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Stanford Concerns - 2

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Note: In our June 26 Newsletter re the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Murphy, there was one place with an error in the name of the case. It should have been Murthy v Missouri and is correct in the following analysis.

Stanford’s Roles in Censoring the Web (Updated 6/26/24)

The U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision on Wednesday, June 26, 2024 in the case of Murthy v. Missouri regarding the activities of government agencies to flag content and even authors that the agencies believed were posting misleading information, including restricting access to those materials or even suggesting that the materials be blocked altogether. An issue in the case was the involvement of private entities, including at Stanford, to assist in these activities.


We have posted below a PDF copy of the Court's opinion in which six of the nine Justices (Barrett, Roberts, Sotomayor, Kagan, Kavanaugh and Jackson) concluded that the plaintiffs lacked standing for the remedies they were seeking as well as the dissenting opinion that was filed by Justices Alito, Thomas and Gorsuch. We also have posted below a PDF copy of an amicus brief filed on behalf of independent journalists, an amicus brief filed by Stanford alum Mitchell Keiter on behalf of several public interest groups, a copy of Stanford's own amicus brief and a copy of the transcript of the oral arguments at the Supreme Court in March.

These legal issues are obviously important, but putting aside what the courts decide now and in the future, there are important policy questions that separately must be addressed, also now and in the future, by Stanford and nationwide, including: 


Who gets to decide what is and isn’t true and subsequently gets to enforce the answers? Is it a proper role for Stanford not only to research the issues, but then to be the implementer of the solutions and the rejecter of alternative viewpoints? Is it appropriate that the Stanford name is seen as an endorsement of these activities? At what point does an entity, especially at Stanford, lose its independence and, in turn, its trustworthiness? 


Also, how did it come about that Stanford reportedly spent a million dollars or more on lawyers to assert the position that it was appropriate for entities at Stanford, or anywhere for that matter, to play a role in censoring Stanford's own faculty members and even in areas that are within the recognized expertise of those faculty members?

Among other things, see this detailed summary of the Stanford Internet Observatory's prior funding by and interactions with government entities. See also "The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists -- We Fought Back by Stanford Medical School Prof. Jay Bhattacharya. See also Part 4 of our Back to Basics webpage, including paragraph 4.d. that Stanford must never again play a role in censoring members of its own faculty.

Murthy v.







Public Interest





Transcript of Oral





​And here are some links and comments previously posted:


From The Stanford Review, “Stanford’s Dark Hand in Twitter Censorship”:



Some explanations from Stanford:


Some Tweets about Stanford's newly announced Project Liberty (see further discussion in "Read more," below):



Some commentaries from third parties:




As noted above, these are important topics to be studied. The more difficult questions are, as also noted above, who then gets to decide what is and isn’t true and subsequently gets to enforce the answers? And is it a proper role for Stanford not only to research the issues, but then to be the implementer of the solutions and the rejecter of alternative viewpoints? ​ We believe similar concerns arise with many if not most of the other centers, incubators and accelerators Stanford has been creating and hosting in recent years. We therefore suggest moving those implementation activities off the main campus and into the Stanford Research Park, which was why a valuable portion of Stanford's land was set aside for this purpose in the first place, and/or to an entity comparable to Stanford Research Institute, which was why SRI and entities like it throughout the country also were created years ago. The Redwood City administrative campus that currently houses nearly 3,000 of Stanford's 18,369 non-teaching staff (see our February 26, 2024 Newsletter) might also be repurposed for the centers, incubators and accelerators. Among other things, these changes would free up land and buildings on the main campus for the university's core purposes of teaching and research and would help solve Stanford's problems with Santa Clara County for its land use permits. These changes also would allow a significantly reduced administrative staff to interact in person with Stanford's faculty and students and thus be focused again on the university's core purposes of teaching and research and not something else. ​ And for reasons that will become clearer over time, we believe these and similar reforms will also go to the heart of free speech and critical thinking at Stanford. ​ Stanford’s Recent Press Release About New Projects ​ In June 2023, Stanford issued a press release about new projects it has undertaken: While the goals outlined in the press release seem laudable on the face, a more careful reading starts to raise questions about what really will take place as well as the roles of donors, Big Tech, government agencies and others. These words and phrases all come directly from the four-page press release: liberty, responsible technology, foundations of democracy, working together to shape emerging technologies, designed and governed for the common good, shaping an ethical future for our digital society, create more enduring democracies worldwide, a more equitable and inclusive technology infrastructure, openness to collaboration, focus on solutions, shared sense of urgency, at this critical junction, informing emerging technologies, the internet of tomorrow, accelerate our mission, a better web for a better world, support democracy, build a digital society, benefits the many and not just the few, inject ethics, ensure a meaningful encounter, engage with ethics at critical junctions, placement of technologists into positions of influence, shape thinking and decision-making, bring about a culture shift, ensure a flourishing and inclusive democratic society, transform the training, usher in a new breed, ethical society, implications of their work, serves rather than subverts democracy, a new generation of global leaders, define how we govern the future, shape the global conversation, transform social media, for the betterment of society, convene leading experts, spark a global conversation, can support democracy, be a benefit to society, flow of truthful and thoughtful information, vast digital web of social connections, the well-being of society, promote truth, mitigating those that amplify misinformation, confusion and polarization, a broad collective of stakeholders, shape a new digital society for the world, and many more. ​ Note also the repeated use of “partnering,” thereby blurring any concepts of independence and who in fact is in charge: Is it tenured members of Stanford’s faculty and where these activities are core to their independent research, or is it the donors, government agencies, third-party advisory boards and nonfaculty managers who now direct what Stanford is doing? And per our earlier Newsletters, shouldn’t these activities at least be moved off campus into separate centers, incubators and accelerators; not be allowed to use the Stanford name; and not blur the distinction between independent research, which belongs at a university, versus being the deciders and implementers of outcomes that are largely decided by donors and government entities and therefore belong elsewhere and are better defined as to who funds and runs them and why?

