Stanford’s DEI Dean Doubles Down on Duncan Controversy

We have been following the controversy at Stanford Law School in the aftermath of a disgraceful cancellation of remarks by federal appellate judge Stuart Kyle Duncan. The center of this controversy was Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) dean Tirien Steinbach, who seemingly joined the mob in denouncing the judge for his views. She was later publicly reprimanded by Law School Dean Jenny Martinez, who apologized to Judge Duncan and put Steinbach on leave. Now, Steinbach has publicly responded and appears to be doubling down on her actions in a Wall Street Journal opinion column.

First a short recap of how we got here.

The Stanford Federalist Society invited Judge Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to speak on campus. However, liberal students, including members from the National Lawyer’s Guild, decided that allowing a conservative judge to speak on campus is intolerable and set about to “deplatform” him by shouting him down.

In this event, Duncan was planning to speak on the topic:  “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” A video shows that the students prevented Duncan from speaking from the very beginning. Many called him a racist while others hurled insults like one yelling “We hope your daughters get raped.”

Duncan was unable to continue and asked for an administrator to assist him.

Dean Steinbach then took the stage and criticized the judge for seeking to be heard despite such objections.

Steinbach explained “I had to write something down because I am so uncomfortable up here. And I don’t say that for sympathy, I just say that I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable.” While reaffirming her belief in free speech and insisting that the judge should not be cancelled, she proceeded to attack the judge for the content of his views.

Steinbach declared “It’s uncomfortable to say that for many people here, you’re work has caused harm.” After a perfunctory nod to free speech, Steinbach proceeded to eviscerate it. She continued “again I still ask, is the juice worth the squeeze?” Is it worth the pain that this causes, the division that this causes? Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and Covid that that is worth this impact on the division of these people.”

Dean Martinez later apologized and then released a letter with Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne that reaffirmed the commitment to free speech, but did not commit to holding the students accountable for their disruption. (The students with the National Lawyer’s Guild later complained about their names being mentioned in an article despite a campaign to name and shame conservative students).

Dean Martinez then issued another letter with a strong defense of free speech and declared that all students (including the victims of the disruption) would be required to attend a free speech appreciation session. However, she declined any action against the students responsible for the disruption. That is a familiar pattern at universities.

That brings us to Steinbach’s column. The Wall Street Journal was correct in running her account and it contains an important perspective to consider, even for some of us who were highly critical of Steinbach’s remarks.

First, Dean Steinbach rightfully points out that she tried to get the students to allow the event to proceed. At one point, she suggested that students walk out in protest over Judge Duncan’s views. She also insists that she opposed efforts to cancel the event before it was held and continues to oppose such attempts to limit speech. She reaffirms the classical liberal view that the solution to bad speech is good speech, not less speech. That is all to her credit.

However, the column has elements that are, frankly, less compelling or commendable.

Steinbach appears to be responding to this admonishment by Martinez:

In this instance, however, the failure by administrators in the room to timely administer clear and specific warnings and instead to send conflicting signals about whether what was happening was acceptable or not (and indeed at one point to seemingly endorse the disruptions that had occurred up to that point by saying “I look out and say I’m glad this is going on here”) is part of what created the problem in the room and renders disciplinary sanction in these particular circumstances problematic.

Steinbach insists that she was simply using her training at “deescalation” and that she was asked to attend the event by the Federalist Society for that reason:

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.

The problem with the column, in my view, is two-fold.

First, in her remarks, Steinbach goes out of the way to show her agreement with the mob and indicates that she knew that they were going to stop the event. She soft pedals the attacks on Duncan and seems to blame both sides. She does not mention how the students prevented him from speaking, yelled about his being a racist, or called for the rape of his daughters. Instead, she describes how  “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.” That sounds a lot like blaming the victim. If the mob had not prevented the judge from speaking, there would have been “sparring” before the event was opened up for questions.

She is not alone in such spins. Some like Slate’s Mark Stern suggested that Judge Duncan manufactured the controversy. Democratic members like Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) mocked Duncan as a “fragile flower.” Others at sites like Above the Law insisted, again, that silencing people like Judge Duncan is free speech.  Senior Editor Joe Patrice rejected the effort to “recast ‘free speech’ as the right of a powerful person to speak at the silent and unprivileged.” (In this case, “the silent and unprivileged” are Stanford students at an elite law school, who were invited to ask questions but asked not to prevent others from hearing from Judge Duncan).

