Posted on May 2, 2023

Law Schools Face an Inflection Point With Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Josh Blackman, ABA Journal, May 1, 2023

In recent years, there has been a rise in law students heckling speakers. In 2018, I was shouted down at the CUNY Law School in New York. In 2022, Ilya Shapiro was shouted down at the law school formerly known as Hastings. And more recently, Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the Fifth Circuit was shouted down at Stanford Law School.

We were protested for speaking on different topics, but there was a common thread: Students at each institution insisted that we were not welcome on campus; that our mere presence made them feel unsafe; and that our messages were not worth the pain and suffering we would cause. Thus, the students refused to let us speak.

Who is to blame for these protests? Of course, the students who heckled speakers, in clear violation of university policy, were at fault. But the blame goes much deeper. These students have been taught from the earliest age that harmful speech has no place in educational institutions. It is no surprise that when confronted with speech they deemed harmful, the students used all of their power to shut down the event. Look no further than Tirien Steinbach, the Stanford DEI dean.

When she asked whether Judge Duncan’s juice was “worth the squeeze,” students snapped in unison. The students saw nothing wrong with their heckling. And neither did Steinbach. Indeed, Steinbach used her platform to criticize Judge Duncan, as a representative of the Stanford Law School administration.


Regrettably, Steinbach is not alone. Last year, Yale Law School was in the spotlight when a student sent a light-hearted email inviting classmates to his “trap house.” Some students found the email offensive. And the administration validated those objections. DEI director Yaseen Eldik demanded the student apologize for his allegedly “triggering” and “oppressive” comments. Eldik even threatened to report the student to the character and fitness committee.


On today’s college campuses, DEI administrators are among the most powerful positions. When every single conflict is refracted through the lens of race, power and privilege, it is of course obvious that DEI should be the sole arbiter of those disputes. For some time, these roving bureaucrats have assumed a limitless jurisdiction to touch every facet of an academic institution that could fall within the vast scope of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Michael McConnell, a professor at Stanford Law School and former federal court of appeals judge, recognized the broad authority that deans like Steinbach wield: “Nor is it possible to ignore the damage that university diversity bureaucracies can do to the scholarly values of liberal education.” {snip}

By contrast, Steinbach wrote that free speech and DEI are both “means to an end” to achieve “liberty and justice.” {snip}

DEI, as understood by Steinbach and Eldik, is inconsistent with the mission of higher education. {snip}

Universities and faculties in particular should take decisive action to prevent future Steinbachs and Eldiks from subverting the core principles of academic inquiry. At this inflection point, I propose a five-course action plan. First, every faculty should adopt, or reaffirm, a free speech policy that clearly spells out the university’s commitment to a diversity of viewpoints. {snip}

Second, universities should restructure DEI departments. For starters, DEI deans should be tenured members of the faculty, rather than untenured staff. Faculty members generally have a long-term commitment to the institution and are attuned to how professors, students and other stakeholders approach sensitive issues. {snip}

Moreover, the institution should define the jurisdiction of DEI departments and ensure that student-facing deans remain neutral and do not endorse any particular ideology. And yes, beliefs about “privilege,” “anti-racism” and “unconscious bias” are not objective truths; they are contested ideologies. {snip}

Third, faculty governance should assert oversight of DEI departments. {snip}

Fourth, DEI staffers should be required to attend training on free speech and academic freedom. {snip}

Fifth—and this one is key—universities should commit themselves to hiring ideologically-diverse professors. It is regrettable that Stanford has one right-of-center public law scholar—Judge McConnell. Yale has zero. {snip}