There is an interesting development in the controversy at Stanford Law School where U.S. Circuit Court Judge Kyle Duncan was shouted down by law students and condemned by a law school dean for discussing his conservative judicial views. Student protesters reportedly published the names of students in the Federalist Society online as part of their cancel campaign. However, Aaron Sibarium, a journalist for the Washington Free Beacon has said that a board member of the Stanford National Lawyers Guild, sent an email demanding the Free Beacon remove her name and those of other students from their reporting because it is threatening and dangerous.
Sibarium tweeted that “On Sunday, I identified board members of the Stanford National Lawyers Guild–one of the groups responsible for the posters–who in a public statement described the protest as ‘Stanford Law School at its best.’ A few hours later, the board demanded I redact their names.”
It was a highly ironic moment to be sure. However, I am more interested in another aspect of the controversy. I wrote earlier about the joint apology letter of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Law School Dean Jenny Martinez. Neither Tessier-Lavigne nor Martinez promise to hold these students accountable or to sanction Steinbach. They merely express regret that “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.”
This latest controversy highlights the fact that the identity of some of these students (including those on videotape) who disrupted a speaker at the law school are known to the school. In this case, it was a federal appellate judge but we have seen this type of “deplatforming” at other schools. These students — and many faculty — voice a twisted view that silencing the free speech of others is a form of free speech.
A chilling poll was released by 2021 College Free Speech Rankings after questioning a huge body of 37,000 students at 159 top-ranked U.S. colleges and universities. It found that sixty-six percent of college students think shouting down a speaker to stop them from speaking is a legitimate form of free speech. Another 23 percent believe violence can be used to cancel a speech. That is roughly one out of four supporting violence.
They are getting these values from faculty members. Many schools have largely purged their ranks of conservative and libertarian faculty. This trend is supported by anti-free speech websites like Above the Law where Editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” and argued that hiring a conservative professor is akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism to teach. He also mocked surveys showing that conservative students are fearful of speaking freely in class, dismissing these students as “just… conservatives being sad that everyone else makes fun of them.”
What is notable is that Martinez did not even pledge to hold students accountable for stopping the speech by Judge Duncan. Yet, that is still more than other law deans. When Professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech” at CUNY law school, CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself after using a controversial term in a meeting and resigned).
At the University of California, Santa Barbara, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.
These students have been raised from elementary schools to law school in a speech phobic environment where free speech is treated as harmful. That was evident in the disgraceful Stanford event.
Now, however, they want to be able to target others while objecting to being named themselves. Much like the Yale law students who cancelled an event and then objected to campus police being present, this objection from Stanford law students illustrates the sense of privilege and exceptionalism by many in the anti-free speech movement.