Second, Steinbach still chastises Duncan for his divisive viewpoints and clearly blames him in part for the controversy by refusing to yield to the sensibilities of the students — presumably by remaining silent.

At one point during the event, I asked Judge Duncan, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” I was referring to the responsibility that comes with freedom of speech: to consider not only the benefit of our words but also the consequences. It isn’t a rhetorical question. I believe that we would be better served by leaders who ask themselves, “Is the juice (what we are doing) worth the squeeze (the intended and unintended consequences and costs)?”

Steinbach appears utterly clueless about why this question is so offensive to free speech values. She continues to intentionally obscure her obvious desire for speakers like Duncan to curtail their speech by stating that we would “be better served” by speakers asking if their speech is worth “the intended and unintended consequences and costs.”

Avoiding “the squeeze” means being silent on points that have such consequences. Thus, to avoid angering these radical students, Duncan is expected to be silent on certain points or, in this case, any points that he might want to share. It is an invitation for self-censorship that would apply to any conservative jurist or speaker. While supporting free speech, Steinbach is condemning the exercise of speech when it could cause “pain” and “division.” Of course, such pain and division would not arise with a liberal jurist espousing the opposite viewpoints. Accordingly, liberal jurists would be free to speak without the sense of culpability while conservatives are expected to remain silent.

In the end, Steinbach did not “defuse” the situation but fueled the rage with her comments. To this day, she cannot understand why Duncan would persist in speaking when some take such great offense at his views. She asks “Is there a way that we can stop blaming and start to talk and listen to each other?” Yet, her answer appears to be for speakers like Duncan to recognize that their views are simply too hurtful for some and should not be voiced to avoid “the squeeze” of free speech.

The result is the type of doublespeak that is common on our campuses. Steinbach claims fealty to free speech while denouncing its exercise. She laments “how polarized our society has become,” but added to that polarization by expressing her own concerns over the “harm” that Duncan’s speech has brought for many at the school. She asked “how do we listen and talk to each other as people” while maintaining that, by stating his jurisprudential views, Duncan might not be worth the harm (or “squeeze”) to others.

Anti-free speech advocates often try to portray the exercise of free speech as a complex challenge. It is not. The Duncan controversy shows how the issue is stark and simple. Judge Duncan had a right to speak and others had a right to hear him. Those who disagree with him had a right to protest outside of the event and to ask tough questions inside the event. The only thing that they could not do is disrupt the event itself; to prevent others from hearing from Judge Duncan.

The solution is also stark and simple, though it has, once again, been ignored by an administration. Students who cancel events or classes on campus are taking a position that is not just antithetical to principles of free speech but of higher education. They should be suspended or, in extreme or repeated cases, expelled. Otherwise, the law school is not achieving any greater clarity than this column. It is professing an absolute commitment to free speech while declining to enforce that commitment.

108 thoughts on “Stanford’s DEI Dean Doubles Down on Duncan Controversy”

  1. “I stepped up to the podium to deploy the de-escalation techniques . . .”

    Sure. Just like those politicians who, during the “Summer of Love,” de-escalated the rioters by commanding law enforcement to stand down. Ever notice how to the Left, “de-escalate” means: Let bullies, rioters, and destroyers have free rein.

    “I wanted Judge Duncan to understand why some students were protesting his presence . . .”

    That is the money quote. Why? Because it illustrates how DEI traffics in deception and the evasion of reality.

    A man who is a former law professor, prosecutor, and now a Federal judge does not need a DEI Czar to school him on the notion that there are people out there who have opposing viewpoints.

  2. “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” is the logic equivalent to blaming your opponent of that which you are guilty.

    One glaring point that too many overlook is that when Miss Steinbach — one who represents school administration — inappropriately took to the podium, she sanctioned the student’s caterwauling protest that she later claims shouldn’t have happened.

  3. The real victims here are the protesting students but they victimized themselves. If they had concerns about the Judge’s decisions or Orbiter dicta, how much better would it have been to wait for question time and refute them with reason and law?
    The sad truth is that they and their Dean of wokeness are unable to do this so they must resort to disruption. Not only did they reveal their intellectual inferiority but the robbed their fellow students of a learning opportunity.