Stanford Prof. Jay Bhattacharya: The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists. and We Fought Back.


Last week, a federal appeals court confirmed that science cannot function without free speech and freedom of inquiry. Longtime Stanford Medical School Prof. Jay Bhattacharya reflects on how this judicial decision was a victory not only for him personally, but for all Americans.


By Jay Bhattacharya

September 11, 2023

When I was four, my mother took her first flight and first trip out of her native India to the U.S. with me and my younger brother in tow. We were going to meet my father, an electrical engineer and rocket scientist by training, who had won the U.S. visa lottery in 1970. He had moved to New York a year earlier. By the time we arrived he was working at McDonald’s because engineering jobs had dried up during a recession.

Both of my parents—children of the violent partition of India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)—had grown up in poverty, my mother in a Calcutta slum. They immigrated to this country because they believed in the American dream. That belief led to the success my father ultimately found as an engineer and my mother found running a family daycare business.  ​ Our family had indeed won the lottery. But coming to America meant something more profound than financial opportunity.  ​ I remember in 1975 when a high court found that then-prime minister of India Indira Gandhi had interfered unlawfully in an election. The ruling disqualified her from holding office. In response, she declared a state of emergency, suspended democracy, censored the opposition press and government critics, and threw her political opponents in jail. I remember the shock of these events and our family’s collective relief that we were in the U.S., where it was unimaginable that such things could happen. ​ When I was 19, I became an American citizen. It was one of the happiest days of my young life. The immigration officer gave me a civics test, including a question about the First Amendment. It was an easy test because I knew it in my heart. The American civic religion has the right to free speech as the core of its liturgy. I never imagined that there would come a time when an American government would think of violating this right, or that I would be its target. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, the American government violated my free speech rights and those of my scientist colleagues for questioning the federal government’s pandemic policies. My parents had taught me that people here could criticize the government, even over matters of life and death, without worry that the government would censor or suppress us. But over the past three years, I have been robbed of that conviction. American government officials, working in concert with big tech companies, have attacked and suppressed my speech and that of my colleagues for criticizing official pandemic policies—criticism that has been proven prescient. On Friday, at long last, the Fifth Circuit Court ruled that we were not imagining it—that the Biden administration did indeed strong-arm social media companies into doing its bidding. The court found that the Biden White House, the CDC, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office, and the FBI “engaged in a years-long pressure campaign [on social media outlets] designed to ensure that the censorship aligned with the government’s preferred viewpoints.” The judges described a pattern of government officials making “threats of ‘fundamental reforms’ like regulatory changes and increased enforcement actions” if we did not comply. The implication was clear. To paraphrase Al Capone: Nice company you have there. It’d be a shame if something were to happen to it. It worked. According to the judges, “the officials’ campaign succeeded. The platforms, in capitulation to state-sponsored pressure, changed their moderation policies.” In exposing this behavior—and in declaring it a likely violation of the First Amendment—the ruling is not just a victory for my fellow scientists and me, but for every single American. The trouble began on October 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I—Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford—published the Great Barrington Declaration. The Declaration called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies on the grounds that they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits to society as a whole. The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed our statement. With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has seen lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-obsessed California since the start of the pandemic. But at the time, our proposal was viewed by high government officials like Anthony Fauci and some in the Trump White House, including Deborah Birx, then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, as a kind of heresy. Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression because it contradicted the government’s preferred response to Covid. Four days after the Declaration’s publication, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of it. Almost immediately, social media companies such as Google/YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook censored mentions of the Declaration. As The Free Press revealed in its Twitter Files reporting, in 2021 Twitter blacklisted me for posting a link to the Great Barrington Declaration. YouTube censored a video of a public policy roundtable of me with Florida governor Ron DeSantis for the crime of telling him that the scientific evidence for masking children is weak. I have been a professor researching health policy and infectious disease epidemiology at a world-class university for decades. I am not a political person; I am not registered with either party. In part that is because I want to preserve my total independence as a scientist. I have always viewed my job as telling people honestly about the data issues, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans liked the message. Yet at the height of the pandemic, I found myself smeared for my supposed political views, and my views about Covid policy and epidemiology were removed from the public square on all manner of social networks. I could not believe this was happening in the country I so love. In August 2022, my colleagues and I finally had a chance to fight back. The Missouri and Louisiana attorneys general asked me to join as a plaintiff in their case, represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance, against the Biden administration. The aim of the suit was to end the government's role in this censorship—and restore the free speech rights of all Americans in the digital town square. Lawyers in the Missouri v. Biden case deposed representatives, under oath, from many federal agencies involved in the censorship efforts, including Anthony Fauci. Broad discovery of email exchanges between the government and social media companies showed an administration willing to use its regulatory powers against social media companies that did not comply with censorship demands. The case revealed that a dozen federal agencies—including the CDC, the Office of the Surgeon General, and the Biden White House—pressured social media companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter to censor and suppress even true speech contradicting federal pandemic priorities. For instance, in 2021, the White House threatened social media companies with damaging regulatory action unless it censored scientists who shared the demonstrable fact that the Covid vaccines do not prevent people from getting Covid. True or false, if speech interfered with the government’s priorities, it had to go. On Independence Day this year, federal Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in the case, ordering the federal government to immediately stop coercing social media companies to censor protected free speech. In his decision, Justice Doughty compared the administration’s censorship infrastructure to an Orwellian Ministry of Truth. His ruling decried the vast federal censorship enterprise that dictated who and what social media companies could publish. ​ The government appealed, convinced it should have the power to censor scientific speech. An administrative stay followed and lasted much of the summer. But on Friday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit unanimously restored a modified version of the preliminary injunction, telling the government to stop using social media companies to do its censorship dirty work: Defendants, and their employees and agents, shall take no actions, formal or informal, directly or indirectly, to coerce or significantly encourage social-media companies to remove, delete, suppress, or reduce, including through altering their algorithms, posted social-media content containing protected free speech. That includes, but is not limited to, compelling the platforms to act, such as by intimating that some form of punishment will follow a failure to comply with any request, or supervising, directing, or otherwise meaningfully controlling the social media companies’ decision-making processes. As I read the decision, I was overcome with emotion. I think my father, who died when I was 20, would be proud that I played a role in this. I know my mother is. That is because the victory is not just for me but for every American who felt the oppressive force of this censorship industrial complex during the pandemic. It is a vindication for parents who advocated for some semblance of normal life for their children but found their Facebook groups suppressed. It is a vindication for vaccine-injured patients who sought the company and counsel of fellow patients online but found themselves gaslit by social media companies and the government into thinking their personal experience of harm was all in their heads. The decision provides some solace for scientists who had deep reservations about lockdowns but censored themselves for fear of the reputational damage that came with being falsely labeled misinformers. They were not wrong in thinking science wasn’t working right; science simply cannot function without free speech. The decision isn’t perfect. Some entities at the heart of the government’s censorship enterprise can still organize to suppress speech. For instance, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) within the Department of Homeland Security can still work with academics to develop a hit list for government censorship. And the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Fauci’s old organization, can still coordinate devastating takedowns of outside scientists critical of government policy. But the headline is a good one: the federal government can no longer threaten social media companies with destruction if they don’t censor on behalf of the government. The Biden administration, which has proven itself to be an enemy of free speech, will surely appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. But I am hopeful that we will win there, just as we have at every venue in this litigation. I am grateful for the resilience of the U.S. Constitution, which has withstood this challenge. But I can never go back to the uncomplicated faith and naive confidence I had in America when I was young. Our government is not immune to the authoritarian impulse. I have learned the hard way that it is only we, the people, who must hold an overreaching government accountable for violating our most sacred rights. Without our vigilance, we will lose them. ******* Jay Bhattacharya, MD, PhD, is a professor of health policy at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he researches epidemiology and health economics. He is a founding fellow of the Academy for Science and Freedom, a Hillsdale College initiative. He also podcasts at the Illusion of Consensus site. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @DrJBhattacharya.

