing at the university, because the defendants have not yet been served with legal papers, UCSC officials did not have a comment about the lawsuit.

I guess he doesn’t want the job, and perhaps is simply trying to gin up a test case.  Apparently the suit has been filed, but the defendants haven’t seen it yet. It’s all deeply weird.

B) The University of Wisconsin eliminates required DEI statements (from Wisconsin Public Radio):

I may have mentioned this before, but the UW system is getting rid of DEI statements because the Republican state legislature is refusing to fund the state universities if they require such statements:

The University of Wisconsin will no longer require diversity, equity and inclusion statements from job applicants, UW System President Jay Rothman announced Thursday.

The move comes after Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has threatened to cut state funding to Wisconsin’s public universities. Specifically, Vos has criticized DEI programming at UW as an attempt to “indoctrinate” students with taxpayer dollars.

It’s common for universities to ask potential faculty to submit statements describing how they’ve used their work to further diversity, equity and inclusion. Rothman did not provide an estimate of how many UW positions have previously required such statements, but described the number as “limited.”

“We remain absolutely committed to the principles of DEI,” Rothman told reporters Thursday. “But when some people believe mandatory diversity statement in employment applications are political litmus tests, then we are not being inclusive.”

That’s almost funny: the President of the UW system declaring that DEI statement are NOT INCLUSIVE.  Well, he has a point in that if you have ideological views opposed to the most “progreessive” version of those statements, and what you say doesn’t really bear on your qualifications as a faculty member, then yes, you’re excluding people with certain ideological views.

Rothman made another statement that sounds sensible (my emphasis):

Lawmakers are currently in the process of drafting the state’s next two-year spending plan, after the Legislature’s Republican-led finance committee scrapped almost all of the budget proposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The new fiscal year takes effect July 1. In the meantime, the Republican-controlled Committee on Colleges and Universities has been holding a series of hearings on what conservatives charge is liberal bias and a lack of intellectual diversity on UW campuses.

Rothman used the final hearing Thursday to express support for academic freedom and free speech at UW. He also took the opportunity to announce to lawmakers the planned elimination of DEI statements.

UW officials have no plans to back budget cuts for positions or programming dedicated to DEI, Rothman told reporters Thursday. He also said the elimination of DEI statements would not preclude university officials from asking about the promotion of diversity and inclusion during job interviews. And, he said, that definition of diversity should be broad.

“It is time to expand what we think of inclusion to include issues around veterans, disability status, socioeconomic status, first generation students status, and viewpoint diversity, in addition to dealing with underrepresented groups in our society,” Rothman said. 

Yes, by all means foster diversity, which is, as the Bakke case ruled, an inherent good in a university. But ethnic diversity is only one type of diversity, and if diversity is an inherent good—as opposed to being done for reparations to minority groups—it must be so because it fosters viewpoint diversity, which is surely be the main form of diversity you seek in a student body.

At any rate, no school should require DEI statements. They are unconstitutional and, in the end, inimical to the functioning of a university.  This is why the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), while not opposed to efforts to increase diversity, strongly opposes any such efforts that impede academic freedom and freedom of speech. Those include DEI statements in hiring and promotion of academics.

New college admissions scam

May 19, 2023 • 12:00 pm

This article at ProPublica  (also co-published at the Chronicles of Higher Education) recounts what I consider a “scam” because it seems to be a largely unethical way to get students into college. Now that affirmative action is about to go down the drain, and standardized tests like the SAT are becoming more and more optional (the two issues are connected), canny entrepreneurs are developing new ways to give students college-worthy credentials.  But it sounds dubious to me.

Click to read:

Here’s how it works:

A.)  A company arises that promises to help students get into college by having them get some research published. (Real published research by high school students is rare).  They charge huge fees: from several thousand dollars to more than $10,000.

B.) Usually the companies pair a student with a “mentor”, a professor or graduate student who can help the student cobble together a paper.  (As you can imagine, many–but not all–of these papers are not of high quality.)  The “mentors” are paid huge fees for this: up to $200 per hour, far higher than graduate student wages)

C.) A publication is founded that will consider and accept papers written by high-school students (as you might guess, the ideas and writing itself often comes from the “mentors”).  Here’s one of them: the Scholarly Review. These journals also show “preprints”, unreviewed manuscripts that a student can put on their college-application c.v. There are many of these journals, and, unfortunately, some are connected with the very companies that charge students for getting mentors to help them write papers for college applications. Looking at the link will give you an idea about what counts as “publication.”

As you can imagine, many of these journals aren’t very selective, and publish papers with no reviews and no corrections. As the article says, “Almost any high school paper can find an outlet,”

D.) The papers are then touted on college applications. They do seem to help, but of course few evaluators are able to find time to read the papers, much less assess the research. Overall, it does burnish an application, though a lot of the burnishing is bogus. Given the stiff competition to get into good schools, though, parents are willing to pay high fees for the “service.”

E.) As it’s even harder for foreign students to get into American universities, there’s a lot of money to be made getting students overseas to “publish”. Here’s one company in India:

A short walk from India’s first Trump Tower, in an upscale neighborhood known for luxury homes and gourmet restaurants, is the Mumbai office of Athena Education, a startup that promises to help students “join the ranks of Ivy League admits.” An attendant in a white uniform waits at a standing desk to greet visitors in a lounge lined with paintings and featuring a coffee bar and a glass facade with a stunning view of the downtown skyline. “We all strive to get things done while sipping Italian coffee brewed in-house,” a recent Athena ad read.

Co-founded in 2014 by two Princeton graduates, Athena has served more than 2,000 students. At least 80 clients have been admitted to elite universities, and 87% have gotten into top-50 U.S. colleges, according to its website. One client said that Athena charges more than a million rupees, or $12,200 a year, six times India’s annual per capita income. Athena declined comment for this story.

Around 2020, Athena expanded its research program and started emphasizing publication. Athena and similar services in South Korea and China cater to international students whose odds of getting accepted at a U.S. college are even longer than those American students face. MIT, for instance, accepted 1.4% of international applicants last year, compared with 5% of domestic applicants.

A former consultant said Athena told her that its students were the “creme de la creme.” Instead, she estimated, 7 out of 10 needed “hand-holding.”

For publication, Athena students have a readily available option: Questioz, an online outlet founded by an Athena client and run by high schoolers. Former Editor-in-Chief Eesha Garimella said that a mentor at Athena “guides us on the paper editing and publication process.” Garimella said Questioz publishes 75%-80% of submissions.

Athena students also place their work in the Houston-based Journal of Student Research. Founded in 2012 to publish undergraduate and graduate work, in 2017 the journal began running high school papers, which now make up 85% of its articles, co-founders Mir Alikhan and Daharsh Rana wrote in an email.

Last June, a special edition of the journal presented research by 19 Athena students. They tested noise-reduction algorithms and used computer vision to compare the stances of professional and amateur golfers. A survey of Hong Kong residents concluded that people who grew up near the ocean are more likely to value its conservation. Athena’s then-head of research was listed as a co-author on 10 of the projects.

Publication in JSR was “pretty simple,” said former Athena student Anjani Nanda, who surveyed 103 people about their awareness of female genital mutilation and found that they were poorly informed. “I never got any edits or suggested changes from their side.”

As colleges abandon indices of merit (this is of course a way to accept students who would not get in using traditional merits), and go to “holistic” evaluation, this kind of scam will become more and more common. For you can include anything that makes you stand out as “holistic”, and money-grubbing  people will find a way to take advantage of that.

h/t: Steve

Vanderbilt’s Chancellor sticks up for institutional neutrality

May 16, 2023 • 9:15 am

To me it makes eminent sense for a university to maintain a position of institutional neutrality—that is, to avoid taking public stands on moral, ideological, and political issues.  By taking such stands, the University, which is supposed to be a place where questioning and free speech are encouraged, chills the speech of its members. What graduate student or untenured faculty member would risk punishment by publicly taking issue with an official University position on, say, abortion, DEI, gun control, and the like? (Evidence of such punishments are widespread; I’ll mention a few below.) Official University statements serve to “chill speech”, which is inimical to the very purpose of a university.

In fact, up to now there were only two colleges in America that took an official position in favor of institutional neutrality. One was the University of Chicago, which has held that position since 1967, when the Kalven Report became policy. As I wrote two years ago:

At the University of Chicago we have a policy, based on the 1967 Kalven Report, that prohibits official units of the university from making moral, political, or ideological statements—unless those statements are about issues that directly affect the mission of the University. This includes university departments. The purpose is to promote freedom of speech by preventing the chilling of speech, for “official” university statements, by the nature of their “offficial-ness”, make those who disagree with them reluctant to speak out, including students, grad students, postdocs, and untenured professors. The University has refused, over the years, to issue any statements about stuff like Darfur, the Vietnam War, Communism and the Red Scare, and now about various forms of social unrest.  (Over the last few years I’ve written many posts on this issue.)

