Stanford Puts Diversity Dean Who Berated Federal Judge on Leave

Stanford Law School rules out discipline for student protesters, blames administrators

Stanford diversity dean Tirien Steinbach / Vimeo
March 22, 2023

Tirien Steinbach, the diversity administrator at Stanford Law School who stoked a disruptive protest of Fifth Circuit appellate judge Kyle Duncan, is "currently on leave," according to a memo on the protest reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Jenny Martinez, the law school's dean, said in a Wednesday morning memo to all law students that administrators "should not insert themselves into debate with their own criticism of the speaker's views." At future talks, the role of administrators will be to "ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed," Martinez said.

Martinez gave no additional details on the terms of Steinbach's leave, stating that the "university does not comment publicly on pending personnel matters." She also ruled out disciplining any of the students who shouted down Duncan—in part, she said, because administrators sent "conflicting signals about whether what was happening was acceptable or not."

Instead, the law school will require all students to attend a training on "freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession," which will discuss, among other things, how "vulgar personal insults" can harm students' "professional reputations."

That warning appears to be in reference to protesters who hurled sexual invective at Duncan, with one allegedly telling him, "We hope your daughters get raped." It comes amid calls from Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and others for state bar associations to investigate the hecklers, which could potentially hold up their legal licenses.

Martinez did not respond to a request for comment.

The memo is the latest effort by Stanford administrators to end a weeks-long public relations nightmare. An initial statement from Martinez, released the day after the disruption, said that "well-intentioned" attempts at "managing the room … went awry." Twenty-four hours later, Martinez and Stanford University president Marc Tessier-Lavigne issued a formal apology to Duncan, writing that staff members "intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university's commitment to free speech."

Steinbach, who makes a six-figure salary, during Duncan's talk stole the podium from the judge to accuse him of causing "harm." Duncan called the next day for Steinbach to be fired, saying she subjected him to a "bizarre therapy session from hell."

"Your opinions from the bench land as absolute disenfranchisement," she told the judge. "Do you have something so incredibly important to say," she asked, that it is worth the "division of these people?"

Martinez said in her memo that she'd hoped to wait until the end of finals to address what happened. "However," she wrote, "continuing outside attention to these events, as well as the volume of hateful and even threatening messages directed at members of our community, have led me to conclude that a more immediate statement is necessary."

The memo spent several pages explaining to students at Stanford—the second-ranked law school in the country, behind Yale—why the Constitution does not protect disruptive heckling.

"Settled First Amendment law allows many governmental restrictions on heckling to preserve the countervailing interest in free speech," Martinez wrote, noting that the Leonard Law, a California state statute, applies aspects of the First Amendment to private universities. It "does not treat every setting as a public forum where a speech free-for-all is allowed."