Apology for Disruptive Protests

The Honorable Stuart Kyle Duncan, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, was invited to speak at Stanford Law School last week, but hecklers prevented him from giving his talk, and U.S. marshals ended up escorting him out of the room. Two days later, he received a written apology letter from the Law School Dean, Jenny Martinez, and Stanford University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne.

Judge Duncan was invited to speak by the Federalist Society, a conservative group. Students who disagree with Judge Duncan’s decisions on LGBTQ and trans-gender issues protested his appearance. According to the Stanford Daily, audience interruptions and booing continued throughout his first thirty minutes of speaking, causing him finally to stop and ask for an administrator to intervene. The associate dean for DEI then addressed the crowd, indicating her approval of their protests (“I’m glad this is going on here.”) The judge was never able to finish his speech.

The apology letter noted that students are “welcome to exercise their right to protest but not to disrupt the proceedings. In addition, staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so, and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.”

Judge Duncan accepted the apology, and said he was grateful for it.

It was appropriate for the dean of the law school and the university president to issue this letter jointly. It was issued swiftly, just two days after the incident. The letter identifies two errors, the students’ behavior and the administrator’s intervention. There is no statement of remorse or regret. Perhaps this is only an excerpt of the complete letter.

A good apology needs to describe steps the offender plans to take to ensure that this does not happen again. In an email to the law school community, the dean noted, “The way this event unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech. The school is reviewing what transpired and will work to ensure protocols are in place so that disruptions of this nature do not occur again, and is committed to the conduct of events on terms that are consistent with the disruption policy and the principles of free speech and critical inquiry they support.”

Students are now protesting Dean Martinez’s apology to Judge Duncan. Presumably they want her to apologize for her apology.