Campus Speech



Stanford is 106th in FIRE's 2022 Free Speech Rankings

  • Overall Rank: 106th 

  • Overall Score: 45.94

  • Speech Climate: Average


Executive Summary

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonprofit organization committed to free and open inquiry at colleges and universities in the United States, in partnership with RealClearEducation, commissioned College Pulse to survey students at 208 colleges about students’ perceptions and experiences regarding free speech on their campuses. Fielded from January 13 to May 31, 2022, via the College Pulse mobile app and web portal, the survey included 44,847 student respondents who were currently enrolled in four-year degree programs.


Stanford University was one of the 208 schools surveyed, between January 19, 2022 and March 29, 2022. Key findings from this school include:


•Stanford ranks 106th overall with a score of 45.94. The speech climate on campus is average when compared to the other schools surveyed.

•Stanford performed fairly well on the components of Tolerance for Controversial Liberal Speakers (22nd overall), Openness (38th), Administrative Support (41st), Tolerance for Controversial Conservative Speakers (65th).

•In contrast, Stanford did not perform well on Comfort Expressing Ideas (141st overall) or Disruptive Conduct (128th).

•Stanford experienced aa number of controversies over free expression over the past four years (2019 to July 1, 2022), they were rewarded for defending scholars during a controversy, but they were also penalized for sanctioning a scholar and for a disinvitation.