The one exception for us is that official statements may be all right if they bear on the mission of the University of Chicago. So, for example, our University supported the DACA program because kicking out students whose parents arrived here illegally would be unfair to students already in college and also force the university to vet the immigration status of applicants. But these exceptions are rare.

I’ll give one quote from Kalven, my favorite bit:

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

The neutrality of the university as an institution arises then not from a lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.

Can you seriously oppose those sentiments? If you do, then you see the University as a venue for taking sides in public debates at the expense of chilling the speech of its members.

I should add that nothing prohibits university members from taking personal stands on these issues; the statements just cannot carry any university imprimatur. (And because the university president’s stands may be conflated with “official stands,” it’s probably best for those at the top to keep their views to themselves.)

The second school that abides by Kalven, which recently adopted this policy, is the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

But now we apparently have a third school: Vanderbilt University. Its Chancellor, Daniel Diermeier, recently declared that his school would embrace a possibility of “principled neutrality”. This is described in the Wall Street Journal op-ed below by Lamar Alexander, former President of the University of Tennessee, U.S. Senator from the same state, and U.S. Secretary of Education.  Yes, it’s in the conservative op-ed section of the WSJ, but do you really expect to see a defense of institutional neutrality (ergo free speech) in the liberal mainstream media? Click to read:

(Diermeier had laid out the basis of his stand in a short Inside Higher Ed piece in 2022.)

In this case, Diermeier’s declaration was prompted by the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, which outraged many (including me). Urged by his faculty and students to officially weigh in opposing that decision, Diermeier refused, declaring his principle:

When the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, the University of California’s president denounced the decision as “antithetical” to UC’s values. Vanderbilt University’s new chancellor took a different approach. Daniel Diermeier, who was appointed in 2020, reaffirmed Vanderbilt’s commitment to “principled neutrality,” in which the college and its leadership refrain from taking positions on controversial issues that don’t directly relate to the function of the university.

If “principled neutrality” sounds anodyne, you haven’t been paying attention. Mr. Diermeier’s stand is boldly reassuring. That his policies are an exception among elite universities isn’t.

Even within Vanderbilt, Mr. Diermeier’s stance is under attack. “Many of us—faculty, students, staff and alumni—are ready for a divorce from the chancellor’s position,” Brian L. Heuser, a Vanderbilt professor, argued in an Inside Higher Ed column. Mr. Heuser wants the university to take a stand against the Tennessee Legislature’s votes on a variety of issues.

(I’ll deal with Heuser’s arguments in a moment.)

Diermeier’s stand arose from the same roots as Chicago’s: repeated demands that the University take stands on public issues. At the University of Chicago this began decades ago, when people demanded that our university take a stand against Communism and then the Red Scare. It refused, and likewise refused when asked to make statements opposing Vietnam, Darfur, and the like. From the WSJ:

Mr. Diermeier’s commitment—as well as the university’s embrace of free expression on campus—is a legacy from the time when I was a student at Vanderbilt. In the 1960s, the university was being pummeled from the left and right for hosting controversial speakers like Allen Ginsberg, Stokely Carmichael and Strom Thurmond. Chancellor Alexander Heard said at the time: “A university’s obligation is not to protect students from ideas, but rather expose them to ideas, to help make them capable of handling and, hopefully, having ideas.” Vanderbilt doesn’t take positions on abortion, guns or climate change, but it will ensure that on its campus you are free to state your position and hear others’ viewpoints.

That freedom is of course chilled when the powers that be have official stands that differ from your own. And so Diermeier embraced Kalven, though the Kalven Principle, sadly, isn’t mentioned in this op-ed:

Principled neutrality isn’t enough to prepare students to be good and thoughtful citizens. Too many are “taking cues from the polarized culture around them,” Mr. Diermeier says—they’re declaring that those with opposing views aren’t merely incorrect but immoral. Such “moral tribalism” and a culture of condemnation has severely impeded the free exchange of ideas that is higher education’s lifeblood.

Colleges today, Mr. Diermeier believes, must teach students how to debate constructively and “avoid the us-vs.-them dynamic that can lead to a breakdown in discourse.”

Did I mention that Diermeier was Provost of the University of Chicago for four years before he took the Chancellorship of Vanderbilt? I like to think that his ideas are drawn in part from the Kalven Principles that reign here.

Now the existence of a mere three colleges embracing institutional neutrality out of the 4,000 degree-granting colleges in America is a pathetic proportion: 0.075%. (In contrast, nearly 100 colleges have adopted a version of Chicago’s 2014 Principles of Free Expression). Other schools really must join Chicago, UNC, and Vanderbilt lest America’s universities change from institutions of learning, teaching, and discussion into instruments of social change. Make no mistake about it: this will happen until college administrators wise up and make free speech their most important guiding principle.

Finally, have a look at Deirmeier’s opponents, exemplified by Vanderbilt Professor Brian Heuser in his Inside Higher Ed piece, “A Critique of ‘Principled Neutrality‘.” Heuser insists that universities must take stands on political or ideological issues to stave off threats to the well being of American citizens:

Despite the chancellor’s insistence that “staying neutral requires courage,” many of our university stakeholders are experiencing significant fear as Nashville’s social conditions have deteriorated for women and members of our LGBTQIJewishBlack and immigrant communities. In this context, such neutrality is better understood as a toxic form of indifference to the lived realities of our citizens. We have also experienced horrific gun violence arriving on our doorstep, and our undergraduate students have taken the lead in defending our community’s safety. In this context, such neutrality is better understood as a brutal fear of governmental intrusion into our affairs.

Due in large part to our exceptional stock of human capital and economic impact, universities can be powerful—even profound—actors in the public discourse. But adeptly leveraging this potential requires transformational leadership, political acumen and a steadfast commitment to prioritizing the common good. Universities can—and often do—create significant social cohesion by using their knowledge capital to shape the public’s understanding of and commitment to inclusive causes. But this potential must also be activated by administrators who believe that it is worth their time and effort to engage with their larger communities on difficult issues.

[Note the woke Social Justice language: “toxic indifference”, “lived realities”, etc.]

The problem here, as you’ve probably seen, is that all the positions that Heuser thinks the university should take are liberal or leftist positions. I happen to agree with them, but that’s not the point. The point is one that Christopher Hitchens always made when opposing censorship: who decides which positions are the official and approved ones?  What if a Catholic chancellor decides to issue a statement opposing all abortions? That would be allowable if institutional neutrality weren’t in play. Or, what if a Southern university issues statements opposing gun control because it’s in America’s interests for its citizens to protect themselves?  As political and moral views change, so must the university’s “official” stands, and those who oppose them risk being punished. It’s better to avoid taking any official stands, allowing free speech to proliferate on campus. Colleges are not, as Kalven states (again), instruments of political change:

A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

No, a university is not a club, a trade association, or a lobby; neither is it a political party.

With respect to official positions quashing free speech, Heuser’s argument, I think, is dead wrong:

To be clear, the chancellor and I agree that universities require significant internal freedom—academic freedom—to enable the continuous free flow of ideas that leads to everything from drug discoveries to political revolutions. We also agree that universities have an obligation to safeguard the intellectual freedom of our stakeholders—especially when their views are offensive—so long as it is exercised in constructive and nonviolent ways. However, his assertion that advancing institutional positions on political and policy-making issues somehow undermines an institution’s commitment to free speech and open discourse is utterly wrong. To the contrary, it is impossible to guarantee the free exchange of ideas without first assuring the participants of those exchanges that their basic human rights will be protected and defended, internally and externally. Failing to publicly defend those rights permits faculty, students and staff to be interrogated (and marginalized) on the basis of their human identities, rather than on the merits of their ideas and scholarship. From this vantage, “principled neutrality” is intellectually unprincipled and incongruent with the tasks of assuring personal safety and equal opportunity for all members of our university community. It is best interpreted as a privileged position of political convenience rather than a requisite for rigorous intellectual engagement.

This is a “free speech but. . . ” argument.

Given the many examples of professors being deplatformed, sanctioned or even fired for taking positions against DEI and other university-approved positions, it’s risible that Heuser argues that free speech won’t be chilled by institutional non-neutrality. Has he heard of Joshua Katz’s firing at Princeton, or the three professors at Texas’s Collins College fired for making political statements? (Some of these statements, by the way, were from the Left, showing that “who makes the rules?” is the big objection to institutional non-neutrality.)


