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‘Free Speech Crisis’: Stanford Law School Spent Years Building Out Its Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Bureaucracy

Palo Alto / CA / USA - Exterior view of the Main Quad at Stanford University

‘Free Speech Crisis’: Stanford Law School Spent Years Building Out Its Diversity, Equity And Inclusion Bureaucracy

Alexa Schwerha on March 19, 2023

  • Stanford Law School began rapidly increasing its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs in 2018 after approving recommendations from its working group.
  • The law school’s website features a timeline detailing the work it has done to bolster DEI on campus, including increased attention to embedded DEI in its hiring, promotions and curriculum.
  • Jonathan Butcher, Will Skillman fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation that private universities should have to justify that these programs produce “positive results.”

Stanford Law School (SLS) has rapidly increased its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs over the past five years, according to its website.

SLS made several reforms in 2018 at the request of a DEI working group made up of faculty, students and staff including the establishment of a Racial Justice Center, the inclusion of a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging session at first-year orientation, the implementation of a Critical Race Theory course and a speaker series featuring experts on topics such as prejudice and implicit bias, its “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion In Action at SLS” web page reads. The website provides a timeline of the DEI advancements that the law school has made between 2018 and 2022.

“Legal education must prepare students to work effectively in a highly diverse society still grappling with racism and other forms of inequality,” its website reads. “Students, staff, and faculty have collaborated over the last five years in mutual recognition that past reform efforts at Stanford have not been equal to this charge and that change in the profession as a whole must begin with legal education.”


The law school bolstered increased DEI trainings, the launch of its Stanford Center for Racial Justice and several courses related to race, diversity and the law, according to its website. It established its Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion position in 2020 and appointed Tirien Steinbach in 2021, who currently holds the position and appeared to encourage students to heckle a conservative judge invited to speak on campus on March 9.

Private universities should have to justify “that any DEI activity is actually producing positive results” to their Board of Trustees and alumni, Jonathan Butcher, Will Skillman fellow in education at The Heritage Foundation, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“They would need to do that because the evidence on DEI programs is that they do not change individual attitudes. They do not change people’s opinions. They don’t create more tolerance on campus.”

The position was created through the Dean’s 2020 DEI Initiative, which “represents SLS’s commitment to expand and develop innovative policies and practices across the entire institution to ensure that the law school is a model for 21st century legal education in a diverse society,” according to the announcement. Steinbach’s job description included creating new programs, using equity to help make decisions, counseling students and serving as the liaison to improve DEI in student experiences.

The law school’s Federalist Society chapter hosted Fifth Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan to speak about Covid, guns and Twitter, but was heckled by students who showed up to disrupt the speech. Steinbach can be seen on video taking over the podium after Duncan called for an administrator to help calm the room, but instead asked him to consider if his speech was “worth the pain that this causes and the division that this causes” and said his work has caused “harm.”

“We believe that the way to address speech that feels abhorrent, that feels harmful, that literally denies the humanity of people, that one way to do that is with more speech and not less,” she said. She said that Duncan would have “space to finish” his remarks.

Critical Race Theory, “the DEI industrial complex” and the “free speech crisis” is the “Bermuda Triangle of the First Amendment crisis on college campuses,” Butcher told the DCNF.

“What you have is this obsession with racial preferences and Critical Race Theory’s belief that the world can only be understood by interpreting events around us in terms of prejudice and discrimination, you have that needing this out-of-control hiring agenda that universities have had to hire DEI employees,” he explained.

On average, universities employ 45 DEI-related staff, according to a study conducted by Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Jay Greene. The data concluded that the number of DEI hires had little influence on student satisfaction with their college or diversity experience.

“When we look back at the shout downs over the past ten years, think of the law professors who have been shouted down, the students who have occupied the law library — that happened at Columbia,” Butcher told the DCNF. “You had a law professor who was shouted down at a college in Texas a couple of years ago. This is quite common.”

Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and SLS Dean Jenny Martinez apologized to Duncan on March 11 and said that the staff “intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.” Hundreds of students dressed in black reportedly protested Martinez by covering her whiteboard in flyers before her Monday class and lined the hall wearing masks that read “counter-speech is free speech.”

One student described the protest as “eerie.”

Luke Schumacher, a SLS student who was in the class, advises people “to watch the video of DEI Dean Steinbach’s speech at Judge Duncan’s talk and ask themselves whether the vision she’s expounding sounds inspired by a desire to enhance diversity, inclusion, and a ‘sense of belonging’ for all Stanford Law Students,” he told the DCNF.

“However well-intentioned – and I will not speculate on her intentions – the implication seems clear: far from a neutral arbiter, the DEI office privileges the interests, preferences, and grievances of some students over others,” he said.

Stanford Law School did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.

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