The College Free Speech Rankings The College Free Speech Rankings are based on a composite score of ten sub-components. Six of these assess student perceptions of different aspects of the speech climate on their campus: •Comfort Expressing Ideas •Tolerance for Liberal Speakers •Tolerance for Conservative Speakers •Acceptability of Disruptive Conduct •Administrative Support for Free Expression •Openness to Discussion of Specific Political Topics Two additional constructs, “Mean Tolerance” and “Tolerance Difference,” were computed from the “Tolerance for Liberal/Conservative Speaker” subcomponents. “Tolerance Difference” was calculated by subtracting “Tolerance for Conservative Speakers” from “Tolerance for Liberal Speakers” and then taking the absolute value (so that a bias on either side would be treated the same). The other four assess administrative behavior in regards to free expression on campus: •Scholars supported by the administration during a free expression controversy from 2019 to present. •Scholars sanctioned during a free expression controversy from 2019 to present.[1] •Successful disinvitations from 2019 to present.[2] •FIRE’s rating of the school’s speech code policies.[3] The overall score for each school is standardized so that the average score is 50 and the standard deviation is 10. Scores are then adjusted according to each school’s FIRE speech code rating. A full explanation of the methodology and scoring is provided in the appendix. A school’s overall score can range from 0 to 100. Full Report In 2020, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), College Pulse, and RealClearEducation published the first-ever comprehensive student assessment of free speech on 55 American college campuses: the College Free Speech Rankings. For the first time, prospective college students and their parents could systematically compare current students’ understandings of the level of tolerance for free speech on campus. In 2022, FIRE surveyed and ranked 203 schools.[4] Stanford University has an average speech climate, ranking 106th overall with an overall score of 45.94. The student body itself is predominantly liberal, with 64% of students describing their political beliefs as “slightly,” “somewhat,” or “very” liberal. In contrast, 16% of students described themselves as “slightly,” “somewhat,” or “very” conservative, and just 9% described themselves as moderate. The liberal to conservative student ratio was 4:1. In other words, for every conservative student on campus there are four liberal students. How Comfortable are Students Expressing Their Views on Controversial Topics? “If I feel a professor was leaning toward a certain political ideology, I would hesitate to bring up a point that didn’t align with that professor’s in fear that they may let their personal feelings on the topic affect their evaluation of me.” “When I was taking a class on free speech there was a discussion on what that meant and I had an opinion that went against others but I chose to stay silent because I felt like there would be judgment if I said what I wanted to.” Compared to students nationally, students at Stanford were less comfortable expressing disagreement with their professor and expressing themselves on social media. When asked if they felt “somewhat” or “very” comfortable disagreeing with their professor in a written assignment, 53% of Stanford students said this compared to 59% of students nationally. Fewer than two-in-five Stanford students (38%) said they felt comfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor on a controversial topic, and just 30% felt this way about expressing an unpopular opinion to their peers on a social media account tied to their name, compared to 40% nationally for both contexts. When it came to expressing views to their peers in campus settings, roughly three-fifths of Stanford students (61%) said they felt “very” or “somewhat” comfortable expressing their views on a controversial political topic to other students during a discussion in a common campus space, such as a quad, dining hall, or lounge. One-in-five Stanford students reported that they self-censored “fairly” or “very” often – compared to 22% of students nationally – and 72% said they were worried “a lot” or “a little” about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstood something they have said or done – compared to 63% of students nationally. Overall, Stanford University ranked 141st on Comfort Expressing Ideas. What Topics are Difficult to Have Conversations About? “I think there is a general vibe that makes it difficult to express oneself without being ostracized.” “Any insinuation that covid restrictions are sometimes contradictory makes people think you're an anti-masker. Any suggestion for rationality in a conversation about race-relations makes you a racist.” The Israeli/Palestinian conflict was identified by almost half (49%) of Stanford students surveyed as a topic that was difficult to have an open and honest conversation about. Police misconduct (40%) was also identified by a notable portion of students as difficult to discuss. Overall, Stanford University ranked 38th on Openness. Which Speakers are Controversial? “This could refer to any instance of disagreeing with liberal views. Because the school's population is majority liberal, even showing interest in attending a Ben Shapiro talk was frowned upon.” Stanford students demonstrated a fairly large ideological bias when asked about allowing controversial speakers on campus. A majority of students said that all five controversial liberal speakers should be allowed on campus, with the percentage of students saying this ranging from 72% (for a speaker who has promoted