UPDATE: I’ve just found that Vanderbilt has published an official statement on Freedom of Expression that includes both free speech and “principled neutrality”.  Welcome to the trio of free-speech schools, and raspberries to Dr. Heuser.

The Washington Post decries the suppression and deplatforming of speech by students

May 1, 2023 • 9:30 am

Is a turning point really being reached in the War Against Wokeness?  Every time I read a piece in the mainstream media decrying  the pernicious antics of the Authoritarian Left (one of the terms I use for “the woke”), I think to myself, “Is the tide really turning at long last?”

Well, it’s not going to any time soon—if for no other reason than that most of the mainstream media (and this still includes the NYT) is still woke, and because DEI initiatives have firmly installed themselves on college campuses, grasping onto academia like an octopus. (The idea behind these isn’t bad, but the way these initiatives are perpetrated, hand in hand with Diktats against “hate speech”, is harmful.)  Such initiatives, employing thousands of minions throughout the U.S., won’t easily go away, even if the Supreme Court, as expected, rules against affirmative action based on race.

BUT, here we have the entire editorial board of the Washington Post applauding the actions of schools like Stanford and Cornell in resisting the demands of the woke. Yep, the entire editorial board; this is no one-off by a disaffected academic.  And it mentions at least two schools whose anti-wokeness I hadn’t heard of. Click headline below to read:

Here are the incidents of pushback they describe (quotes from the Post are indented:

a.) The statement by the president of Cornell University that trigger warnings should not be mandatory.

In March, a Cornell University sophomore and member of the undergraduate student assembly saw a friend become visibly disturbed while reading “The Surrendered,” a Chang-rae Lee novel with a graphic rape scene. So she spearheaded a resolution that “implores all instructors to provide content warnings on the syllabus for any traumatic content that may be discussed.”

On the surface, this story has all the trappings of a wider phenomenon increasingly prevalent on American university campuses: the curtailing of academic inquiry, and sometimes even free speech, for the protection of perceived student “sensitivities” — invisible boundaries whose contours are never quite clear but almost always couched as barriers against “harm.” What happened next is cause for celebration: The Cornell administration immediately struck down this resolution, a welcome reminder that academic institutions have the power to defend their fundamental values — and are willing to use it.

“We cannot accept this resolution as the actions it recommends would infringe on our core commitment to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry, and are at odds with the goals of a Cornell education,” wrote Cornell’s president, Martha E. Pollack, and its provost, Michael I. Kotlikoff, in a letter rejecting the student assembly’s plea for trigger warnings. Although they did note, understandably, that “in some cases faculty may wish to provide notice,” an outright trigger warning requirement, they noted, “would have a chilling effect on faculty, who would naturally fear censure lest they bring a discussion spontaneously into new and challenging territory, or fail to accurately anticipate students’ reaction to a topic or idea.”

b.) Penn State strikes back as well:

Earlier this month, Neeli Bendapudi, the president of Penn State, released a recorded statement defending her university’s embrace of controversial speakers. The Supreme Court, she reminded her viewers, has long held that public universities such as Penn State are bound by the First Amendment. But she also reiterated a moral reason to continue welcoming diverse, and even offensive, opinions: “For centuries, higher education has fought against censorship and for the principle that the best way to combat speech is with more speech.”

Watch the video.  Bendapudi naturally has to say that she deplores the message of many of the “hate speech” speakers whose rights she nevertheless defends.  But she shouldn’t have to say this to defend freedom of speech; she should maintain institutional neutrality and leave her personal opinion out of this.  Still. . .it’s better than nothing, and a good lesson for Penn State students. (It’s a reiteration of Mill’s arguments from “On Liberty”.)

c.) From Vanderbilt (and Harvard):

A similar defense is being waged at private institutions. At Harvard University, a group of more than 50 faculty members last month established the Council on Academic Freedom, a group “devoted to free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse.” Vanderbilt University, likewise, announced last month that it would become the U.S. foothold for the Future of Free Speech project, an initiative of the Danish think tank Justitia. “For a university to do its work, faculty and students must have maximum freedom to share their ideas, assert their opinions, and challenge conventional wisdom — and one another,” said Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier in a statement.

A few years ago, Diermeier was the Provost of the University of Chicago.

The article then mentions the results of the long survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE; download its 54-page report here).  FIRE’s own summary:

  1. Roughly three-in-five faculty (61%) surveyed said that “a university professor should be free to express any of their ideas or convictions on any subject,” and more than half (52%) said speech should only be restricted “where words are certain to incite physical violence.”
  2. On average, 81% of faculty supported allowing four different hypothetical controversial speakers on campus, compared to 48% of the students who were asked about the same speakers in FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings (CFSR) survey.
  3. More than half of faculty (55%) said students shouting down a speaker is never acceptable. Four-in-five said this about students blocking entry into a campus speech and 92% said this about students using violence to stop a campus speech. In FIRE’s CFSR the percentages of students who say these actions are never acceptable are 38%, 63%, and 80% respectively.
  4. Roughly one-in-10 (11%) faculty reported being disciplined or threatened with discipline because of their teaching, while 4% reported facing these consequences for their research, academic talks, or non-academic publications.
  5. Liberal and conservative faculty have starkly different views on mandatory diversity statements for job applicants, the value of political diversity on campus, and when freedom of speech should be restricted. They also have very different social and professional experiences on campus.
  6. Faculty are split evenly on whether diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) statements are a justifiable requirement for a university job (50%) or are an ideological litmus test that violates academic freedom (50%). Three-in-four liberal faculty support mandatory diversity statements while 90% of conservative faculty and 56% of moderate faculty see them as political litmus tests.
  7. More than half of faculty (52%) reported being worried about losing their jobs or reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done, takes it out of context, or posts something from their past online. Almost three-quarters of conservative faculty (72%), 56% of moderate faculty, and 40% of liberal faculty reported feeling this way.
  8. A significant portion of faculty (ranging from 18% to 36%) endorsed their college’s administration launching a formal investigation into other faculty members for their controversial expression.
  9. Roughly one-third (34%) of faculty said they often feel they can not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, colleagues, or the administration would respond, compared to one-fifth of students surveyed for FIRE’s CFSR.
  10. The percentages of faculty who said they were very or extremely likely to self-censor in different contexts ranged from 25% (in academic publications) to 45% (on social media). Only 8% of all faculty said they do not self-censor in any of the four contexts asked about.

Yes, these data are pretty distressing, especially the disparity between faculty, who are generally favorable towards free speech and academic freedom, and students, who are substantially more censorious. The degree of chilling of speech is high.  Of course, conservative faculty are far less supportive of mandatory DEI statements (which may well be unconstitutional) than are liberal faculty.  I was going to write more about the FIRE report, but it’s long and you can get the gist of it above.

Finally, the Post counts the “turning point” of the Zeitgeist to the letter by Stanford’s President and Stanford Law School (SLS) Dean Jenny Martinez to Judge Kyle Duncan, apologizing for the abysmal and juvenile behavior of SLS students at a talk by conservative judge Kyle Duncan. Well, it’s a letter, and yes, they did put the offending DEI dean, Tirien Steinbach, on leave, but there was no attempt—and we don’t know if there will be in the future—to discipline students who try to disrupt talks or deplatform speakers. So far Stanford has talked the talk but not really walked the walk.  Is it a turning point that prompted other schools to grow a backbone, or only one of the earliest efforts of pushback by schools? Who knows. The Post op ed ends this way:

Thankfully, trigger warnings and other such measures are not always successful in taking root. But, at least in certain universities, they’ve triggered long-overdue defenses of unimpeded academic inquiry. For far too long, administrators and professors have been silent. Not anymore.

Well, we’ll see, won’t we?

I should add that several universities have adopted some of my own University’s Foundational Principles, most notably the Principles of Free Expression, which have been adopted in some form by over 80 universities. Unfortunately, only one school—the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill—has adopted our powerful statement of institutional neutrality, the “Kalven report.”  Despite this, the University of Chicago has, up to now, lacked a formal committee for monitoring these violations, but this is now being fixed.


h/t: Ginger K.

Déjà Vu: S.F. State University investigates professor for showing Muhammad picture in class

April 7, 2023 • 12:30 pm

Both FIRE and The Chronicle of Higher Education report that, mirabile dictu, yet another professor is in trouble for showing a picture of Muhammad—this time at San Francisco State University (SFSU).  He hasn’t been fired, but he’s under investigation.  FIRE is of course campaigning to nip this in the bud, and so they have both a blog post about it as well as a four-page letter they sebnt to SFSU letting them know that they’re violating the professor’s academic freedom and that even investigating him is chilling speech and violates the First Amendment (SFSU is a public school).

