Yale Law School Rules Out Disciplinary Action for Students Who Disrupted Free Speech Event

In damage control mode, dean issues mealy mouthed condemnation

March 28, 2022

The dean of Yale Law School on Monday chastised the students who disrupted a bipartisan panel on civil liberties but suggested there would be no formal discipline for their "unacceptable" behavior.

"This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square," Heather Gerken said in a message to the entire law school. "I expect far more from our students, and I want to state unequivocally that this cannot happen again."

Gerken's statement came more than two weeks after nearly 120 students attempted to drown out a panel with the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Kristen Waggoner, causing such a ruckus that police were called to escort the panelists to safety. The statement appeared to contradict an earlier statement by the law school that students complied with instructions to quiet down, making police assistance unnecessary.

"Although the students complied with University policies inside the event," Gerken said, "a number made excessive noise in our hallways that interfered with several events taking place; and some refused to listen to our staff."

Gerken nonetheless appeared to rule out disciplining any students. "Had the protesters shut down the event, our course of action would have been straightforward—the offending students without question would have been subject to discipline," Gerken said, but "in accordance with the University’s free expression policy, which includes a three-warning protocol, those protesting exited the room after the first warning, and the event went forward."

That warning came from Kate Stith, a Yale Law professor who was heckled for telling the protesters to "grow up." Gerken said that Stith and "other members of the staff should not have been treated as they were."

Yale Law School did not respond to a request for comment.

Gerken’s intervention comes amid mounting pressure, at Yale and beyond, to take a stronger stand in defense of free expression. According to Original Jurisdiction’s David Lat, several professors wanted Gerken to confront the protesters herself when the protest disrupted a faculty meeting she was in. Lat, himself a graduate of Yale Law, wrote an open letter lambasting Gerken’s "failure of leadership," including her failure to say anything publicly about the incident over a week after it transpired.

"It’s your job to tell tough truths, lay down the law, and enforce policies, even if it makes you unpopular," Lat said. "So make the opponents of free speech fear you."

Gerken defended her slow response by taking a swipe at the media outlets, such as the Free Beacon, that covered the protest.

"In our statement-hungry culture, university leaders are constantly asked to be referees, encouraging our students to appeal to a higher authority rather than to engage with one another and tempting outsiders to enlist academic institutions in their own political agendas," Gerken wrote. "Statements are expected instantly from institutions whose core values include deliberation and due process—values that are essential where, as here, the reporting has been so contradictory."

The only report that contradicted the Free Beacon’s original story was from Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, who claimed the panel remained audible and did not require a police escort. Subsequent audio recordings of the event—and now Gerken’s own statement acknowledging the panel was disrupted—contradict both claims.