On March 22, Stanford Law School (SLS) Dean Jenny Martinez released a 10-page memo to the SLS community defending her decision to apologize to Judge Kyle Duncan and issuing next steps for those involved. No individual protester will be punished, according to her letter, though all SLS students will take part in a mandatory training in spring quarter about freedom of speech.
The memo comes weeks after a student protest during the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit Judge Kyle Duncan’s speech on campus on March 9. Martinez and University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent Duncan an apology due to the protest’s disruption of his speech, violating Stanford’s free-speech policies. The apology letter sparked another protest from the students on March 13 against Martinez in her lecture hall.
As part of next steps, Martinez announced that SLS Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach — whose viral mid-event speech questioned whether Duncan’s words were “worth the squeeze” — is on leave. In her letter, Martinez stood by her original apology to Duncan where she condemned Steinbach for participating in the debate.
“The role of any administrators present [at future law school events] will be to ensure that university rules on disruption of events will be followed,” Martinez wrote in her March 22 memo, continuing on to announce that “all staff will receive additional training in that regard.”
While Martinez condemned the protesters’ actions, citing legal precedents, she said that protesters will not be punished individually for their actions. Instead, all SLS students will take part in a mandatory half-day of training in spring quarter “on the topic of freedom of speech and the norms of the legal profession,” to be planned by a faculty committee.
Leaders of the student protests did not respond to The Daily’s request for comment.
Martinez acknowledged “that the protest originally grew out of a desire by students to bring greater attention to discussion of LGBTQ+ rights in the current legal environment,” and as such, programming for students “to substantively engage on this topic” will be created in the spring.
The lack of punishment for the protesters is a point of interest — and criticism — among some who have been following the story. In a reaction to the memo published in the conservative editorial magazine National Review, Ed Whelan wrote, “I’m sorry to say that the third part of her letter—on ‘next steps’—is disappointing. In particular, her categorical refusal to refer any disrupting students for disciplinary sanction and the feeble reasons she offers in support of her refusal severely undermine the principles she professes.”
In her memo, Martinez said she welcomed future conversations on the topic of freedom of speech. “While some of you may disagree with my views, I look forward to continuing the conversation about how we can create a learning environment that both respects freedom of speech and ensures that we support all of our diverse community members on their path to becoming lawyers,” she wrote.
As an expert on constitutional law, Martinez cited court cases and education codes in her criticism of the protesters’ actions. The first section of the letter — “Academic Freedom, Free Speech, and Protests on University Campuses: Protest is Allowed but Disruption is Not Allowed” — argued that while private universities are not under the same constraints as public universities, like the First Amendment or the California Constitution, they ultimately cannot prohibit the free speech of students. California’s Leonard Law, Cal. Educ. Code § 94367 holds private universities to the same free speech standards as public universities, she wrote.
Martinez wrote that the First Amendment recognizes that some spaces are “limited public forums,” meaning restrictions on free speech “are constitutional so long as they are viewpoint-neutral and reasonable.” She pointed to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion that “such speech restrictions may be especially reasonable ‘in the educational context,’ which requires ‘appropriate regard for school administrators’ judgment’ in preserving a university’s mission and advancing academic values.”
Martinez also cited Stanford’s event disruption policy, which “gives attendees a right to hold signs and to demonstrate disagreement in other ways as long as the methods used do not ‘prevent or disrupt the effective carrying out of a University function or approved activity, such as lectures, meetings, interviews, ceremonies. . . and public events.’”
She dismissed the argument that “the judge invited the heckling with offensive comments or engagement with protestors” because, according to Martinez, heckling does not adhere to university policy — even if a speaker engages with hecklers.
SLS is seeking a more detailed policy “for dealing with disruptions,” Martinez wrote at the end of the letter.
Martinez wrote that law students must confront and respond to a diverse range of views, even if they don’t agree with them.
David Lat praised Martinez for her writing in what he is calling the “Martinez Memo” in a substack post from March 24. “Brava, Dean Martinez,” he wrote. “Your chosen course hasn’t pleased everyone, but it has pleased this observer. I also solicited opinions from my Stanford sources by email and from the world at large on Twitter, and to sum up, most folks in the ‘moderate middle’ support your handling of the situation.”
Near the end of the letter, Martinez emphasized the profession that the protesters are choosing. “Some students might feel that some points should not be up for argument and therefore that they should not bear the responsibility of arguing them (or even hearing arguments about them),” she wrote. “But however appealing that position might be in some other context, it is incompatible with the training that must be delivered in a law school… lawyers in training must learn to confront injustice or views they don’t agree with and respond as attorneys.”