DEI's Ignoble Lie

At Stanford and other universities, the advance of diversity, equity, and inclusion dogma comes at the expense of free speech and open debate

Stanford diversity dean Tirien Steinbach / Vimeo

Whenever we hear a university administrator preening about how his or her (or "they's") institution will pursue diversity and inclusion, on the one hand, and free expression, on the other—and that the two goals are in perfect harmony—our antennae go up.

As conservatives, centrists, and sensible people of all stripes have been shouted down and harassed on college campuses, administrators have poked their heads up again and again to deliver this line, promising us that there are no tradeoffs that must be made, no difficult balance that must be struck, only false choices that must be rejected.

So there, of course, was Stanford Law School's associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that "Diversity and Free Speech Can Coexist at Stanford."

"Free speech, academic freedom, and work to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion must coexist in a diverse, democratic society," Steinbach wrote.

The op-ed comes weeks after she made headlines for joining student protesters in Palo Alto who shouted down the conservative Fifth Circuit judge Kyle Duncan and told him, "We hope your daughters get raped!" (Or, as Steinbach puts it, they "peppered him with questions and comments.")

That's when Steinbach—now on leave as a result of her bizarre conduct—intervened to deliver prepared remarks in which she at last found a hard choice worth careful consideration, asking Duncan to weigh the emotional harm he might cause students against the value of delivering his remarks. So that's what she means by free speech!

Steinbach's remarks are reminiscent of Yale University's response to the 2015 campus meltdown over Halloween costumes. University president Peter Salovey, determined to please everybody all of the time, browbeat us about the "false dichotomy" between inclusion and free speech. "I believe we can uphold free expression and make our campuses more inclusive places," he wrote.

The foundational documents about free speech on university campuses, the University of Chicago's Kalven Report (1967) and Yale's Woodward Report (1974), made precisely the opposite point: Free inquiry and free expression are the highest goals of the university, and their pursuit will inevitably cause "shock, hurt, and anger," as the Woodward Report stated.  The Kalven Report concluded: "In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting."

Steinbach, Salovey, and the rest of their lot have opted to create safe spaces. Don't be fooled: The tradeoff is free speech.