DEI dean leaves Stanford Law School

Aug. 23, 2023, 11:14 p.m.

Tirien Steinbach, the associate dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Stanford Law School (SLS), has left her role after two years in the post, Dean Jenny Martinez announced in a letter to the SLS community on July 20.

The decision comes over four months after Steinbach intervened in a protest against a speech by conservative Judge Kyle Duncan to law school students. Duncan was invited to speak by the Federalist Society (FedSoc) on March 9. His appearance sparked a protest due to his work as a judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which students accused of being transphobic and racist. When Duncan asked for an administrator to quell the protestors, Steinbach gave an impromptu speech at the podium that has since been criticized for being anti-free speech.

“Although Associate Dean Steinbach intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, she recognizes that the impact of her statements was not as she hoped or intended,” the letter announcing Steinbach’s resignation read. 

In a March 22 letter to the SLS community, a couple of weeks after the protest, Martinez announced that Steinbach was on leave. The July 20 letter announcing Steinbach’s departure cites the March 9 event as a reason. 

“Associate Dean Steinbach and I both hope that SLS can move forward as a community from the divisions caused by the March 9 event,” the letter read. “The event presented significant challenges for the administration, the students, and the entire law school community.”

The letter states that Steinbach will be pursuing “another opportunity.” 

Steinbach did not respond to a request for comment. 

Following the protest in March — which caught nationwide media attention — Martinez and President Marc Tessier-Lavigne sent an initial letter of apology to Duncan on March 11, causing further controversy amongst students, faculty and non-Stanford-affiliated academics

The letter noted “both Dean Steinbach and Stanford recognize ways they could have done better in addressing the very challenging situation, including preparing for protests, ensuring university protocols are understood, and helping administrators navigate tensions when they arise.”

Some SLS professors and members of the academic community supported Steinbach against this letter, including The American Constitution Society (ACS) Board — a progressive legal organization — who sent a letter to Tessier-Lavigne and Martinez admonishing them for the apology letter to Duncan.

Other university organizations, like The Stanford Review, went so far as to claim that Steinbach should have been fired on the spot, which they wrote in an article in March.

SLS attempted to address the situation by requiring mandatory training on free speech for all students during spring quarter.

Tim Rosenberger J.D. ’23, who was president of FedSoc when they invited Duncan to speak on campus, criticized this training in an email to The Daily in July, calling it “a series of fairly innocuous videos.”

“Like the scapegoating of Dean Steinbach, these videos were unequal to meeting the pressing issues revealed by the events of March 9,” Rosenberger wrote. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) — a non-profit civil rights group that aims to protect free speech at U.S. colleges and universities — previously condemned the protesters’ and SLS administration’s actions in a letter to President Tessier-Lavigne the day after the event. 

FIRE wrote in an email to The Daily following the announcement of Steinbach’s departure that the decision “is hopefully another signal that Stanford intends to adopt a no-tolerance policy on viewpoint discrimination.” 

“We’re hopeful that after some administrative house cleaning over the last 48 hours, today represents a promising new day for higher ed best practices at Stanford,” Alex Morey, FIRE’s Director of Campus Rights Advocacy, wrote in an email to The Daily. 

Near the end of Martinez’s letter, the dean commended the “valuable work” that Steinbach did in the “nearly two years she served in the role.” She wrote that the law school “will be sharing information soon about future staffing plans.”

However, Rosenberger said the DEI role within SLS should not exist as it did under Steinbach. 

“The events of this past year call into question whether this role, as currently constructed, is a good fit for the needs and challenges of the law school,” he wrote. “If Stanford and Dean Martinez are serious about their previously outlined commitments, this role will no longer exist as it did under Dean Steinbach.”

“The Law School and I wish Dean Steinbach well in her future endeavors,” Martinez wrote. 

Greta Reich '26 is the vol. 265 co-Magazine editor, University desk editor for News, staff writer and copy editor for The Daily. She is studying Political Science and Communication and can almost always be found at CoHo. Contact her at greich 'at'

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