The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

From Yale Law's Dean on the March 10 Protest

"This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others' efforts to carry on activities on campus. YLS is a professional school, and this is not how lawyers interact."


Posted today (as usual with various quotes on this blog, I've added some paragraph breaks):

As we return from spring recess, I write to reflect on the protest that occurred earlier this month at the Law School. Shortly before break, a group of students protested the Federalist Society's decision to bring a speaker from Alliance Defending Freedom to campus because of the organization's position on LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage and the treatment of transgender people.

Under the University's free expression policy, student groups have every right to invite speakers to campus, and others have every right to voice opposition. Our commitment to free speech is clear and unwavering. Because unfettered debate is essential to our mission, we allow people to speak even when their speech is flatly inconsistent with our core values.

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. Had the protestors shut down the event, our course of action would have been straightforward—the offending students without question would have been subject to discipline. Although the students complied with University policies inside the event, several students engaged in rude and insulting behavior as the event began; a number made excessive noise in our hallways that interfered with several events taking place; and some refused to listen to our staff.

This behavior was unacceptable; at a minimum it violated the norms of this Law School. This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others' efforts to carry on activities on campus. YLS is a professional school, and this is not how lawyers interact. We are also a community that respects our faculty and staff who have devoted their lives to helping students. Professor Kate Stith, Dean Mike Thompson, and other members of the staff should not have been treated as they were.

I expect far more from our students, and I want to state unequivocally that this cannot happen again. My administration will be in serious discussion with our students about our policies and norms for the rest of the semester.

As Dean, I am deeply committed to our free speech policies and the values they safeguard. I will protect free speech without fear or favor.

But I have waited to write you because it is our conversations as a community that matter most. 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.

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. And pundits parse any statement to see which side they favor when the role of a university is not to take sides but to articulate its mission with clarity.

Most importantly, statements are poor teaching tools. Learning involves speaking and listening, through iterative conversations in smaller settings with mentors and peers. That has always been our teaching model, and that is the only way that our norms can be understood and internalized. Although these conversations are not visible to outsiders, they are taking place here now, and the institution will be the better for it.

The deeper issues embedded in this event are not unique to Yale Law School—they plague our democracy and institutions across the country. Nonetheless, we will overcome these challenges because we must. Together, we will figure out how to nurture a thriving intellectual environment while maintaining a community of equality and mutual respect. It is harder than ever to find common ground; the stakes are high, and the rights of cherished members of our own community are under attack. But it is essential that we keep this community together despite the many forces seeking to divide us.

I am heartened that as we push forward, we build on an intellectual tradition that stretches back centuries, with a faculty wholly committed to the School's academic mission and students of every political stripe imbued with idealism and intelligence. As Dean, I am and will always remain unalterably committed to keeping that tradition vibrant and alive.

NEXT: Assassination as a Tool of Foreign Policy

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  1. Has Yale Law School adopted the Chicago Principles or its own version of them?

  2. Yale is *supposed* to care about its relationships with "outsiders" - including of course alumni donors, those considering attendance, and those thinking of hiring graduates. And in theory even taxpayers and bondholders, though their support is I presume taken for granted.

    It's great they stood up for their staff, but they should also issue a rebuke for the insults to (a) the students who invited the speakres and (b) *both* the speakers they invited.

    A private institution doesn't have to invite anyone, but If you invite someone to your campus and they're insulted by your students, you owe your guests an apology.

  3. This was a very disapointing statement from the Dean. She absolved the students from any serious wrong doing. The school followed its 'three warnings' policy. The students left after the first warning was issued, so there was no problem with their behavior that might merit discipline. Really? Does anyone who's watched video of the incident believe the students left -- promptly -- after the first warning? What about the pounding on walls after they left the room? Do the students get an additional three warnings for that aspect of their disruptive behvior? They made so much noise, after they left the room, that they disrupted classes, exams, and faculty meetings taking place in the building. But, according to the Dean, none of this could possibly rise to the level of misbehavior that might required some sort of discipline!

  4. oooooh, "serious discussion with our students". And warnings!

    If the 10% can control the 90% through shaming, why would they change their behavior simply because they got a stern talking to?

  5. "three-warning protocol"

    Reminds me of this type of parent:

    "Time to clean up the playroom

    Please put your toys away right now.

    Put your toys away or no dessert

    Ok, I'll do it this time. We are having cake for dessert."

    1. Reminds me of the Monte Python skit: "Not the comfy chair!"

      No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!

      1. not the Inquisition!!!!!!!!!

        The Inquistion, let's begin
        The Inquistion, look out sin
        We have a mission to convert the Jews (Jew ja Jew ja Jew ja Jews)
        We're gonna teach them wrong from right
        We're gonna help them see the light
        And make an offer that they can't refuse (that the Jews just can't


    2. Reminds me of the London, England pre-terrorism method of policing.

      Or I'll say stop again!

      After years of letting certain folks off the hook if they "didn't know that they shouldn't do that" I guess I shouldn't be surprised to see it in place elsewhere.