the idea that “The Second Amendment should be repealed so that guns can be confiscated.”) to 89% (“Undocumented immigrants should be given the right to vote”). In contrast, allowing all four controversial conservative speakers was staunchly opposed, with percentages in opposition ranging from 54% (“Abortion should be completely illegal.”) to 76% (“Transgender people have a mental disorder.”). Overall, Stanford University ranked 22nd on Tolerance for Liberal Speakers, 65th on Tolerance for Conservative Speakers, 13th on Mean Tolerance, and 151st on Tolerance Difference. What Kinds of Disruptive Conduct are Acceptable? “When students set up outside of a Shapiro speech I knew I’d start a fight if I tried to explain free speech to them.” The students at Stanford University, when compared to students nationally, tended to be more supportive of disruptive conduct to stop a campus speech. Over two-in-three Stanford students (69%) said shouting down a speaker or trying to prevent them from speaking on campus was acceptable to some degree, compared to 62% of students nationally; 45% said it was acceptable to some degree to block other students from attending a campus speech, compared to 37% nationally; and one-in-four (25%) said that using violence to stop a campus speech was acceptable to some degree, compared to 20% of students nationally. Overall, Stanford University ranked 128th on Disruptive Conduct. How is the Administration Perceived? “Someone threw a rock at my friend standing beside me when we were having a public, civil, outdoors conversation about a Constitutional amendment. The rock was large enough to have easily caused serious or even lethal bodily harm to the student. The incident was reported to the university administration, but no action nor statement was publicly taken. That moment really solidified within me the unilateral polarization that the campus represents, both stretching from the lowest level of students up to the highest office of the university's presidency, the lattermost often bearing larger semblances with the stereotypical cowardice of a horrible monarch.” Students perceived the administration’s stance on free speech as clear, with 79% saying it was “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” clear that the administration protects free speech on campus. An almost identical percentage, 75%, said that it is “extremely,” “very,” or “somewhat” likely that the administration would defend a speaker’s rights if a speech controversy occurred on campus. Overall, Stanford University ranked 41st on Administrative Support for Free Speech. A Yellow Light School With Plenty of Controversy The speech policies at Stanford University received a yellow light rating from FIRE. When it came to campus speech controversies Stanford University was certainly not a stranger to them. A total of 18 scholars were targeted for sanction between 2019 and July 1, 2022, the highest total for any institution in FIRE’s Scholars Under Fire database. Of these 18 attempts, two did result in sanctions that Stanford was penalized for. Stanford was also penalized for the disinvitation of Joe Lonsdale in 2019. How Can Stanford University Improve? First and foremost, Stanford University can improve their ranking if the administration takes a clear and strong stance in support of free expression. This can be done by making clear statements in support of free expression, continuing to defend scholars if a controversy over their expression erupts, or by revising its speech code policies. These policies include some of Stanford’s sexual harassment policies, student engagement policies, protest and discrimination policies, and policies regarding tolerance, respect, and civility. A strong administrative display of amending one or more of these policies so that they earn a yellow or green light rating would clarify the administration’s stance on free speech and provide a boost in next year’s rankings. Topline Results for Stanford University Are your current courses all online, mostly online, mostly in person, all in person, or an equal mix of online and in person? 14% All online 18% Mostly online 34% Mostly in person 21% All in person 14% Equal mix of online and in-person How comfortable would you feel doing the following on your campus? [Presented in randomized order] Publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic. 13% Very comfortable 25% Somewhat comfortable 31% Somewhat uncomfortable 31% Very uncomfortable Expressing disagreement with one of your professors about a controversial topic in a written assignment. 18% Very comfortable 35% Somewhat comfortable 31% Somewhat uncomfortable 17% Very uncomfortable Expressing your views on a controversial political topic during an in-class discussion. 16% Very comfortable 37% Somewhat comfortable 32% Somewhat uncomfortable 15% Very uncomfortable Expressing your views on a controversial political topic to other students during a discussion in a common campus space such as a quad, dining hall, or lounge. 20% Very comfortable 41% Somewhat comfortable 33% Somewhat uncomfortable 6% Very uncomfortable Expressing an unpopular opinion to your fellow students on a social media account tied to your name. 9% Very comfortable 21% Somewhat comfortable 39% Somewhat uncomfortable 32% Very uncomfortable Student groups often invite speakers to campus to express their views on a range of topics. Regardless of your own views on the topic, should your school ALLOW or NOT ALLOW a speaker on campus who promotes the following idea? [Presented in randomized order] Transgender people have a mental disorder. 13% Definitely should allow this speaker 11% Probably should allow this this speaker 19% Probably should not allow this speaker 57% Definitely should not allow this speaker Abortion should be completely illegal. 