For now, the adults at the Stanford Law School appear to be in charge. In a March 22nd letter addressed to the “SLS Community,” Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martínez unequivocally repudiated the shoutdown of federal judge Kyle Duncan by Stanford law students earlier this month. The law school’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, who had lectured Duncan about his allegedly injurious presence on campus, has been placed on leave. That is the good news.
Martínez’s letter is one of the most thorough defenses of academic free speech to come from a college administrator in recent years. However, she has declined to discipline the students involved in the heckling. Distinguishing those students who had engaged in punishable conduct from those who had not would be too difficult, she claims. Moreover, the hecklers had not been warned that they risked sanctions. Punishing the hecklers would also leave unpunished those who did not literally disrupt the event but whose vulgar signs or insulting personal questions were outside the norms of civil discourse.
Instead of discipline, Martínez will require all law students to attend a half-day session on free speech later in the semester. (One can’t help but observe that Judge Duncan’s student hosts, who engaged in no speech disruption, do not seem to be in need of such training.) The reasons for Martínez’s amnesty are not persuasive. Nevertheless, that amnesty could serve as an acceptable compromise if other measures to prevent a reoccurrence were in place. They are not, and Martínez’s letter shows why they likely never will be.