A Majority of Stanford Students Support Cancelling Conservative Speakers a Year After Duncan Controversy – JONATHAN TURLEY

A year ago, Stanford University was embroiled in controversy after federal appellate Judge Kyle Duncan was shouted down by law students. Now a survey by FIRE has found that a majority of students believe that Duncan should have been cancelled.  Seventy-five percent believe that it is appropriate to shout down speakers.  A year ago, I wrote a critical column on the ridiculous response of Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and Law School Dean Jenny Martinez who declined to punish any students. Instead all students were required to watch a widely mocked video on free speech.

The Stanford Federalist Society invited Judge Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to speak on campus. However, liberal students, including members from the National Lawyer’s Guild, decided that allowing a conservative judge to speak on campus is intolerable and set about to “deplatform” him by shouting him down. In this event, Duncan was planning to speak on the topic:  “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.”

A video showed that the students prevented Duncan from speaking from the very beginning. Many called him a racist while others hurled insults like one yelling “We hope your daughters get raped.” Duncan was unable to continue and asked for an administrator to assist him. Dean Steinbach then took the stage and criticized the judge for seeking to be heard despite such objections. Steinbach, who was put on leave, later doubled down in defending her widely criticized actions.

Given the tepid response of the university, it is hardly surprising that students believe that stopping others from speaking is a form of free speech.

Academics later supported the students in shutting down the judge.

FIRE released “The Judge Duncan Shoutdown: What Stanford Students Think,” including 54% of Stanford students said that Judge Duncan’s visit should have been canceled by the administration.

Another 36% stated that using physical violence to shutdown a campus speaker is “always,” “sometimes,” or “rarely” acceptable.

75% said the same about shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking.

Not surprising, only six percent of conservative students now feel comfortable disagreeing with professors.

The survey is consistent with other surveys and polling in higher education.

These students have been taught for years that “speech is violence” and harmful. They have also been told by figures such as Pines that silencing others is an act of free speech. Academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech. In one instance, former CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek insisted that disrupting a speech on free speech is itself free speech.

Even schools that purportedly forbid such interruptions rarely punish students who engage in them. For example, students disrupted a Northwestern class due to a guest speaker from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (after the class had heard from an undocumented immigrant). The university let the protesters into the room after they promised not to disrupt the class. They proceeded to stop the class and then gave interviews to the media proudly disclosing their names and celebrating the cancellation. Northwestern did nothing beyond express “disappointment.”

At Stanford, law students received a mixed message in the law school denouncing the silencing of opposing views but refusing to hold any students or groups accountable.

These schools are enablers of the anti-free speech movement and the rising of a generation of speech phobics. As I discuss in my forthcoming book, The Indispensable Right: Free Speech in an Age of Rage, academics and administrators continue to foster an environment of orthodoxy and viewpoint intolerance in higher education. This survey vividly demonstrates how schools like Stanford mouth commitments to free speech while sending a completely different message in the actual actions that it takes in the face of anti-free speech campaigns.

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