  4. Thank you professor for pointing out the so-called dean of diversity short comings and hypocrisy
    This is the problem or should I say a defect of the thinking of leftists.

  5. By writing that column (and in the WSJ, I guess to make sure conservatives get her message), this befuddled dean has only proved to the world that she is a hopeless woke cause. Her arrogance has surpassed whatever little intelligence she may have possessed. Now, since she is unapologetic and will clearly repeat her disgusting behavior when the next conservative speaker is on campus, Stanford should surely fire her if they don’t want to be forever tarred by her actions.

  6. Of course she does, she has no where else to go with this. To admit she was wrong would be to undermine all the phoney baloney that the prog/left woke has been peddling since obama was a pup. Be prepared for the left to take to the trenches as they have nothing to gain at this point by admitting the ideocy of their ideology.

    1. “To admit she was wrong . . .”

      So here’s the weird thing. According to her job description, and the DEI ideology and goals, what she did was *right*.

      That’s why I can sort of sympathize with her complaint, which amounts to: Stanford, why are you punishing me for doing the job you hired me for?

      Of course, the answer to that question is: “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.”

  7. Monday morning quarterbacking:(1) Martinez had previously mentioned the existing school’s policy of free speech. Is this part of new student matriculation and/or included in a student handbook, to wit, that NO interruption to the speeches of invited guests would be tolerated? Were consequences outlined?
    (2) Obviously, the school knew that dissent was forthcoming, and sent in Steinbach. PRIOR to Duncan’s arrival, did she speak to students gathering in the room, reminding them that NO interruptions would be tolerated, reminding them of consequences? And that a Q&A session would follow, at which time respectful conduct was required? Squelching embers is much easier than trying to contain a five-alarm blaze.
    (3) Proactivity is soooo much more effective that reactivity. Are new students also matriculated on the VALUE of free speech and the intellectual/academic consideration of different ideas? Does “learning” include exposure to different ideas, or mere confirmation of their present value system?
    (4) Funny that with the OVER-emphasis on racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity, there is no tolerance or value for diversity of opinion or idea?
    (5) Instead, we have a lot of Monday morning CYAs going on…..

  8. If she thinks she was being fair to both sides, she is clearly bad at her job and should be fired. If she deliberately took one side over the other, she is clearly bad at her job and should be fired. This is not rocket science. But I guess we’ll have to wait for the next speaker the Stanford brats cancel before the Stanford hierarchy finally wakes up. Meanwhile, I don’t think Judge Duncan is going to let this go that easily.

  9. Stanford’s Associate Dean Steinbach, like most all other DEI Deans in the United States, is dutifully parroting today’s Woke agenda. Always blame the conservative. ALWAYS. DEI is never wrong. It’s a winning formula to keep all colleges and universities spewing their Lenin-inspired anti-American agenda. Thank you, Jonathan, for an excellent article.

  10. In this case I tend to support the point that Justin is making. I do agree that the approach taken by todays “woke” generation is wrong. Shouting down speech from someone you disagree with does nothing and makes you look foolish, something I believe or hope over time these young adults will realize. But their actions were not “too much” unlike the actions of my generation in the 60’s and 70’s. Todays these instances are much more sensationalized by social media and used by both sides of the corrupt corporate media to push a narrative.

    I do agree the Judge does have an insulated position of authority. I have thought for many years that federal judges should not have lifetime appointments and should have to face an electorate every so often. The idea that they are accountable to the people though an impeachment process is laughable. Yes that process exists but a federal judge’s actions has to be very extreme for that to happen. Do you think the judges that rubber stamped the FISA warrants used to create a political narrative against President Trump will ever be accountable? The short answer is No, because they are insulated by the processes put into place.

    It appears to me that Judge Duncan is having a fit because he ventured out into the real world from behind his court kingdom and got a taste of what everyone else is exposed to. Our world is now highly political, there is no sense of a nexus based on the constitution and common law and I blame both political parties. I believe the majority of people just want to be left along, live their lives without being constantly exposed too and feeling the affects of a highly partisan and corrupt political system driven by a corrupt corporate media intent on dividing us for political gain.