15% Definitely should allow this speaker 31% Probably should allow this this speaker 33% Probably should not allow this speaker 21% Definitely should not allow this speaker Black Lives Matter is a hate group. 14% Definitely should allow this speaker 17% Probably should allow this this speaker 25% Probably should not allow this speaker 44% Definitely should not allow this speaker The 2020 Presidential election was stolen. 13% Definitely should allow this speaker 18% Probably should allow this speaker 35% Probably should not allow this speaker 34% Definitely should not allow this speaker The Second Amendment should be repealed so that guns can be confiscated. 22% Definitely should allow this speaker 50% Probably should allow this this speaker 22% Probably should not allow this speaker 6% Definitely should not allow this speaker Undocumented immigrants should be given the right to vote. 46% Definitely should allow this speaker 43% Probably should allow this this speaker 10% Probably should not allow this speaker 1% Definitely should not allow this speaker Getting rid of inequality is more important than protecting the so-called “right” to free speech. 23% Definitely should allow this speaker 53% Probably should allow this this speaker 17% Probably should not allow this speaker 7% Definitely should not allow this speaker White people are collectively responsible for structural racism and use it to protect their privilege. 40% Definitely should allow this speaker 42% Probably should allow this this speaker 16% Probably should not allow this speaker 2% Definitely should not allow this speaker Religious liberty is used as an excuse to discriminate against gays and lesbians. 30% Definitely should allow this speaker 47% Probably should allow this this speaker 13% Probably should not allow this speaker 10% Definitely should not allow this speaker How acceptable would you say it is for students to engage in the following action to protest a campus speaker? [Presented in randomized order] Shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus. 6% Always acceptable 27% Sometimes acceptable 36% Rarely acceptable 31% Never acceptable Blocking other students from attending a campus speech. 2% Always acceptable 7% Sometimes acceptable 36% Rarely acceptable 55% Never acceptable Using violence to stop a campus speech. 1% Always acceptable 5% Sometimes acceptable 20% Rarely acceptable 75% Never acceptable How clear is it to you that your college administration protects free speech on campus? 6% Extremely clear 25% Very clear 47% Somewhat clear 16% Not very clear 6% Not at all clear If a controversy over offensive speech were to occur on your campus, how likely is it that the administration would defend the speaker’s right to express their views? 10% Extremely likely 24% Very likely 41% Somewhat likely 21% Not very likely 5% Not at all likely On your campus, how often have you felt that you could not express your opinion on a subject because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond? 14% Never 25% Rarely 41% Occasionally 11% Fairly often 9% Very often How worried are you about damaging your reputation because someone misunderstands something you have said or done? 25% Worried a lot 47% Worried a little 21% Not very worried 7% Not at all worried How much pressure do you feel to avoid discussing controversial topics in your classes? 16% No pressure at all 33% Slight pressure 33% Some pressure 11% A good deal of pressure 6% A great deal of pressure [Next two questions presented in random order] How would you describe the climate on your campus towards people who do not share your political beliefs? 13% Very supportive 27% Somewhat supportive 45% Somewhat hostile 16% Very hostile How would you describe the climate on your campus towards people who share your political beliefs? 29% Very supportive 41% Somewhat supportive 19% Somewhat hostile 11% Very hostile Where do you think the political views of the average student on campus are on the following scale? 24% Very liberal 43% Somewhat liberal 23% Slightly liberal 7% Moderate, middle-of-the-road 1% Slightly conservative 0% Somewhat conservative 0% Very conservative 1% Haven’t thought much about this 1% Something else Where do you think the political views of the average faculty member on campus are on the following scale? 12% Very liberal 41% Somewhat liberal 28% Slightly liberal 8% Moderate, middle-of-the-road 8% Slightly conservative 11% Somewhat conservative 1% Very conservative 1% Haven’t thought much about this 1% Something else Some students say it can be difficult to have conversations about certain issues on campus. Which of the following issues, if any, would you say are difficult to have an open and honest conversation about on your campus? [Percentage selecting each option] 31% Abortion 28% Affirmative action 23% China 13% Climate change 33% COVID-19 vaccine mandates 28% Economic inequality 26% Freedom of speech 25% Gender inequality 36% Gun control 24% Immigration 49% The Israeli/Palestinian conflict 34% Mask mandates 40% Police misconduct 33% Racial inequality 36% Religion 34% Sexual assault 35% Transgender issues 8% None of the above What campus changes would make you feel that you can express yourself? [Percentage selecting each option] 25% If there were more people of my race. 12% If there were more people of different races than me. 8% If there were more people of my gender. 4% If there were more people of a different gender than me. 9% If there were more people of my religion. 7% If there were more people of different religions than me. 22% If there were more people with my political views. 