(NEW YORK)— U.S. Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan spoke at Stanford University last week and was interrupted by students who protested what they saw as a record of anti-LGBTQ, racist, and sexist decisions. In the middle of his presentation, the law school’s associate dean of diversity, equity and inclusion, Tirien Steinbach, gave a lengthy speech about free speech and inclusion in which she also questioned policies of free expression on campus.

During the speech she spoke directly to Duncan stating, “You are invited into this space. You are absolutely welcome in this space” but that he should consider “is the juice worth the squeeze?” When pressed for meaning, Steinbach explained, “Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and COVID that that is worth this impact on the division of these people?” After reminding students that they can choose to leave or stay and listen to Judge Duncan’s remarks, several students left the room to protest outside, and others remained quietly. Duncan pivoted directly to questions, which proceeded contentiously between himself and the students.The law school has since apologized to the judge and to Stanford Alumni.

“When a speaker has been invited to campus, they deserve the ability to speak and be heard, said Kristen Shahverdian, senior manager in free expression and education. “Students have the right to protest speakers they disagree with, and a degree of interruption can be part of a fruitful intellectual exchange. That must stop short of entirely impeding the ability of those who want to listen. The raucous interruptions during Judge Duncan’s talk clearly went too far.”

“When confronted with these situations administrators can face a difficult task in de-escalating tensions in the room. However it is their duty to give a forceful defense of free speech and to outline university policies; anything less undermines higher education’s commitment to the open exchange of ideas, not just in that one case but for the campus climate as a whole. It is disappointing to see an administrator openly question these tenets of free speech in this manner. When it comes to protecting free expression, the juice is always worth the squeeze.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057