    My hope is Judge Duncan learns something from this valuable lesson and uses this experience when he is passing judgment on those that have experience similar treatment and are being prosecuted by a partisan political prosecutor.

  11. A key phrase not mentioned is her term of “authentic free speech”. Which , I suppose she is the arbiter of this new type of speech. Only authentic as she sees it. Truly she is not self aware. We could get a better description of free peach from Chat Pt, which we already know is not self aware.

  12. Diversity in DEI means something different and less than true diversity. True diversity in university education requires a faculty that is in fact diverse. Diversity in DEI as applied requires a faculty that that is not diverse. And it demands that the two diversities be conflated. It has to. Otherwise, it is glaringly noticeable that they are not the same because they do not match. Real diversity is university. DEI diversity is un-versity.

  13. The problem is that in any rules-based system, you must also share the values that underlie and generate the rules. If you do not, then you will break the rules.
    The concept of free speech is an Enlightenment value, but those who embrace other values, from Marxism to Postmodernism, do not share the values of the 18th century; they embrace those of the 20th century. It was not only Marxism and Fascism that undermined liberal values; it was also a range of other ideologies which could only thrive if they displaced the dominant ideas and values underlying the systems they were challenging, whether capitalism or patriarchy. They did so by redefining terms and changing the conversation, which in turn enabled them to redefine values and, for example, focus on the victim or insist that men and women are equal in every way by substituting ‘constructed’ ‘gender’ differences for biological sex differences. In effect, facts were trumped by arguments, something the sophists of ancient Greece would have grasped. Consequently, there is no real ‘dialogue’ possible. For those pushing DEI, their opponents must always be in the wrong because their values are wrong, and Duncan therefore was as much or more to blame than the students.
    Emblematic is the remark below about a ‘successful’ protest — implying that only protests which succeed are protests; in this case, the protest must have shut down the speaker or the inequitable order of things would have endured. That, of course, is to recast protest as conflict, not objection, but such an observation would make no sense to the person who wants a “successful protest.” It is, in many ways, the difference between the mostly peaceful protests of 2020, which killed scores and destroyed billions in property — and succeeded in electing Biden by deforming the electoral process — and the violent insurrection by unarmed protesters who sought to make their voices heard on January 6, but could not do so because the Congress was immediately evacuated and the police engaged them violently. How you view either of these events has more to do with you basic set of values than with rule of law.
    Finally, the underlying values, as Perelman has argued, are arbitrary; the rules rigid, but if you do not share the underlying values, the rules will also appear to be unjust.

  14. Not only did the Dean fail completely at deescalation, but she escalated the radical agenda. Her actions were an utter abuse of power. By strongly encouraging students to leave the room she put those who disagreed with the Dean in the position of either leaving or demonstrating that disagreement; which could jeopardize their academic career and future professional opportunities. This is insidious, abusive, intolerant, non-inclusive and an extremely bad reflection on Stanford and their law school. The Dean should be fired and the radical students, who demonstrated complete ignorance of both the First Amendment and Stanford’s own policies should be expelled or otherwise disciplined. The message to law firm recruiters is clear enough — avoid Stanford Law Students unless Stanford enforces for their own policies. In writing the column, the Dean has demonstrated yet again disrespect for Stanford and the rule of law.

    1. “The message to law firm recruiters is clear enough..” One can only hope. As with many others of her ilk, she is self-righteous in her convictions. Something deep inside has been satisfied and justified through the adoption of this sociopolitical and economic philosophy. Recent events in this DEI insanity suggest that the profession is being guided in that very direction by the schools which train them.

  15. A long time ago I saw a meme which read: Forget karma; try good manners. These kids are protesting, ostensibly, for a better world, or something like that. But the way they do it turns the whole world into a dirty diaperocracy, a less entertaining version of that Star Trek episode where they land on a planet where the children never grow up and live in squalor and attempt to murder anyone who tries to help them. A world without civility is not a better world, ever.

  16. The primary target of the DEI culture-war weapons platform is objective truth itself, and Steinbach is obviously highly trained in the use of both its offensive and defensive capabilities.

  17. Do you have to say anymore about how dumb this is than to repeat the title “Dean of Diversity.”

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