The Volokh Conspiracy

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Yale Law Prof. Kate Stith Confirms that the Protest of a Fed Soc Event She Moderated was Extremely Disruptive


There have been conflicting accounts of the infamous March 10 protest of a Yale Federalist Society event. Some accounts contend that the protest was brief and not-all-that disruptive in the scheme of things; others claim that the protest disrupted not only the event, but was so noisy that it disrupted classes and meetings elsewhere in the building.

Among other participants in this debate, a Yale Law professor who claims to have been at a faculty meeting in the building at the time told me (and others) on Facebook that various accounts from "right wing media" have grossly exaggerated the protest's disruptiveness. This professor specifically asserted that the faculty meeting was not interfered with.

Professor Kate Stith, who was the moderator of the Fed Soc event, begs to differ. In a memorandum circulated to the law school's tenured faculty (and published, via an anonymous source, at journalist Vicky Ward's substack), she writes:

The hallway disruption was far more than excessively noisy. An audiotape released on March 29 by the group FIRE* reveals disruption and interference even while the protesters were in Room 127. The audiotape further reveals the shocking and extraordinary disruption of the event after the protesters moved (twice) to the School's main hallway—yelling, stomping, powerful chanting, and wall-banging. Students and faculty have also reported serious disruption of a faculty meeting and of two classes that were being conducted in other classrooms off the main hallway…

As it happens, events on March 10 were shut down by the remarkably loud and multisource hallway noise. For instance, whoever was running the faculty meeting decided to shut down its in-person portion and proceed solely on Zoom. Students in the class in Room 128 have said the instructor urged them to "yell" in order to be heard. The instructor in Room 121 stopped the class at one point explicitly because the noise so interfered with the teaching function. And we in Room 127 ceased even trying to talk or listen on multiple occasions.

Professor Stith concludes that the students' behavior was a blatant violation of university policy, though she stops short of calling for any penalties to be imposed:

As a former prosecutor, I know well that not every violation has to be an occasion for sanctions. In my judgment we should use this moment as an opportunity to educate our students about the core importance of free expression to our academic mission—and to make clear, as Dean Gerken has forcefully written, this can never happen again. That said, we cannot make the most of this opportunity unless we recognize that a blatant violation of Yale's Free Expression policy occurred on March 10.