The DEI Dean of Stanford Law School (SLS), Tirien Steinbach, is now on leave from the University after helping escalate a disruption between law-school students and a visiting Appellate Court Judge, Kyle Duncan, invited by Stanford’s Federalist Society to talk about the relationship between his court and the Supreme Court. It’s not clear whether Steinbach voluntarily took a leave, was forced to take a leave, or whether she’ll be fired (they’re pondering that now). No matter what, she is in trouble. The President of Stanford and the Dean of SLS, apologizing to Duncan, singled out Steinbach’s confrontational approach to the judge, and SLS Dean Jenny Martinez’s letter, sent yesterday to the SLS community, said this (her emphasis):
Enforcement of university policies against disruption of speakers is necessary to ensure the expression of a wide range of viewpoints. It also follows from this that when a disruption occurs and the speaker asks for an administrator to help restore order, the administrator who responds should not insert themselves into debate with their own criticism of the speaker’s views and the suggestion that the speaker reconsider whether what they plan to say is worth saying, for that imposes the kind of institutional orthodoxy and coercion that the policy on Academic Freedom precludes. For that reason, I stand by my statement in the apology letter that at the event on March 9, “staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”
. . . First, Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach is currently on leave. Generally speaking, the university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters, and so I will not do so at this time. I do want to express concern over the hateful and threatening messages she has received as a result of viral online and media attention and reiterate that actionable threats that come to our attention will be investigated and addressed as the law permits. Finally, it should be obvious from what I have stated above that at future events, the role of any administrators present will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed, and all staff will receive additional training in that regard.
It’s clear from all the apologies and SLS correspondence that Dean Steinbach’s actions were regarded as disruptive and not conciliatory. (There’s also a swipe at the three other Deans in the room who did nothing.) But in a new op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (what a weird place to publish this!), Dean Steinbach tries to justify her actions by arguing that diversity and free speech can coexist at Stanford. And that’s true, so long as free speech is given primacy. What cannot coexist is the current form of DEI initiatives, such as those represented by Steinbach, and freedom of speech, for free speech is perceived by many in the DEI community as offensive and harmful. Regardless of what she says, Dean Steinbach was not trying to harmonize DEI (represented by the upset students) with free speech; she was trying to be divisive.
In this op-ed, as in her remarks to Judge Duncan when he asked for an administrator to cool the disruption, she waffles—indeed, I see her remarks as deliberately disingenuous. She says she’s in favor of free speech, but then asks, as she did during Duncan’s talk, whether “the juice is worth the squeeze”. What she means is that we must ponder whether free speech policy produces results that we’re happy with. That totally undercuts her claimed defense of Stanford’s policy. Remember, too, that the morning before Duncan spoke, Steinbach sent an email to the SLS community that started this way (read the full text here):
Today, Federal Judge Kyle Duncan (Fifth Circuit) will be speaking at an event on the topic of The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns and Twitter. While Judge Duncan is not expected to present on his views, advocacy or judicial decisions related directly to LGBTQ+ civil rights, this is an area of law for which he is well known. Numerous senators, advocacy groups, think tanks, and judicial accountability groups opposed Kyle Duncan’s nomination to the bench because of his legal advocacy (and public statements) regarding marriage equality, and transgender, voting, reproductive, and immigrants’ rights. However, he was confirmed in 2018. He has been invited to speak at SLS by the student chapter of the Federalist Society.
Yes, the topic was not about Duncan’s own legal decisions and views, but on this: ““The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, guns, and Twitter.” Nevertheless, Steinbach could not restrain herself from criticizing Duncan’s political views and giving copious links. This email was one of several elements that brought a mob of SLS students together to disrupt Duncan’s talk.
Now, like Lucy, Steinbach has some “‘splaining to do,” and you can read that ‘splaining below. Click the screenshot to read:
As you can see from the title, she’s trying to hold two opposing positions at once: that free speech and diversity can coexist, and whether full-on free speech is really worth the reasons it’s become policy. Her entire whole post is a whitewash of what she did (and does not mentioning her inciting email). So she claims to favor free speech:
I supported the administration’s decision not to cancel the event or move it to video, as it would censor or limit the free speech of Judge Duncan and the students who invited him. Instead, the administration and I welcomed Judge Duncan to speak while supporting the right of students to protest within the bounds of university policy.
As a member of the Stanford Law School administration—and as a lawyer—I believe that we should strive for authentic free speech. We must strive for an environment in which we meet speech—even that with which we strongly disagree—with more speech, not censorship.
I wonder what she means by “authentic” free speech. Is there “inauthentic” free speech? I think she’s implying here that Duncan’s views, if promulgated, would not be “authentic free speech”, because they would be harmful (see below).
Then she claims that she stepped up to the podium to “de-escalate the situation”, another lie:
As soon as Judge Duncan entered the room, a verbal sparring match began to take place between the judge and the protesters. By the time Judge Duncan asked for an administrator to intervene, tempers in the room were heated on both sides.
I stepped up to the podium to deploy the de-escalation techniques in which I have been trained, which include getting the parties to look past conflict and see each other as people. My intention wasn’t to confront Judge Duncan or the protesters but to give voice to the students so that they could stop shouting and engage in respectful dialogue. I wanted Judge Duncan to understand why some students were protesting his presence on campus and for the students to understand why it was important that the judge be not only allowed but welcomed to speak.
First, the verbal sparring match was initiated by the students, not by Duncan, though he did react angrily later. Second, her job was to de-escalate, not lecture Judge Duncan about why some students were protesting his presence on campus. What she wanted to do was express her own views about Duncan, not educate him on why the students didn’t like him. Her claim here is yet another lie. I wonder where she learned her de-escalation techniques—from Donald Trump?
Steinbach then explains what she meant by asking whether “the juice was worth the squeeze,” saying it refers to “the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech,” which really means “the responsibility not to offend the SLS students.”
Finally, and most disingenuously, she claims that what happened during the lecture is a “microcosm of how polarized our society has become”, which she decries. Yet she herself is largely responsible for the polarization accompanying Duncan’s talk! Finally, she ends this way:
Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people.
God bless America! Note that there is no “balance” to be struck between free speech and DEI. Free speech at Stanford and at all public universities is NON-NEGOTIABLE; it is not to be quashed or officially tempered so it comports with DEI. Yes, I do advocate civility, and trying to use free speech to create discussion and understanding, but if I have something to say about DEI that I consider worthy of discussion, yet others find it offensive, that’s too damn bad. Free speech trumps offense, non-physical “harm” and the hurt feelings of students.
If you want to see Steinbach’s lecture to Judge Duncan, follow the links from this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, called “Stanford Law’s diversity dean is ‘on leave’ as controversy boils over a disrupted speech.”
The scene featuring Steinbach and Duncan — captured on video and audio — has been thoroughly scrutinized within and outside of higher ed for two weeks.
Watch and listen to the event itself, or you can read a transcript of Steinbach’s remarks at a link I’ve put below. First, a video of Dean Steinbach’s Moment of Glory:
You can read Steinbach’s remarks here (at FIRE).
To be sure, she does tell the students that SLS has free speech and that she’s in favor of giving Duncan space to finish his remarks. Then she chews the judge out in a way guaranteed to ensure that doesn’t happen. I’ve put that bit of Steinbach’s speech below the fold at the bottom.
If you read the comments after her piece at the SWJ, you’ll see that most of the readers aren’t buying Steinbach’s apologia. Here are four:
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