Here’s the backstory from the Chronicle (the “Muhammadgate” incident is at the very end, part of a longer article about academic freedom).

Maziar Behrooz, an associate professor of history at San Francisco State University, does not yet know what a teaching decision he made might cost him.

In the fall of 2022, Behrooz was teaching the history of the Islamic world between 500 and 1700 and showed a drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. He’s taught the course, and the image, for years. One student, a devout Muslim, strongly objected, outside of class. His main point, Behrooz told The Chronicle, was that it’s not permissible for an image of the Prophet Muhammad to be shown in any shape or form.

“This is the first time that this has happened,” Behrooz said. “I was not prepared for somebody to be offended, in a secular university, talking about history rather than religion.”

Behrooz said he told the student that, as the professor, he is the one who decides what’s shown in class. The student then complained to Behrooz’s department chair, who broached the issue with the professor, according to Behrooz. He said he explained to his chair that the student’s view is not uniform among all Muslims. The type of drawing he shows in class can be bought at markets in Tehran near holy shrines. Many Shiite Muslims have such drawings on walls in their homes, said Behrooz, who was born in Tehran and has written books on Iran’s political history.

The student also apparently complained to “authorities higher up” at the university, according to Behrooz. The professor said the institution’s office of Equity Programs & Compliance informed him in March that it would investigate the incident and asked him to attend a Zoom meeting.

A staff member in the vice president’s office at San Francisco State told The Chronicle in an email that she could not comment on specific reports or investigations. She instead described the process for assessing reports of potential misconduct. An investigator meets with the complainant to gather information and discuss options, she said. If it’s decided the conduct could violate the California State University nondiscrimination policy, an investigation begins, and both parties are notified.

The Zoom meeting is slated for early April. Behrooz said he’s not overly worried, though he thinks an investigation by this office — which fields reports of harassment and discrimination — is unnecessary. He’s not sure what the inquiry portends. “How it goes from here is anybody’s guess,” he said.

FIRE’s letter is very good, with all the legal citations and bells and whistles, implying that the investigation should end tout suite and requesting that SFSU should respond by April 13.  I sense a lawsuit in the offing, and if SFSU doesn’t stop this investigation, they’ll be in a Hamline-University-like situation where they’ll get negative national publicity and a fat lawsuit filed against them by Dr. Behrooz.  Remember, even an investigation for charges that don’t carry weight, as these don’t, serves to chill speech and is a form of punishment.

It looks like Behrooz is going to at least accede to giving trigger warnings, but he doesn’t seem sufficiently angry! From the Chronicle:

In the meantime, Behrooz is thinking through what, if anything, he should change about his teaching. As a principle, he said he doesn’t think religious groups, or students, should decide how an instructor teaches a course at a secular institution. “But one has to also take into consideration, I think, the sensitivities of some religious people, be it Muslim or otherwise.”

Should he talk about the drawing without showing it? Should he still show it, as he’s done for years? Or, should he offer a compromise — warn students that the image is offensive to some and perhaps allow them to leave the class and come back?

He hasn’t decided, but he’s considering the compromise.

Finally, if you want to send either a boilerplate message to SFSU objecting to this stuff, or confect your own letter (I did the latter), just go to this site (bottom of page) and fill in the form. I wrote my own short letter, which follows. Feel free to appropriate from it if you wish.

Subject: End Investigation into History Professor ImmediatelyDear President Lynn Mahoney (show details) 

I understand that your university is investigating Professor Maziar Behrooz for showing a picture of Muhammad in a class about Muslim history. One student objected because some sects of Muslims consider this forbidden, and now SF State is investigating Behrooz.

I taught on the faculty of the University of Chicago for 36 years, and, unlike you, this university understands the meaning of the First Amendment and of academic freedom. Even investigating this didactic and proper use of the picture is itself a violation of the First Amendment, for it acts to chill speech.
I urge you to not go the way of Hamline University and try to punish this professor, for you will end up like they did: a national laughingstock and an academic embarrassment. Please stop this baseless investigation now.
Jerry Coyne

Greg Lukianoff’s fixes for the college free-speech problem

April 6, 2023 • 11:45 am

This post appeared at the Princetonians for Free Speech website, announcing a talk that FIRE‘s President and CEO Greg Lukianoff will be giving at Princeton on April 11, titled “The Conformity Gauntlet in Higher Education.” The body of the piece gives 16 suggestions Lukianoff has mnade for university administrators, national legislators, and state legislatures to help preserve both academic freedom and free speech on college campuses.

Click screenshot to read:

I’ll give a brief summary of his suggestions (indented), and any comments I have will be flush left. The meaning of the asterisks (degree of my approbation) is given below

  • ***Craft a National Leonard Law:  A California law passed in 1992 and amended in 2002, the Leonard Law prohibits non-sectarian public and private colleges in California from punishing any speech that would be protected off-campus. Under the Leonard Law’s terms, students may file civil lawsuits against their institutions and may recover attorneys’ fees. The 2006 amendment to California’s law adds protections for student journalists and newspapers, prohibiting “prior restraint,” which is the censoring of a specific forthcoming publication. A national Leonard Law would break what Lukianoff says is the “pretense” that private universities are in any meaningful sense “private” anymore. “Federal regulation, including so-called anti-harassment provisions, is utilized routinely to limit what you can teach and say on campus without actually applying First Amendment standards to protect academic freedom.”

Agreed. All campuses with the possible exception of religious ones should afford their members the same freedom’s as public universities.

  • Place a cap on administrative spending: As a condition of receiving federal funds, Congress could impose a cap on the percentage of a university’s expenses that go to overhead costs. Overhead, defined as costs of administration plus development, can run as high as an astonishing 80 percent, especially at schools like Princeton.

To Lukianoff, this bloated overhead goes to “administrative overreach,” much of which is to police speech and academic freedom violations.

  • *Curtail the protection of qualified immunity for public university administrators:  A doctrine originally designed to protect law enforcement officials from frivolous law suits and financial liability in cases where they acted in good faith or in legally murky circumstances, “qualified immunity” has come to be widely criticized for allowing public officials to avoid consequences for bad behavior.  Since 1982, it shields from liability all public officials performing discretionary functions (those acts requiring individual judgement) when their conduct does not violate statutory or constitutional rights known by a “reasonable person.” Is it reasonable for public university administrators to know when their conduct violates clearly established free speech rights?   “It is ludicrous to suggest that administrators bound by 1st Amendment don’t know they can’t censor people on the basis of viewpoint,” Lukianoff says.

I don’t have a strong feeling about the one above.

  • ***Ban political litmus tests: These are clearly unconstitutional, yet widely used at universities throughout the country. A recent FIRE survey reveals that over 80 percent of large universities either include or are considering DEI litmus tests as criteria in hiring and tenure standards. Requiring allegiance to a politicized understanding of “diversity” constitutes “forced speech” and therefore violates First Amendment protections. But with universities routinely requiring such DEI loyalty statements, an explicit ban is necessary. FIRE has published model state legislation designed to ban all loyalty oaths from public universities’ admissions, hiring and promotion policies, taking particular care to avoid replacing one orthodoxy with another.

This is very important and I agree wholeheartedly. No loyalty statements or fealty to specified ideologies should be required for getting jobs or promotions.

  • Designate one flagship state school in each state.  State legislatures could create premiere state universities which would admit only top students based purely on academic merit – test scores and grades. These schools would compete for students directly with the “fancies” – Lukianoff’s shorthand for the likes of Princeton, Harvard and Stanford.  Wise employers would prefer to draw from these flagship state schools as alternatives to Ivy league and other elite schools whose graduates increasingly bring with them the ideological baggage of intolerance for diverse viewpoints.

This is okay but not the best idea, and it would require enormous effort with, I think, little result.  What makes them think that such universities would be free of “political” ideological baggage, since the vast proportion of administrators and professors in all states are liberals, many “progressive.

  • **Ban Legacy Admissions:  Under such legislation, which has been attempted in New York, Connecticut and Colorado in the last few years, colleges and universities receiving federal funds would be barred from giving preference to legacies in admission.

I agree, though this is probably impractical. Lukianoff sees legacy admissions, correctly as perpetuating elite, expensive colleges; and part of his program is to “put a serious dent in the stranglehold that the elite colleges continue to have on the culture.” In my view, his assessment of elite colleges as major players in the perpetuation of woke culture is too extreme. Wokeness is everywhere, and won’t go away if elite colleges simply stop preferentially admitting the children of alumni. (They do this to build legacies which, of course, fosters more donations to a school.)