  6. If its three strikes and your out, as in expelled, then it may have enough weight. This should also apply to student groups which organize protests and undoubtedly encourage poor behavior

    1. Well, the statement certainly did not ridicule the protesters' (or guests') physical appearances, sexual attractiveness (or lack thereof), or physical disabilities. So, it definitely would have been unfair to describe it as Trumpesq.

      Bidenesq? Sure, why not? President Biden, after all, has spent his entire career in academia, so he's well-known for issuing these sorts of milquetoast statements. And equally well-known for his extensive First Amendment work. Your description seems accurate to me.

      1. Wasn't Biden the one caught in camera yelling at a wheel chair bound very to stand up and fight him? Trump on the other hand has been pretty excellent about limiting his attacks to other powerful people.

        1. Biden's yelled at several paralyzed Vets so you need to be more specific,
          below is from 2008, when Sleepy had a few more functional synapses (hey, Barry almost legally changed his name to "Barak America" for 2012)

        2. "Trump on the other hand has been pretty excellent about limiting his attacks to other powerful people."

          Seriously? There isn't a better example of someone who routinely punches down. He also makes fun of people's disabilities and appearance.

          1. like Poke-a-Hontas's "(1/1024) High Cheekbones"? you're right!

          2. There isn't a better example of someone who routinely punches down.

            The national freakout over the "QAnon Shaman", which extended to professional punchers-down on late night TV, disagrees with you.

      2. It's some very strict sounding phrases which add up to nothing strict.

  7. Guess the chances of YLS being re-named "the Clarence J. Thomas School of Law" are pretty low...(hopefully after my favorite Surpreme ascends to the Ultimate Higher Court, 20-30 years from now (could happen, look how long that JP Stevens inflicted Amurica with his opinions (Only in Amurica can a 90 year old man decide Abortion policy) . So if CJT serves as long as JPS did, we'll be looking at confirmation hearings for his successor around 2038...(midway through Ivanka Trump's first (maybe second?) term....

  8. This behavior was unacceptable; at a minimum it violated the norms of this Law School. This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others’ efforts to carry on activities on campus.

    I found this odd. IMO, the students' behavior wouldn't be any more acceptable at a town square. (In fact, I think it might be illegal.)

  9. What an unsatisfactory response.

    It has strong language to give the impression that they're serious, but then nothing.

    A bunch of words just meant to hide their fecklessness.


  10. Sorry to all of you who want student scalps.

    That was never going to happen, because it's a dumb idea.

    But on the upside, it gives y'all a bloody shirt to waive about for another month or so.

    1. Who wanted to see student scalps? What, exactly, is a dumb idea?

      1. The left thinks accountability for breaking clear rules is a dumb idea.

        1. Accountability != scalps.

          1. There was neither any accountability, nor any attempt to scalp anyone, in this case.

      2. On this blog? The calls for 'defund the school if they don't expel' are pretty common.

        In the last thread I said suspension would have been dumb, and got plenty of people attacking me for it - you included, IIRC.

        1. Suspensions != scalps.

        2. "In the last thread I said suspension would have been dumb, and got plenty of people attacking me for it - you included, IIRC."

          I don't recall "attacking" you, but the idea that it's dumb to suspend students that disrupt campus events certainly deserves to be mocked.

    2. Isn't "scalps" a racially-offensive reference?

      But for my part, it makes no difference what I "want," they're going to be spared consequences and turned loose to hunt for the scalps of others.

  11. This response is "unsatisfactory" because it fails to serve either purpose the culture warriors would hope to use it for. That is, it neither cravenly kowtows to the students whose feelings were hurt (thereby serving up ammunition for those who would attack YLS for its "wokeism") nor promises heavy-handed punishment for the students (thereby conceding a "win" to those culture warriors).

    Instead, the response clearly chastises the students for their behavior and explains why it is not acceptable, but in the tone and manner of an administrator seeking to cultivate a healthy educational environment for adults. It also implicitly criticizes those who've taken the incident and run with it, in the culture wars, calling them out for their demagoguery.

  12. Look at the animal on the top of Yale Law School's coat of arms:

    Supposedly this represents one of Yale's early leaders, whose family symbol was a crocodile (or alligator) -

    A giant reptile with huge jaws opened...I wonder if that has any kind of symbolic value?

  13. This statement by Dean Gerken is perfect.

    I understand the views of those who are frustrated with those who advocate for ideas and views that they believe are a threat to equality. But, whether that is true of those ideas and views is complicated and is worthy of discussion. Furthermore, shutting down a discussion or debate is not a means of advocating for equality, it is a means of asserting superiority.

    Our society has become more open to different people with different beliefs and different lifestyles over time. Even as free speech has come to be more rather than less protected. This shows that free speech is compatible with the advancement of both progressive and conservative ideals.

    No one has a monopoly on the truth. We can learn from everyone, including people who advocate beliefs that we find threatening.

    1. It makes sense to confront uncivilized behavior in 3 year olds with an explanation of civilization. Don't bite because it hurts.

      But by the time we get to high school, let alone law school, people who are still engaging in uncivilized behavior are doing so because they expect no effective resistance.

      Confirming such assumptions seems a bit imperfect.

  14. I agree that it's not a strong statement, but expect that the Dean will face calls for cancellation for even this tepid criticism.

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