Why Stanford Law Students Were Right to Protest

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The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Academic freedom, Critical race theory, Discrimination in higher education, Freedom of speech, Freedom of Teaching, Universities and colleges -- Social aspects, Social justice


Less than a week after Judge Kyle Duncan’s controversial appearance at Stanford Law School, another public servant, Congressman Ted Lieu, spoke at Stanford. “Making sure that we still have a democracy is the most pressing issue,” Lieu said. “I don’t fear Donald Trump winning, I fear him losing because he could do the same thing again, and try to get his supporters to go take the streets.” The fear is that the basic rules that govern our democracy will not be followed.

My guess is that you didn’t know about Lieu’s appearance but that you might have heard about Duncan’s. Within hours of Duncan’s, the ever-proliferating Substacks were on it. Rod Dreher, who champions what he calls “Florida’s ‘Orban’ Renewal Project,” held that “it was a revolt of the elites, a pogrom against free speech and civil discourse carried out by some of the nation’s most privileged,” and that the incident was “a stark warning about the potentially totalitarian future of the U.S.” National Review, the Daily Mail, Fox News, and The American Conservative followed, with mainstream outlets not far behind. How this national conversation is created — and what it portends — is something those of us who care about higher ed cannot afford to ignore. We’re all witnesses to an astonishingly effective coordination of power politics by people who have zero respect for the rules that govern democracies, and — if possible — even less respect for the rules that govern colleges and universities.

Jennifer Ruth is a professor of film studies at Portland State University and the author, with Michael Bérubé, of It’s Not Free Speech: Race, Democracy, and the Future of Academic Freedom (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2022).


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