  • Increase Competition. Whole new institutions committed to academic freedom, like the University of Austin in Texas, Ralston College in Savannah Georgia, and Minerva University in San Francisco, constitute one form of competition, as do new centers at existing institutions, like University of North Carolina’s School of Civic Life and Leadership and Arizona State’s Center for American Institutions.

Not a big fan. We’d need a TON of such colleges to counteract what’s gong on at all the others. I think that this is one of the less effective remedies for suppression of free speech and academic freedom.

  • Create an extremely difficult test:  This test might be called a BA GED which would allow those highest performing high school seniors who pass it to bypass college altogether and go directly to graduate school or to employment. Lukianoff anticipates that this would “scare the living hell” out of the Ivy League and other top schools, because they know that many of the best and brightest would pass this test and then choose to avoid both the costs of an undergraduate degree and the orthodoxy that has come to saturate so much of university life and contribute to the decline in quality.

Not a great suggestion, I think.  Bypassing college is not generally a good idea for the students, as they miss the chance to broaden their horizons before they begin specializing in graduate school. I’ve known a few science students who skipped college because they simply tested out of it, and none of them wound up being great scientists. And all of them were too narrow in their liberal-arts knowledge.

  • Create an independent institution for academic study replication. The concept would require a group of politically balanced and esteemed scholars who, through repetition of experiments and observations in studies and reports, would evaluate the quality of research produced in higher education.

A good idea in principle, but who would want to spend their time replicating other people’s work. Further, I’m not sure that having just one institution, which would be overwhelmed replicating every academic student ever known, would suddenly create trust in published results?

  • Conduct massive state-funded studies to test the value of a college degree. A 2012 study called “Academically Adrift” revealed that about half of students studied showed no improvement in critical thinking skills after college compared to before. Lukianoff is willing to bet that a control group of 18-22 year-olds working regular jobs rather than attending college would show the same, or perhaps even greater, improvement in their critical thinking faculties.

It’s easier just to teach critical thinking more intensively.  And, anyway, legislators aren’t going to conduct those studies for fear that it will show that college doesn’t improve critical thinking. Further, while fostering critical thinking is an important function of a college education, there are others as well—not just teaching facts essential for one’s career but giving one perhaps the only chance in life to be exposed to to the arts, literature, and science as a matter of fiat, and so awakening the love of areas to which one hasn’t been exposed.

This next one is, in my view, the most important suggestion Lukianoff makes. Of course I’m biased, but these principles have worked well at Chicago, and made us #1 in FIRE’s college free-speech ranking. Pray Ceiling Cat that our new President and Provost agree!:

  • *****Presidents lead from the front:  Adopt some variant of the University of Chicago’s trifecta: The “Chicago Statement” that guarantees free speech on campus, with clear sanctions to deter those who disrupt others’ speech; the Kalven Report principle of institutional neutrality, which forbids the university and its units from taking official positions on issues of the day; and the Shils Report, which mandates that faculty hiring and promotion be based solely on academic merit and excellence in research and teaching. Presidents should endorse and promote institutional adoption of these principles publicly and conspicuously, and explain their roles and rationale. Once adopted, college Presidents should find opportunities to reiterate them loudly and often.

You can see a list of our University’s foundational principles here (with links to the statements), and the Shils Report is here.

  • ***Faculty, get organized:  Although data shows that faculty do not necessarily want to protect speech they don’t like, it also shows that the ubiquitous administrative meddling in how faculty conduct classes and even how they conduct research makes them fear speaking freely and is very unpopular.  To recenter the core mission around faculty, academic freedom proponents, with the protection tenure provides, have started to organize. “University of Chicago Free” and Harvard’s “Council on Academic Freedom,” to name just two, each have about 50 faculty who have agreed to be publicly named.  They share ideas via Listserv, organize plans to enforce existing academic freedom principles, promote candidates for faculty committee positions, and advocate for hiring reforms, like the requirement that academic job listings contain a statement welcoming all viewpoints. A goal should be to make sure that alumni can designate their gifts to these groups.

Yes, well worth doing; in many schools faculty have enormous influence on policy, and, as it says, we’ve organized our own “University of Chicago Free” group where we can discuss freedom of speech and academic freedom issues in a small group of people dedicated, by and large, to the same principles.

  • ****Teach free speech from day one:  Freshman orientation should introduce students to the principles underlying academic freedom, constitutionally protected free speech, viewpoint diversity, and truth-seeking, how these principles work in practice, and why a university cannot educate well without them. To institutionalize this orientation requirement, some suggest that faculty deans committed to academic freedom principles should take over orientation planning from administrators, who currently favor using it to mold morals and attitudes towards race, gender, sexuality, and other “identities” in ways that favor some groups’ rights over others, and encourage self-censorship. To help change course, FIRE offers a curriculum of orientation lessons and materials about free speech rights.

I absolutely agree with the comment above, and yet how many schools do this? I know of none.

  • **Require free speech and academic freedom ombudsmen. Students and faculty need immediate recourse when their free speech rights are violated. Most campuses contain armies of DEI administrators eager to generate and encourage complaints alleging discrimination or other subjectively determined “harms” committed by fellow students or faculty members.  In contrast, when a student or faculty member’s free speech rights have been violated, to whom can the victim turn? Is there a single campus administrator anywhere whose job centers on the protection of student and faculty free speech rights? Let’s have some. “Turning administrators against administrators may not be a bad thing,” says Lukianoff.

I don’t know how many schools would allow for such a person; I believe we tried that here and it didn’t fly.  The “setting administrators against each other” is a hard thing to do!

  • *Conduct annual campus climate surveys.  Such surveys would address attitudes towards free expression and reveal how free students, faculty and staff feel to state their views and engage in debate.  They would preferably be done in a way that would allow comparison across time and institutions. The questions in the surveys should be crafted to get to the bottom of the campus culture for debate and dissent, as well as the tolerance for faculty to pursue lines of scholarship and inquiry wherever they may lead.  FIRE’s survey results show that 63 percent of students nationwide think that the climate on their campuses prevents them from speaking freely. A majority of faculty report pressure to self-censor for fear of losing their jobs or undermining their reputations. If this data is accurate, then the campus climate is hostile to education.

A good idea, but doing it annually is a bit of work!

  • ****Take away power from those who can punish. Currently, from a student’s or professor’s perspective, the process is the punishment. This should end.  When an accusation of discrimination or emotional “harm” is made against a faculty member, student or other employee, a summary judgement process should be in place, led by people who know the difference between protected speech and unprotected conduct.  If the accusation is against speech that is protected, then the case is summarily dismissed. To bolster this reform, universities should be required to give out a Miranda-type warning, so the accused knows that there is no obligation to comply with any investigation into protected speech. Commitment to this process should be written into a university’s speech and expression policy and in the faculty and student handbooks, which in many states are legally binding. Presidents and Provosts should assert boldly and often that punishment for unpopular or controversial speech will not occur at their institutions.

Being charged or investigated is a punishment in itself, and if there are no good grounds for that, the student should be left alone. When an investigation is warranted, everybody should have the same rights that apply in a court: lawyers, right to confront the accuser, knowing what the accusation is, and the finder of fact should not be the judge and jury. This was the one salubrious change that was made under the Trump administration, by Betsy DeVos. Sadly, Biden has taken away the rights of the accused, reverting to the previous form of Title IX that applied under Obama.

I have put asterisks next to the recommendations I consider most important, with the number of asterisks indicating greater importance.

h/t: Ginger K.

In wake of controversy over showing images of Muhammad, and a faculty vote of no confidence, the president of Hamline University “retires”

April 5, 2023 • 9:45 am

If you read this site you almost certainly remember the controversy beginning in late December, 2022 at Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota. I wrote several times about what ensued when an art-history teacher,  Erika López Prater, showed her class two images of Muhammad depicted as a person. One, very famous (below), showed the Prophet’s face, and in the other painting the face was blotted out.  As you may know, some (but not all) sects of Islam consider it blasphemous to depict Muhammad in any form.

To forestall “offense,” Dr. López Prater warned the students on her course syllabus that the images would be shown, letting them know they didn’t  have to look at them. Further, she made the same announcement verbally right at the beginning of class. Here’s the most famous of the images, considered a masterpiece of Islamic art; it’s from the 14th century and shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.


Well, the warnings were of no avail. Several students complained about the depiction, apparently unaware that showing Muhammad is blasphemous to only some Muslims, and apparently ignored the two “trigger warnings” that López Prater issued. Big “harm” and “offense” ensued and the President of Hamline, Fayneese Miller (see photo below) issued a weaselly statement that firing the instructor was not a violation of academic freedom:

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations.”  —Fayneese Miller

A ton of publicity ensued, none of it favorable to Hamline. The faculty rebelled, with 86% of full-time faculty (71/83) voting to ask Miller to resign, and López Prater, who apparently has other job offers, is suing the school.  All of this makes for a perfect storm of bad publicity, sending a message that Hamline University doesn’t practice academic freedom.

