March 23, 2023

Stanford Law — Not Quite Ready for the Bar

Are Stanford and other admissions departments so obsessed with DEI credentials that civility and rational thought never enter the picture?

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to be wary of anecdotes. Last week, I saw a few snippets about students at the Stanford School of Law behaving badly at a lecture by a Trump-appointed conservative judge. I assumed that the reports were probably true, but also exaggerated and one-sided — like most politically tainted news these days.

Not so. On Monday of this week, The Wall Street Journal carried a blow-by-blow narrative of the event, as recounted by the invited speaker himself, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Judge Duncan’s account offers a disturbing inside look at the mentality and demeanor of both students and faculty at one of America’s most prestigious universities. An invited speaker, he was subjected to a torrent of well-orchestrated contemptuous jeering, vile insults, painted faces, signs and banners, foot stomping, and constant disruption; and when he asked for help in quieting the unruly mob, an associate dean added fuel to the fire.

These were students at Stanford Law — the crème de la crème, America’s future. Their behavior, with the evident support of their Law School leadership, raises serious questions about not just that institution but higher education across the board.

Stanford exudes excellence. It’s the university that competes at the highest levels in a full range of NCAA sports, fielding men’s and women’s teams comprising actual student athletes. Over the years, Stanford has built a reputation as a serious-minded academic institution whose primary claim to college lunacy is a marching band of musicians who wear goofy hats and run around in a mad scramble between formations.

So, what happened to this batch? One would assume that successful candidates for admission to Stanford Law would arrive well-founded in respect, civility, academic curiosity, and overall maturity. But maybe not. Could it be that Stanford’s admissions department is so obsessed with DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) credentials that civilized behavior never enters the picture?

Or worse, could it be that Stanford Law students have simply become so fully indoctrinated in woke thinking that they’ve become angry, righteous activists? If so, that brings us to the question of the program’s leadership — and notably to Tirien Steinbach, the associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

I’ve often wondered what the DEI professionals now commonplace in academia and business actually do all day long. Ms. Steinbach offers a hint.

When Judge Duncan asked for help from the Law School staff to quell the uprising, she took to the podium with her own prepared remarks, posing the rhetorical question, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” (Translation: Freedom of speech is fine, but are this judge’s harmful views really worth listening to?) The hoots and cheers of the rowdy students answered her question.

After another fruitless stab at continuing his presentation, Judge Duncan was escorted from the room under the protection of two U.S. marshals.

A few days later, Jenny Martinez, Stanford’s Law School dean, and Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavinge issued a formal apology to Judge Duncan — but their apology in turn was met by another well-planned student protest. Steinbach is on leave.

This entire episode begs the question about Stanford’s School of Law: Who’s running the place? What are the standards and expectations of students, and how are these being communicated and enforced? Is the associate dean for DEI still employed? Based on this event, she certainly seems unsuited to be dean of anything, anywhere. And how about the students? Do they face any consequences? Maybe a round of “Fs” for the course?

Of greater concern are the implications for institutions of higher learning (I use the term loosely) coast to coast. We’re tempted to deduce from last week’s student behavior at Stanford that we could expect nothing better of Yale, Harvard, Michigan, or any other of the law schools around the nation that are producing the next generation of American lawyers, judges, and politicians.

As old guys are inclined to do, I’ve tried to relate the behavior last week of students at Stanford Law to my own life experience as a student 60 years ago. But I can’t. The picture has changed, indelibly, and not for the better. DEI obsession is finding its way not just into American universities across the country but into all aspects of American life, including the U.S. military.

It’s a very slippery slope. Diversity, equity (although I’d prefer equality), and inclusion are not bad societal aspirations, but they cannot be allowed to crowd out the full range of factors — and attendant social responsibilities — that collectively contribute to our full national commitment to liberty and justice for all.

And to Stanford Law students and their associate dean’s rhetorical question: Yes, the juice — free speech — is always worth the squeeze.

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