17% If there were more people with different political views from me. 40% If there were more tolerance of views that some consider hateful. 24% If there were less tolerance for views that some consider hateful. 18% None of the above In politics today, do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat, or something else? 22% Strong Democrat 23% Weak Democrat 16% Independent, lean Democrat 14% Independent 5% Independent, lean Republican 7% Weak Republican 2% Strong Republican 10% Something else Using the following scale, how would you describe your political beliefs? 25% Very liberal 28% Somewhat liberal 11% Slightly liberal 9% Moderate, middle-of-the-road 7% Slightly conservative 7% Somewhat conservative 2% Very conservative 8% I do not identify as a liberal or a conservative 3% Haven’t thought much about this [If “I do not identify as a liberal or a conservative” is selected]: Which of the following best describes your political beliefs? 3% Democratic Socialist 2% Libertarian 4% Something else [write-in] Methodology The College Free Speech Survey was developed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, RealClearEducation, and College Pulse. College Pulse administered the survey. No donors to the project took part in the design or conduct of the survey. The survey was fielded from January 13 to May 31, 2022. These data come from a sample of 44,847 undergraduates who were currently enrolled full-time in four-year degree programs at 208 colleges and universities in the United States. The margin of error for the U.S. undergraduate population is +/- 1 percentage point, and the margin of error for college student sub-demographics ranges from 2 to 5 percentage points. The initial sample was drawn from College Pulse’s American College Student Panel™, which includes more than 630,000 verified undergraduate students and recent alumni at more than 1,500 different two- and four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states. Panel members are recruited by a number of methods to help ensure student diversity in the panel population, including web advertising, permission-based email campaigns, and partnerships with university-affiliated organizations. To ensure the panel reflects the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the American college population, College Pulse recruits panelists from a wide variety of institutions. The panel includes students attending large public universities, small private colleges, online universities, historically Black colleges such as Howard University, women only colleges such as Smith College, and religiously-affiliated colleges such as Brigham Young University. College Pulse uses a two-stage validation process to ensure that all its surveys include only students currently enrolled in two-year or four-year colleges or universities. Students are required to provide an .edu email address to join the panel and, for this survey, had to acknowledge that they were currently enrolled full-time in a four-year degree program. All invitations to complete surveys are sent using the student’s .edu email address or through notification in the College Pulse app that is available on iOS and Android platforms. College Pulse applies a post-stratification adjustment based on demographic distributions from multiple data sources, including the 2017 Current Population Survey (CPS), the 2016 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS), and the 2019-20 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The post-stratification weight rebalances the sample based on a number of important benchmark attributes, such as race, gender, class year, voter registration status, and financial aid status. The sample weighting is accomplished using an iterative proportional fitting (IFP) process that simultaneously balances the distributions of all variables. Weights are trimmed to prevent individual interviews from having too much influence on the final results. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the demographic characteristics of the sample closely approximate the demographic characteristics of the target populations. Even with these adjustments, surveys may be subject to error or bias due to question wording, context, and order effects. For further information, please see College Free Speech Rankings The College Free Speech Rankings are based on a composite score of ten sub-components. Six of these assessed student perceptions of different aspects of the speech climate on their campus. The other four assessed administrative behavior in regards to free expression on campus. Student Perceptions The student perception sub-components included: •Comfort Expressing Ideas: Students were asked about how comfortable they felt expressing their views on controversial topics in five different campus settings (e.g., in class, in the dining hall). Options ranged from “very uncomfortable” to “very comfortable.” They were also asked about how often they felt they could not express their opinion because of how other students, faculty, or the administration would respond (options ranged from “never” to “very often”); if they were worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done (options ranged from “worried a lot” to “not at all worried”); and, if they felt pressure to avoid discussing controversial topics in their classes (options ranged from “no pressure at all” to “a great deal of pressure”). Responses were coded so that higher scores indicated greater comfort expressing ideas. The maximum number of points was 34. •Tolerance for Liberal Speakers: Students were asked whether four speakers espousing views offensive to conservatives (e.g., “Undocumented immigrants should