The results were predictable, especially because it’s likely the instructor will win big bucks in her suit against Hamline. Click to read this NYT article, or see it archived here.

Although Miller just announced that she’d retire in about a year, there isn’t much doubt, after the faculty vote, that her hand was forced.

The president of Hamline University, who had been under sharp criticism for the treatment of an adjunct professor who showed images of the Prophet Muhammad in an art history class, announced on Monday that she would retire in June 2024.

Fayneese S. Miller, the president of the Minnesota school, had initially defended the university’s decision to not reappoint the lecturer who had shown students, after providing warnings, images of the Prophet Muhammad, igniting a debate about academic freedom and Islamophobia.

Many Muslims say they are prohibited from viewing images of Muhammad out of concerns of idolatry, but Muslims have varying views about such representations.

On Monday, an email from the administration to the campus announced that Dr. Miller would step down, but made no mention of the controversy.

In the message, Ellen Watters, the chairwoman of the university’s board of trustees, called Dr. Miller an “innovative and transformational” leader and said she had ably led the university through a time of change while centering the needs of students. “Hamline is forever grateful for Dr. Miller’s tireless and dedicated service,” she said. The university will conduct a national search for a successor.

But Miller had also been criticized for going too easy on students who exercised their freedom of speech:

In the Muhammad controversy, she was criticized for bending to the will of student activists. But Dr. Miller, the university’s first Black president, also found herself targeted by students for resisting the calls of activists.

In 2019, four white student athletes were seen on video singing along to a popular song that included a racial epithet. Students demanded that she punish the students in the video. Dr. Miller refused, stating that the matter was a teachable moment. She said her response would have been different if the students had directed the word at another student.

Students also protested her last fall after she suggested to a gathering of student leaders that they donate money to the university while students there. The comments, students said, were oblivious to their financial struggles.

The decision about the song was the correct one, though a single epiphet directed at a student is probably permitted by Hamline’s speech code, and certainly by the First Amendment. But if it’s done repeatedly to create at atmosphere of harassment and bigotry, that speech is not protected.

Later on, the University walked back Miller’s statement, now admitting that it made a misstep. But it was too late: López Prater had already been fired:

Eventually, the university — in a statement signed by Dr. Miller and the university’s board chair, Ms. Watters — walked back its most controversial statements, including that Dr. López Prater’s actions were Islamophobic.

“Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” the statement said. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

The university statement also came the same day that Dr. López Prater sued the university’s board for defamation and religious discrimination. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

The third paragraph is of course a lie: it was indeed the President’s intent to show that religious “offense” overrides academic freedom. And the school will pay big-time for it in simoleons (they’ve already paid in the loss of their reputation). As for the whole statement above, it was made when López Prater had already been dumped, so my reaction resembles an apocryphal statement of Beethoven, who, informed on his deathbed that a case of Rhine wine had arrived as a gift, reportedly said, “Pity, pity. . . . too late.”

Too late for López Prater, but not for academic freedom. What this whole sad story shows is that academic freedom and freedom of speech in universities—at least the decent ones—is not negotiable. Nothing save the law—the speech that is not protected by the First Amendment—can override these freedoms. For the freedom to work on what you want, and say what you want (subject to judicial strictures) are the very bases of a university. College students may not get lessons in free speech and academic freedom, though all entering students should, but what happened at Hamline University is an object lesson in how offense is an inevitable byproduct of a good college education.

It’s also a lesson to colleges themselves. If they advertise themselves as promoting academic freedom and free speech, they’d better walk the walk. Otherwise, even in these woke times, they risk losing their reputation and a lot of dosh.

I am heartened at Miller’s firing resignation, and at the overwhelming faculty vote against her. But I am not convinced by a long shot that this marks a turning point in colleges’ teaching and enforcing freedom of expression. As I write this, similar clashes are going on at other universities (the one at Stanford Law School just occurred), and some universities that have lost badly on these issues just didn’t learn their lesson (I’m looking at you, Oberlin).

h/t: Greg

Stanford Law School Dean writes long letter supporting free speech and viewpoint neutrality, puts offending DEI administrator on leave

March 23, 2023 • 11:15 am

I’ve written previously about the shameful behavior of Stanford University Law School (SLS) with respect to a March 9 talk by conservative Appellate Court judge Kyle Duncan. The talk, about the relationship between Duncan’s court and the Supreme Court, was seriously disrupted by the law-school students, who shouted and put up posters and signs in the lecture room. (I consider signs a disruption, but others don’t.)  The students had been egged on to protest by a pre-talk email from the Law School’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, denouncing Duncan and saying how harmful his decisions have been.

When Duncan asked for an administrator to intervene to stop the disruption (four deans, including Steinbach, were sitting there silently), Dean Steinbach got up and read several minutes’ worth of further critique of Duncan’s “harmful” decisions, and while paying lip service to Stanford’s free speech policy, asked the students whether “the juice was worth the squeeze”, i.e., whether free speech was worth the offense and harm inflicted on the students. She also said that the demonstration had been the right thing to do. That pretty much ended the presentation save for some confrontational questions by students and some angry answers by Duncan.

Afterwards, SLC Dean Jenny Martinez sent a letter to the Stanford community apologizing for the demonstration, and then she and Stanford’s President sent a joint letter of apology to Judge Duncan. (Duncan’s behavior itself wasn’t optimal during the talk, either, for then and in interviews afterwards he called the students names, something that detracted from his gravitas. However, I can understand his anger even though I disagree strongly with his legal views.)

When Martinez taught her own SLS class a few days later, she herself was subject to a silent demonstration by her students, who wore black, and there were calls for her to rescind her apology and even to resign.

Yesterday Martinez sent out a very long (10-page) letter to the SLS community disclosing what Stanford had decided to do in light of the disruption, which had brought unfavorable national attention on the school. You can find that letter here, or by clicking on the screenshot below.  It’s a pretty good letter that outlines strong reforms for SLS and Stanford in general.

The upshot:

1.)  The only downside to the letter is that it begins by emphasizing the hate mail directed to Stanford’s administrators and students, as if they were the victims rather than free speech itself as well as Judge Duncan (I indent excerpts from Martinez’s letter):

As we consider the role of respectful treatment of members of our community, I want to be clear that the hate mail and appalling invective that have been directed at some of our students and law school administrators in the wake of March 9 are of great concern to me. All actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the lawpermits.

It also continually emphasizes Stanford’s “diverse community” and respect for DEI, which isn’t too bad, but of course it was the DEI dean, the conflict between DEI principles and free speech—and the decision by Steinbach and the other attending deans to let “offense” trump free speech— that created this whole mess in the first place.

2.) Much of the letter reads like a court decision, citing all the relevant legal cases and decisions showing that schools like Stanford have free speech but disruption is not part of free speech. (Posters apparently are, though I think I’d be discombobulated if students in the front row were holding up banners and signs.) But it’s a clever way for Martinez to impress on the law students that, indeed, they had acted contrary to settled law.

3.) Glory of glories: Dean Steinbach was disciplined for fomenting the demonstration—something I hoped for but did not expect.  She’s been put on leave and apparently being further investigated, so she might be fired. From Martinez’s letter (her emphasis), which also chastises the other deans for not quashing the disruption:

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.

4.) Martinez cites the University of Chicago’s Kalven Report mandating institutional neutrality on political, ideological, and moral matters (except when they affect the University’s mission) to show why administrators should not chill the speech of students—as they did on March 9 with the students who wanted to hear Judge Duncan. I’m very pleased that Stanford (and, increasingly, other schools) are falling in line with the Kalven principles. From Martinez’s letter:

The 1967 Kalven Report of the University of Chicago is not formal policy at Stanford but helps explain why university administrators should avoid exercising their authority in ways that can chill speech. It states:

A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of theuniversity and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a community. It is a role for the long term.

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.

5.)  Stanford decided not to punish individual students for participating in the demonstration, but to give them some education in freedom of speech. This is fine with me, as the students apparently had not been given such education, because it would be hard to identify individual students who violated Stanford’s free-speech policy, and because the students were also told by Dean Steinbach that their actions were okay. But every college orientation in America needs a unit on freedom of speech:

Second, with respect to the students involved in the protest, several factors lead me to conclude that what is appropriate here is mandatory educational programming for our student body rather than referring specific students for disciplinary sanction (which at Stanford is administered by the central university’s Office of Community Standards and involves a deliberate process including fact-finding and hearings).

