From Yale Law’s Dean on the March 10 Protest

Today’s post (as with many quotes here, I have added some paragraph breaks).

We are now back from spring recess and I want to write about the March protest at the Law School. Shortly before the break began, students protested the Federalist Society’s decision to bring a speaker representing Alliance Defending Freedom on campus to discuss LGBTQ rights. The speakers were critical of Alliance Defending Freedom’s position, which includes same-sex marriages and treatment of transgender persons.

Student groups are allowed to invite speakers onto campus. Other students have the same rights. Unwavering commitment to freedom of speech is our guiding principle. Unfettered discussion is an essential part of our mission. We allow speech even though it is not in line with our core values.

The University’s policy on free expression, which has a three-warning protocol for protestors, required that they leave the venue after the initial warning. Otherwise, the event continued. 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. While the majority of students adhered to University policies, some students were rude and infuriating as the event started. Some also made noises in the hallways which interfered with other events.

It was unacceptable behavior. At a minimum, it was against the Law School’s norms. This school is not a community square and should not interfere with the activities of others on campus. YLS is a school for professionals, which is different from how lawyers work. We respect our staff and faculty who dedicate their lives helping students. It was wrong to treat Professor Kate Stith and Dean Mike Thompson as they are.

Students deserve far greater expectations of me, and this is something I will not tolerate again. My administration and students will discuss our policy guidelines for the rest the semester.

Dean: I’m deeply committed and dedicated to the free speech policies we have in place as well as the values that they protect. Without fear, favor or favour, I will defend free speech.

It is the conversations we have as a group that matters most, and I have waited to reach out. Our statement-hungry culture encourages university leaders to become referees. It is tempting for outsiders and academic institutions to join their 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. When a university’s role is to not take sides, but rather to clearly articulate its mission, pundits will analyze any statements.

Statements are not good teaching tools. Learners must speak and listen, and it’s best to do this in small settings and with mentors and other peers. This has been the teaching method we have used since inception. It is how our norms are understood and internalized. Even though these conversations may not be obvious to others, the institution will benefit from them.

The deeper issues embedded in this event are not unique to Yale Law School—they plague our democracy and institutions across the country. We will, however, overcome these problems because we have to. As a team, we can create an intellectual and healthy environment that fosters equality as well as mutual respect. Finding common ground is more difficult than ever. The stakes are high and rights of beloved members of the community are being threatened. It is vital that this community remains united despite all the forces trying to split it.

It is a great feeling to know that we are building on a long intellectual history that dates back hundreds of years, with an academic faculty that is fully committed to the school’s mission, and students from all political stripes who have a sense of intelligence and idealism. As Dean, it is my commitment to keep that tradition alive and vibrant.