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, who was put on leave, recently doubled down in defending her widely criticized actions.
Professor Ruth’s support for silencing opposing viewpoints is part of a long-standing anti-free speech position. It is an extension of her book It’s Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom (with Penn State Music Professor Michael Bérubé) declaring certain views as advancing “theories of white supremacy” and thus having “no intellectual legitimacy whatsoever.” Once declared as harmful, it is no longer free speech and therefore worthy of censorship or cancellation. It is that easy. Of course, Ruth ignores that some of us view her anti-free speech views as an “existential threat” to higher education. However, we would be the first to protect Professor Ruth from being cancelled on campus. Of course, that will never be necessary. Ruth is celebrated in her views and does not have to fear any retaliation or cancellation for her view that others should be silenced.
On this occasion, Ruth defended her call for cancelling Duncan by citing the Kalven Report. In 1967, the University of Chicago assembled a committee to study academic freedom and free speech that would become one of the most important projects in modern higher education. It became known as the “Kalven Committee” after its chair, the great law scholar Harry Kalven, Jr. The report contained an eloquent and profound defense of diversity of thought and expression that seems utterly abandoned by many today. It was cited by the Stanford Law Dean in her letter to the law students and stated in part:
“From time to time instances will arise in which the society, or segments of it, threaten the very mission of the university and its values of free inquiry. In such a crisis, it becomes the obligation of the university as an institution to oppose such measures and actively to defend its interests and its values.”
In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Ruth uses a report heralding the “values of free inquiry” to justify censorship of conservative viewpoints. She simply declared Judge Duncan’s views to be a threat to democracy and thus inimical to the educational mission. She says that free speech advocates miss that there is “something existential is at stake” in allowing such views to be heard. Specifically, “for some — people in the LGBTQ community who wish to marry whom they love and who seek judges with the minimum of respect for their personhood — the threat of a judge like Duncan is, very obviously, existential.”
Of course, Professor Ruth will determine what views are too harmful to be heard on campus with the rest of the self-appointed speech monitors. This ease with speech controls is due in large part to her view that “the First Amendment has no bearing on academic freedom, because the First Amendment has no relation to scholarly expertise.” Thus, as academics, we will judge what views are helpful or inimical to the academic mission. That will leave Judge Duncan silent while it would presumably leave liberal judges free to speak at Stanford.