. . .Accordingly, as one first step the law school will be holding a mandatory half-day session in spring quarter for all students on the topic of freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession. A faculty committee will plan the session and invite speakers representing a range of viewpoints. Needless to say, faculty and students are free to disagree with the material presented in these sessions or with the arguments I have presented in this memorandum – there will be no orthodoxy on this topic either. But I believe further discussion of these topics will both advance our educational mission and help us learn from the errors of the recent past.

6.) Finally, Stanford is going to examine and reform its protocol for dealing with disruption of speakers:

In addition, a more detailed and explicit policy with clear protocols for dealing with disruptions would better protect the rights of speakers and also those who wish to exercise their right to protest within permissible bounds, and is something we will seek to adopt and educate students and staff on going forward. Cf., e.g., UC Hastings [now UC College of the Law San Francisco] Event Policy: Student Organization Support Protocol; Permissible Forms of Protest (Adopted October 1, 2022), available at uc-hastings-event-policy-adopted-october-1-2022. Doing so will bring greater clarity and certainty about future enforcement of the policy, including through disciplinary sanctions as appropriate.

All in all, this seems a satisfactory resolution to me.  I think a nice touch would be to invite Judge Duncan back to give his planned talk; that would not only be gracious (though I doubt he’d agree to come!), but would also test whether the new rules are really in effect.

If you’re interested in the relevant law, or want to see a pretty good letter (which I’m sure Dean Martinez was compelled to write), do read the whole letter. This had to be done so that SLS wouldn’t become the laughing stock of law schools—or lose donor money. But I seriously doubt whether the renegade students will accept what Dean Martinez says. They may behave properly from now on, but the “I’m offended” trope is hard to root out.

ADDENDUM:  FIRE has posted a laudatory commentary on Dean Martinez’s letter.

h/t: Dorian and several readers

Wellesley, traditionally a woman’s college, now votes on whether to accept nonbinary biological males and trans men students

March 19, 2023 • 11:50 am

In this age of inclusiveness, all-women colleges are disappearing rapidly: in the mid 1960s there were 300, but that’s now down to about 30.

The rationale for the foundation and existence of these colleges is severalfold, at least as expressed by the women in the articles below in the NYT (and elsewhere).  First, they allowed women to get an education at a time when they simply weren’t accepted by many colleges. Further, they provided a “safe space” at a time when women weren’t taken so seriously as students, and were often dominated in co-ed college by men. (One notable aspect of this, which I’ve seen in my own classes, is the tendency of men to talk over women, or not take their statements seriously. That degrades women’s education.)

Along with this goes the wish of women to be free of harassment from men, and to establish solidarity with other women. There are many superb women colleges—Smith, Wellesley, Bryn Mawr, Vassar, and Radcliffe, to name a few—but many, like Vassar, now accept men and a group of others accept trans people, so long as they identify as women.

There remains the problem, however, about what to do with trans men and with people who consider themselves members of both sexes, or “nonbinary”. Some women’s colleges, like Wellesley, accept trans women and people who identify as women, presumably under the rubric “trans women are women”. This means they accept biological men, which puzzles me a bit because those men could still show the domineering tendencies that women don’t like.  Who knows?

But the real sticking point for Wellesley College in the eponymous Massachusetts town, and the subject of these two successive NYT articles (click screenshots to read; first one is archived), is whether it will accept trans men: biological women who have decided that they identify as men and that they will live as men.  As the article notes, Wellesley held a highly divisive but nonbinding student referendum this week about whether to:

a. accept trans men as students
b. accept “nonbinary” people who were “identified as male at birth” (their language), and
c. “making the college’s communications more gender inclusive — for example, using the word ‘students’ or ‘alumni’ instead of ‘women’.”

This has caused a huge furor on campus, and the college’s President, Paula Johnson, has said that this changes the mission of the college, which was founded to accept women.

The rationale for the referendum is to make Wellesley a refuge for marginalized people of all stripes.  The referendum does not allow for the admission of biological men. But since, as the mantra goes, “trans men are men”, and the referendum (which passed; see below) overwhelmingly approved the admission of trans men, then Wellesley would—if the referendum became the rules—changed from a women’s college to a men’s college, at least in part. I suppose the rationale for admitting what are said by activists to be “fully men” is that trans men, while still characterized by activists to be men in every way, are still seen as marginalized because they are trans. At any rate, I have no dog in this fight, and am observing it as a spectator.

Here’s a bit about the President’s desire to hold the line against accepting trans men and nonbinary biological men, as well as the fierce desire of many to change this stand. (Note that some trans men already go to Wellesley, but they transitioned after they were admitted.):

In a message to the campus last week, Dr. Johnson described Wellesley as “a women’s college that admits cis, trans and nonbinary students — all who consistently identify as women.”

“Wellesley,” she said, “was founded on the then-radical idea that educating women of all socioeconomic backgrounds leads to progress for everyone. As a college and community, we continue to challenge the norms and power structures that too often leave women, and others of marginalized identities, behind.”

There was fierce pushback. Students held an ongoing sit-in at the administration building. The student newspaper’s editorial board wrote that “we disapprove and entirely disagree” with the president.

Departments issued statements in support of the referendum. An associate provost for equity and inclusion said the employees in her office were “deeply challenged” by the president’s email.

And an open letter, signed by hundreds of faculty, staff and alumni, said the college was abandoning the radicalism of its creation “

And the vote is in. According to this article, also by Vimal Patel but published on March 15 (the day after the piece above), gives the details:

The reason this is important, though trans students are relatively few, is that the referendum (which the College says it won’t accept) would have changed the very rationale of the college:

On Tuesday, its students supported a referendum that had polarized the campus and went straight to the heart of Wellesley’s identity as a women’s college.

The referendum, which was nonbinding, called for opening admission to all nonbinary and transgender applicants, including trans men. Currently, the college allows admission to anyone who lives and consistently identifies as a woman.

The referendum also called for making the college’s communications more gender inclusive — for example, using the word “students” or “alumni” instead of “women.”

The vote was in some ways definitional: What is the mission of a women’s college?

Supporters said that women’s colleges had always been safe havens for people facing gender discrimination, and that with trans people under attack across the country, all transgender and nonbinary applicants must be able to apply to Wellesley.

Opponents of the referendum said that if trans men or nonbinary students were admitted, Wellesley would become effectively coed.

And Wellesley’s president, Paula Johnson, said that the referendum would rewrite Wellesley’s founding mission to educate women.

After the vote, the college said it would not reconsider its opposition, according to a statement from Stacey Schmeidel, director of media relations.

The vote wasn’t disclosed, but everyone expected the referendum to pass because it was seen as more inclusive.  As I said, this is Wellesley’s business, and the only thing I question is how they rationalize “trans men are men” mantra with the idea that Wellesley is still a women’s college, and in what relevant respect trans men differ from biological men (as I said, it may be the idea of oppression).

What we’ll have is a college whose very character is conceived differently by the students and by the administration, and it will be interesting to see how this shakes out. It also raises important questions, the most pressing being, “Is there still a place for women’s colleges in today’s ‘inclusive’ world?” and “Can you conceive of colleges as places of refuge for those seen as oppressed by their sexual identity?”

I have no answers of my own.  Nellie Bowles, giving her weekly snarky take on the news at the Free Press,sees this a presaging the end of women’s colleges in America:

→ Wellesley student body votes to abolish itself as a women’s college: The Wellesley student government voted this week to abolish all language of being a women’s college—and to use gender-neutral terms like students or alumni instead of women. Also: to scrap all women’s specific admission criteria and open instead to all gender nonconforming peoples. Yes, they voted to open admissions to transmen. Now, if transmen are men (full stop) as the activists argue, then this doesn’t really make much sense, but no matter.

They make an interesting argument that basically the school should be a place for all people who have trouble with their gender (i.e., anyone who is not a male currently wearing pants). Here’s Ailie Wood, class of 2024, who helped author the proposal: “Wellesley was founded as a women’s college because they wanted to create a safe and supportive learning environment for people who were marginalized based on gender. Such a place should welcome and support trans women, trans men and nonbinary people as well. Past, present and future trans and nonbinary students at Wellesley should feel like the College has their back, acknowledges their identity, and supports their access to a Wellesley education.”

The referendum is nonbinding (I will not make a chest binder joke here, as my outrageous copy editor just suggested). But it’s a sign of what is to come, which is the end of women’s colleges in America.

h/t: Jez

Entitled Stanford Law students, egged on by DEI dean, demolish the free speech of a visiting judge

March 12, 2023 • 9:45 am

A bunch of students at Stanford Law school, egged on by a DEI dean, managed to shut down a talk by Judge Kyle Duncan, who’s on the Court of Appeals of the Fifth Circuit. That’s one of the 13 appellate courts of last resort before the final one: the U.S. Supreme Court. The Fifth, headquartered in the southern United States, is known for the conservative tenor of its decisions, and nearly all its judges were appointed by Republicans.

