Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 10, 2023

NY Times: At Stanford Law School, The Dean Takes A Stand For Free Speech. Will It Work?

New York Times, At Stanford Law School, the Dean Takes a Stand for Free Speech. Will It Work?:

Stanford Law (2022)Stanford Law School was under extraordinary pressure.

For nearly two weeks, there had been mounting anger over the treatment of a conservative federal judge, whose talk had been disrupted by student hecklers. A video of the fiasco went viral.

An apology to the judge from university officials had not helped quell the anger.

Finally, on March 22, the dean, Jenny S. Martinez, released a lawyerly 10-page memo that rebuked the activists.

“Some students might feel that some points should not be up for argument and therefore that they should not bear the responsibility of arguing them,” she wrote. But, she continued, that “is incompatible with the training that must be delivered in a law school.”

She added, “I believe that the commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion actually means that we must protect free expression of all views.”

Free speech groups hailed Dean Martinez for what they said was a stirring defense of free expression. “We need Dean Martinezes at every school where this is an issue right now,” Alex Morey, an official with the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free-speech group, said in an email. ...

The question for Stanford and other institutions is whether the memo can ease tensions in this fraught and seemingly intractable political climate. In an era of high-pitched politics, living up to lofty free-speech principles can get messy on the ground.

Some free-speech advocates describe a delicate balancing act for any university, which must allow polarizing speakers a place at the podium while also allowing protesters to raise their voices in disagreement.

If things get out of hand, it can be hard to figure out when to draw the line and whom to blame.

In the middle of a media firestorm, enforcement can become even trickier. As criticism mounts, the actual events can become distorted, leaving out important details about the people and the buildup to events. ...

Dean Martinez, in an email to The Times, said that one of the problems that day was a “lack of clear communication” among administrators in the room. But she laid at least part of the blame with Ms. Steinbach.

“Regardless of what should have happened up to that point,” she wrote, “when Judge Duncan asked for an administrator to help restore order, it was Ms. Steinbach who responded, introduced herself as an administrator, and then delivered remarks.”

To some students, the dean, by not presenting a fuller defense of Ms. Steinbach in her memo, capitulated to an intense right-wing attack.

“A leader takes responsibility for her actions as well as those of her subordinates,” Denni Arnold, a protest leader, wrote to Dean Martinez. “A leader presents a united front to the world, no matter what conversations need to happen behind closed doors.”

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

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

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

Josh Blackman (South Texas; Google Scholar) has a detailed discussion of the New York Times article here.

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