How Should Law Schools Handle Protests at Student Events?
As readers doubtless know, last week, student protestors disrupted a lecture by Judge Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit at Stanford Law School (SLS). Judge Duncan had been invited to deliver remarks by the SLS chapter of the Federalist Society, and although the chapter is a recognized student organization at SLS, it was not able to proceed with the event as planned. David Lat has provided the most comprehensive account of the event and the fallout, and has also published audio of the entire event. (Some have suggested SLS has video of the entire event as well. If so, I hope it is released for purposes transparency and accontability.)
As SLS Dean Jenny Martinex and Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne have acknowledged, school administrators did not handle the situation well. But what should SLS have done? What should other schools do if they are concerned about disruptive protests at events? Having been involved with such questions at my own university, I think the answer is simple and straight forward: 1) Have a policy; 2) Inform people about the policy; 3) Enforce the policy. If the goal is facilitating the expression of diverse viewpoints and avoiding disruptions, all three steps are necessary.
First, have a policy. This is one thing Stanford did right. It has a policy which broadly protects free expression but also clearly prohibits actions that disrupt public events. Among other things, it provides that:
It is a violation of University policy for a member of the faculty, staff, or student body to:
Prevent or disrupt the effective carrying out of a University function or approved activity, such as lectures, . . . and public events. . . .
This was a scheduled public event (indeed, a lecture) by a university-recognized student group.
The policy is good because, among other things, it ensures that members of the university community will not be punished or sanctioned for
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