Stanford Law School’s Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach has resigned from her position months after her role in a rowdy protest against a conservative federal judge raised questions about the university’s political bias.
Fifth Circuit Court Appellate Judge Kyle Duncan was invited to speak at the law school by the Stanford Federalist Society on March 9 but was repeatedly interrupted by hecklers and prevented from speaking by screaming students. Steinbach arrived at the event after Duncan requested to speak to an administrator – only to accuse the Trump appointee of causing “harm” and of “tearing the fabric of this community.”
“Your opinions from the bench land as absolute disenfranchisement [of the students’ rights],” Steinbach told the judge.
Video of the protest and of Steinbach’s beratement of Duncan gained thousands of views online. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Law School Dean Jenny Martinez issued a formal apology to Duncan. Martinez also sent a 10-page memo to students and administrators defending her apology.
“There is temptation to a system in which people holding views perceived by some as harmful or offensive are not allowed to speak, to avoid giving legitimacy to their views or upsetting members of the community, but history teaches us that this is a temptation to be avoided,” wrote Martinez. “I can think of no circumstance in which giving those in authority the right to decide what is and is not acceptable content for speech has ended well.”
Steinbach was placed on administrative leave.
Multiple judges added Stanford Law to their “no-hire” lists, alongside Yale Law School, citing incidents of discrimination and harassment of conservative speakers. Circuit Court Judge James Ho – who attended Stanford Law – wrote that the institutions on his list “tolerate and even encourage … intellectual terrorism.”
“They try to terrorize people into submission and self-censorship, in a deliberate campaign to eradicate certain viewpoints from the public discourse,” said Ho.
A group of Stanford students co-authored a piece for the Stanford Review calling for Steinbach’s termination. The students wrote that the event was “disrupted by a mob of unruly law students and a Stanford DEI Dean who prevented the judge from speaking entirely” and that the diversity dean “sympathized with the movement to end free speech on campus” during her beratement of Duncan.
“The biggest perpetrator of the incident was not the group of students, but the Stanford administrator who actively encouraged students to go against Stanford’s free speech policy,” stated the students. “The university’s apology will be completely meaningless unless concrete actions are taken to rid the administration of anti-speech zealots.”
The co-authors continued:
If Stanford cares about free speech, it must fire any administrator who actively encourages these unruly actions against it. Someone who is so eager, at the behest of an unruly mob, to shut down free speech, which Stanford itself considers “a bedrock principle for the law school, the university, and a democratic society,” has no place as a Stanford dean. She helped engineer chaos with her email before the event, delivered prepared remarks interrupting his speech, took the spotlight for herself, and has shown no remorse since.
Steinbach justified her action in an opinion piece published on March 23 by The Wall Street Journal titled “Diversity and Free Speech Can Coexist at Stanford.”
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
Martinez emailed Stanford Law School students on July 20 to inform them that Steinbach “has decided she will be leaving” her DEI position to “pursue another opportunity.”
“Associate Dean Steinbach and I both hope that SLS can move forward as a community from the divisions caused by the March 9 event,” wrote the law school dean, per The Daily Mail. “Both Dean Steinbach and Stanford recognize ways they could have done better in addressing the very challenging situation, including preparing for protests, ensuring university protocols are understood, helping administrators navigate tensions when they arise.”
Martinez’s email to the law school did not include details about Steinbach’s plan after departing Stanford.