Moderator slams law school protesters in faculty-wide memo

Ryan Chiao

Law professor Kate Stith, who moderated the March 10 panel that was disrupted by student protesters, sent the titular law school a scathing memorandum on Thursday claiming that students violated the University’s free speech policy. Yale and should be educated and potentially sanctioned.

Stith’s letter came the same day the Graduate and Professional Student Senate met and discussed the protest. There, attendees were told that representatives from University President Peter Salovey’s office, the Yale Police Department, and students would meet soon to discuss the issues.

The March 10 panel, hosted by the Yale Chapter of the Federalist Society, featured two speakers from opposite ends of the political spectrum who spoke about their support for free speech. Monica Miller, lead attorney for the progressive American Humanist Association, and Kristen Wagoner, general counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, both supported a recent civil liberties case that Wagoner argued and won in the Supreme Court.

But about 120 student protesters took issue with Waggoner’s presence on the panel, arguing that the organization she works for aims to limit LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. At the event, Miller said his organization views the ADF as a “hate group,” but stressed the importance of proper speech and noted that a lawyer’s job is to represent their client. , and she litigated a case that depended on the results of Chez Wagonner.

But audio from the panel shows the protests drowned out much of Miller’s statement. At the event, protesters stood up and challenged Stith as she introduced the panelists. They left the room after Stith read aloud the University’s free speech policy, but continued to make noise in the hallway. Throughout the event, students can be heard singing, clapping, stomping and shouting outside the lecture hall, muffling, if not all but drowning out, the sounds from the speakers. Sometimes, Stith wrote, speakers stopped talking or listening due to the disturbance.

“Any formal determination that the March protest at Yale Law School did not violate Yale’s free speech policy would set a terrible precedent at Yale and elsewhere,” Stith wrote. “There is no doubt that the event in Room 127 was significantly disrupted.”

According to Zack Austin ’17 LAW ’22, president of the Yale Federalist Society, the professor teaching across the hall asked the students to “shout out” to be heard above the din. Stith’s letter notes that protesters also disrupted another class and forced a faculty meeting to switch to a Zoom-based format. The panel audio confirms that the decibel level made it difficult to hear the speakers.

More than two weeks later, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken sent a heavily worded letter saying the protesters were engaging in ‘unacceptable’ behavior, but that they had not violated freedom policy. expression from Yale. Three days later, Stith sent him a note describing how the protesters had violated Yale’s free speech policy. The policy prohibits not only shutting down an event, but also “disrupting” it, including interfering with a speaker’s ability to be heard and the audience’s ability to listen.

But protesters continued to question the law school’s focus on disrupting students rather than the decision to invite Wagoner to speak.

“The First Amendment is complicated, and it protects both sides of an argument,” AJ Hudson LAW ’23 said in an interview early last week. “But it seems like it’s only ever been used as a tool to tell students of color, gay students, or female students to shut up.”

Stith argued that protesters should be made aware of the importance of free speech on college campuses. In Gerken’s letter, the dean wrote that the administration would be in “serious discussion” with students about policies and standards for the remainder of the semester.

Following extensive discussion about the content of the meetings and who can attend, the law school decided to hold a preliminary meeting with Dean of Student Affairs Ellen Cosgrove and elected YLS student representatives.

According to a series of emails obtained by the News between student representatives and Cosgrove, there were no plans to discuss free speech at meetings last week.

“I just confirm my understanding of the agenda of the meeting: 1. The presence of the police during the demonstrations. 2. The decision to have armed police rather than unarmed security. 3. The circumstances surrounding the presence of undercover officers in law school buildings,” Cosgrove wrote in a March 26 email to student representatives. “The University’s free speech policy is a University policy and discussions about it would be appropriately directed to the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.”

However, plans for the meeting appear to have changed in the days that followed, as law school spokeswoman Debra Kroszner said the meeting “will cover a wide range of topics related to protests, rallies and university protocols.

All student representatives declined to comment on the meeting, where they will decide the agenda for future meetings and who can attend.

On Thursday, the Senate of Graduate and Professional Students met and discussed, among other topics, the March 10 protest. Two law students addressed the Senate at the invitation of Hudson, who is co-chair of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion on GPSS.

Patrice Collins GRD ’22, President of the GPSS Senate, told those gathered that she had met with Kimberly Goff-Crews, Vice President for University Life at Yale, to discuss free speech policy at the faculty. by right of Yale. Collins added that representatives from Salovey’s office and members of the Yale Police Department will meet with students to discuss these issues further.

Austin expressed disappointment, however, that representatives of the Federalist Society, which organized the panel, were not included in the meeting. Additionally, he took issue with the fact that the students who addressed the Senate wrote an open letter condemning the police presence at the protest.

“Obviously, I think my chapter representatives deserve a seat at the table when this discussion happens, especially if the letter writers are invited,” Austin told The News. “I welcome the opportunity to respectfully discuss these issues with university administrators and my fellow law students. »

But several of the protesters hoped instead to discuss why armed police were present at the event. In previous conversations with the News, Rachel Perler LAW ’22 and Henry Robinson LAW ’24 expressed hope that any meetings with students and law school administrators would focus on police presence at the protest.

“Protest organizers plan to meet with members of the law school administration later this week, and we hope this issue will take center stage in our discussion,” Robinson told the News.

The Sterling Law Building was opened in 1931.


Philip Mousavizadeh covers Woodbridge Hall, the President’s office. He previously covered the Jackson Institute. He is a sophomore at Trumbull College studying ethics, politics and economics.

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