Stanford Law School, on the other hand, is known as Left-wing, indeed, in many ways it’s woke. Ergo there was bound to be trouble when the student branch of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization, invited Kyle Duncan to speak on a topic one would think would interest SLS students: “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, guns, and Twitter.” It’s not often law students get to hear an appellate court judge discuss interactions with the Supreme Court (justices tend to keep their views private), so this would be something I’d want to hear, too.

The SLS student didn’t. They are incurious about views contrary to their own, and showed it.

First, a poster appeared, produced by SLS students, showing all the officers of the school’s Federalist Society. It’s a way of doxing them, but it’s legal. Still, it was meant to intimidate them by urging other students to demonize them.

Below is another one indicting Judge Duncan (not all the accusations are accurate, and of course “fought” really means “ruled on the issue”). It is true, however, that he’s a conservative justice, and was appointed by Trump. That alone makes him anathema to most SLS students.

Finally, the talk was further attacked in advance in an email sent to the students by Tirien Steinbach, the Law School’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. You can see that email, and a pretty balanced summary of all the issues and events around Duncan’s visit, in the Substack article below by David Lat, a legal journalist who also leans to the right. (He does, however, call out Judge Duncan for his own juvenile behavior during the Q&A session.)

Click to read:

Lat reproduces Steinbach’s email, which is too long to repeat here. It does, however, throw gasoline on the fire. At the same time she assures students that Stanford favors free speech, she also reminds them how odious Judge Duncan is:

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.

And while she reminds students that SLS will not censor Judge Duncan, that’s exactly what happened. Far more students showed up to protest Duncan’s appearance than to listen to him. They held up signs and, as Duncan began to speak, repeatedly interrupted him and shouted him down.

Below: one tweet from Aaron Sibarium’s twitter thread, showing a protest sign (“Duncan can’t find the clit”, presumably referring to his stand on abortion) and some of the student reaction.

Unfortunately, when Duncan asked the SLS administrators to restore order (three were in attendance), the one who stepped in was DEI dean Steinbach, who proceeded not to restore order, but to lecture Duncan for nine minutes about how he was causing “harm” to the students. She also questioned whether Stanford’s free-speech policy wasn’t itself harmful—whether “the juice was worth the squeeze”. Apparently Steinbach had prepared written remarks for such an occasion, anticipating that she’d get to chew out the Judge.

Steinbach’s patronizing lecture to Duncan can be seen below in the Twitter thread by legal writer Ed Whelan that begins here. See below, or you can watch Steinbach’s remarks on Vimeo.

As Lat recounts, Duncan’s talk ended without students being able to listen:

As you can see from the video, about half of the protestors eventually left at the direction of a student protest leader, with one of them charmingly calling the judge “scum” as she walked out. Yet the heckling continued, and still the administrators did nothing to intervene. Eventually, the student-relations representative tried to intervene once it had become clear that the event was out of control—but Judge Duncan then criticized him, telling him that he should have acted sooner.

Not getting traction trying to give a speech, Judge Duncan moved on to the question-and-answer session, and the protestors quieted down enough to ask a few questions. The questions—and answers—were generally contemptuous. As the judge put it to me, while he’s usually happy to answer questions when he speaks at law schools, the questions he received at Stanford were not asked in good faith; in his words, they were of the “how many people have you killed” or “how many times did you beat your wife last week” variety.

According to Lat, Duncan himself lost his cool and responded angrily to the students:

After around ten minutes of trying to give his remarks, Judge Duncan became angry, departed from his prepared remarks, and laced into the hecklers. He called the students “juvenile idiots” and said he couldn’t believe the “blatant disrespect” he was being shown after being invited to speak. He said that the “prisoners were now running the asylum,” which led to a loud round of boos. His pushback riled up the protesters even more.

I can understand Duncan’s anger, but a federal judge should be able to restrain his temper under fire.

Duncan has remained angry in later interviews, “saying that the protesters behaved like ‘dogs**t’ and that Dean Steinbach should be fired.” At the very least, I think Steinbach’s behavior was execrable—far, worse than the Judge’s, and she should be disciplined if not fired. She knew full well what her actions would cause, for she’d prepared remarks for that very occurrence.

The next day, Jenny Martinez, Dean of the SLS, wrote an email to the community saying, in effect, that “mistakes were made”, and that Judge Duncan should have been allowed to speak. But she made no mention of DEI Dean Steinbach’s role in the whole thing.  Lat reproduces Martinez’s email in his Substack post,

I found Martinez’s “apology” okay but insufficient, and I emailed her directly (copying it to Stanford’s President), saying that at the very least Steinbach deserved a reprimand. It is not the purpose of a DEI dean to create even more division and disunity, and Steinbach, who should have behaved more professionally, acted like a frothing ideologue. “Harm” indeed!  Can we replace this “harm” word for what it really means in these situations: “offense”?

FIRE also wrote a letter to Stanford’s President about the treatment of Duncan; here’s a bit:

In the video, Dean Steinbach—who ostensibly was brought into the event to restore calm, and arguably did so—repeatedly praised the hecklers and accused the speaker of “harm.” She also muses about whether, in regard to Stanford’s permissive free expression policies, the “juice is worth the squeeze.” She suggests the university “might need to reconsider these policies” to prevent speakers like Duncan from sharing their views on campus in the future because they may upset some students.

. . . When the university allows speakers like Judge Duncan to be silenced, it sends the message to all in the Stanford community that those who engage in unlawful, disruptive conduct have the power to dictate which voices and views may be heard on campus. If reports about last night’s disruption are accurate, Stanford must take immediate steps to reaffirm its commitment to expressive rights for all. Failure to do so quickly and clearly will be to Stanford’s lasting shame.

Yesterday, both Stanford’s President, Marc Tessier-Lavigne and SLS Dean Martinez personally apologized in a joint letter to Judge Duncan. Eugene Volokh posts those apologies here. It’s a good letter, and does refer indirectly to DEI Dean Steinbach. They also promise to do better. I’ll believe it when I see it. From the letter:

We are very clear with our students that, given our commitment to free expression, if there are speakers they disagree with, they are welcome to exercise their right to protest but not to disrupt the proceedings. Our disruption policy states that students are not allowed to “prevent the effective carrying out” of a “public event” whether by heckling or other forms of interruption.

In addition, 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.

The only person that last paragraph could refer to is Dean Steinbach.

So that’s the story, and it’s been all over the media—the Right-wing media, mostly, for it’s not in the Left-wing media’s interest to show bad behavior of those on its end of the ideological spectrum.

The Big Lesson: As Christopher Hitchens observed in his marvelous talk in Toronto on free speech, if people have an opinion that is grossly different from the “prevailing wisdom,” that makes it even more urgent to not only allow those persons to speak, but to listen to them. Judge Duncan should have been listened to quietly (I also don’t think signs should be allowed in the lecture room, as they are designed to discombobulate the speaker), and the post talk questions, if confrontational, should at least have been polite.

But it’s not just the fault of the Stanford Law students, for their school apparently failed to instill in them the meaning of the First Amendment and how it should be respected on a campus. I’d suggest to Dean Martinez that a first-year’s orientation at SLS should include a unit on freedom of speech.


UPDATE: A new article in The Stanford Review, the university’s conservative newspaper. Click to read:

An excerpt:

Stanford’s apology to Duncan stated the obvious: this shouldn’t have happened. Judge Duncan graciously accepted the apology. In doing so, he reiterated that he never should have been shouted down in the first place and that staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so. He reiterated how poor the behavior of Steinbach was, stating that “the administrators’ behavior was completely at odds with the law school’s mission of training future members of the bench and bar.” The apology also said that Stanford would take steps to ensure this does not happen again. However, it is unclear what Stanford plans to do to prevent such disruption in the future. Firing Dean Steinbach is a good start.

The university’s apology will be completely meaningless unless concrete actions are taken to rid the administration of anti-speech zealots

They’re right: unless there is action, all we have is meaningless words. I am not a “cancel culture” advocate who normally calls for somebody who makes a misstep to be fired. But what Dean Steinbach did wasn’t a misstep: it was a deliberately planned and timed provocation to push back on Stanford’s free speech policy and prevent the students from hearing “offensive” speech like that proferred by Judge Duncan. This was not a misstep but sabotage of Stanford’s policies, and, upon reflection, I think they should give Dean Steinbach her walking papers.