Stanford Law Dean Jennifer Martinez’s Excellent Defense of Free Speech and Civility

After a more ambiguous initial reaction to student disruption of Judge Kyle Duncan’s speech, sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society, Dean Jennifer Martinez has issued a passionate, well-argued, and occasionally blistering letter explaining why the students behaved inappropriately, and expressing the view that Stanford’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion means that we must protect the expression of all views.” (emphasis in original)

Some might be disappointed that no students will be penalized for their misbehavior. But I think the letter is a much greater victory for academic values than if Martinez had stayed silent and meted out relatively small penalties to the most egregious perpetrators, which is almost certainly the maximum that would have been done.

However, I think some additional soul-searching at Stanford is in order. Dean Martinez and her faculty should ask themselves why students at Stanford felt it appropriate to disrupt Judge Duncan’s speech. Surely some of it has to do with illiberal trends in elite academia more generally. Some of it, though, surely has to do with the fact that Stanford Law is virtually a left-wing monoculture.

On a faculty of over sixty, Stanford has exactly one faculty member known to be right-of-center politically, Michael McConnell, compared to dozens on the left. While the pool of academic talent available to Stanford leans strongly to the left, no one sensible believes that the pool that skewed. So  intentionally or not, the Stanford faculty is sending its students the message that right-of-center views are not respectable, and not worth listening to, such that Stanford (not unlike other top law schools these days) won’t hire professors who hold them. And if they are not worth listening to, it’s not much of a leap for students to conclude that the law school (unofficially) believes that people who hold such views are contemptible, and as contemptible people with worthless viewpoints, they shouldn’t be given a forum at Stanford.

So if Dean Martinez really wants to promote a culture of civil discourse at Stanford, she could build on her letter by urging not just that invited guests not be shouted down, but that right-of-center voices be part of daily academic life at Stanford.

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