Statement on Stanford’s Treatment of Judge Duncan

National Association of Scholars

A memo released today by Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez announces that Tireien Steinbach, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, is “currently on leave.” This comes less than a week after Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Dean Martinez apologized for the way the Law School treated of Judge Stuart Kyl Duncan at an event on March 9. Judge Duncan, who serves on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, was invited by the Federalist Society to speak at Stanford Law School on “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” His opportunity to speak, however, was eliminated by a raucous crowd of Stanford Law students and by Dean Steinbach, who commended the protesters and added her own censures of Judge Duncan.

The details of what happened, including a video of Dean Steinbach’s intervention, have been widely circulated. The event was also widely compared to the fracas at Yale Law School a year ago, when Yale Law students similarly disrupted an event put on by the Federalist Society.

The apology from President Tessier-Lavigne and Dean Martinez was a good first step, but Stanford plainly has a problem that the apology alone will not correct. Dean Steinbach’s administrative leave is a step in the right direction. Stanford Law School is an eminent institution with a well-earned reputation for training some the nation’s best attorneys. By allowing a strain of political radicalism akin to mob rule to take root among its students, the Law School has now lost a significant part of its credibility. Future attorneys who regard themselves as entitled to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree have no place in the civilized practice of law.

Perhaps the students’ behavior will be condoned by some as immaturity raised to a pitch by the temper of our polarized times. But these students were admitted to the Law School not just on the basis of good grades and good LSAT scores. They were admitted as well on the basis of good character. On this point they have proved that Stanford’s admissions officials grievously erred. The protesters demonstrated that they are not suitable candidates for the Bar in California or anywhere else.

That lapse in judgment on the part of Stanford’s administration was compounded by its decision to appoint Tirien Steinbach as Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The existence of such a position is itself evidence of questionable judgement, but the appointment of someone such as Steinbach to the position suggests a university that has lost sight of the importance of civil debate, academic freedom, and the comity necessary for genuine education.

The apology and leave of Dean Steinbach is a good place to begin, but it is only the bare beginning of what Stanford will have to do to recover from the shame it has brought on itself.

Photo by Yu Wang on Unsplash

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