be given the right to vote”) should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether they personally agreed with the speaker’s message. Options ranged from “definitely should not allow this speaker” to “definitely should allow this speaker,” and responses were coded so that higher scores indicated more tolerance of the speaker (i.e., they should be allowed on campus). The maximum number of points was 16. •Tolerance for Conservative Speakers: Students were also asked whether four speakers espousing views offensive to liberals (e.g., “Black Lives Matter is a hate group”) should be allowed on campus, regardless of whether they personally agreed with the speaker’s message. Scoring was done in the same manner as the Tolerance for Liberal Speakers sub-component, thus the maximum number of points was 16. •Disruptive Conduct: Students were asked how acceptable or unacceptable it is to engage in different methods of protest against a campus speaker. These included “Shouting down a speaker or trying to prevent them from speaking on campus,” “Blocking other students from attending a campus speech,” and “Using violence to stop a campus speech.” Options ranged from “always acceptable” to “never acceptable,” and were coded so that higher scores were indicative of less acceptance of disruptive conduct. The maximum number of points was 12. •Administrative Support: Students were asked about how clear their campus administration’s stance on free speech was and how likely the administration would be to defend a speaker's right to express their views if a controversy over speech occurred on campus. For the administrative stance question, response options ranged from “not at all clear” to “extremely clear”; for the administrative controversy question, response options ranged from “not at all likely” to “extremely likely.” Options were coded so that higher scores were indicative of greater clarity and greater likelihood of defending a speaker’s rights. The maximum number of points was 10. •Openness: Finally, students were asked which topics (e.g., abortion, freedom of speech, gun control, racial inequality) were difficult to have open conversations about on campus. Students also could select an option stating that none of these issues were difficult to discuss. These options were coded so that higher scores were indicative of fewer issues being selected. Seventeen issues were asked about, so the maximum number of points was 17. Two additional constructs, Mean Tolerance and Tolerance Difference, were computed from the Tolerance for Liberal/Conservative Speaker sub-components. Tolerance Difference was calculated by subtracting Tolerance for Conservative Speakers from Tolerance for Liberal Speakers and then taking the absolute value. Administrative Behavior The administrative behavior sub-components included: •Supported Scholars 2019 to 2022: The number of scholars whose speech rights were supported by the administration at a school during a free expression controversy over a four-year time period as recorded by FIRE’s Scholar’s Under Fire Database.[5] This support was unequivocal; if an administration condemned the speech, apologized for the scholar’s expression, or sanctioned the scholar, despite issuing a statement of support, it was not included in a school’s total. •Sanctioned Scholars 2019 to 2022: The number of scholars sanctioned (e.g., placed under investigation; suspended; terminated) at a school over a four-year time period as recorded by FIRE’s Scholar’s Under Fire Database.[6] •Successful Disinvitations 2019 to 2022: The number of successful disinvitations that occurred at a school over a four-year time period as recorded by FIRE’s Campus Disinvitation Database.[7] •FIRE Speech Code Rating: FIRE rates the written policies governing student speech at more than 475 institutions of higher education in the United States. Three substantive ratings are possible: “Red,” “Yellow,” and “Green” (termed “red light,” “yellow light,” and “green light,” respectively). A “red light” rating indicates that the institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Colleges with “yellow light” ratings have policies that restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. The policies of an institution with a “green light” rating do not seriously threaten speech, although this rating does not indicate whether a college actively supports free expression. Finally, a fourth rating, “warning,” is assigned to a private college or university when its policies clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech. “Warning” schools, therefore, were not ranked, and their overall scores are presented separately in this report.[8] Overall Score To create an overall score for each college, we sum the student sub-components of Comfort Expressing Ideas, Mean Tolerance, Disruptive Conduct, Administrative Support, and Openness. Then we subtract from this sum the Tolerance Difference. By including Mean Tolerance (as opposed to Tolerance for Liberal Speakers and Tolerance for Conservative Speakers) and subtracting Tolerance Difference, we are adjusting each school’s score to account for the possibility that ideologically homogeneous student bodies may result in a campus that appears to have a strong culture of free expression, but is actually hostile to the views of an ideological minority – whose views students may almost never encounter on campus. To account for how the administration handles speech controversies on campus, we incorporated three administrative behavior sub-components. We gave a bonus point to each school’s score when the administration successfully supported (i.e., did not sanction and/or offer conflicting messaging) a scholar during a free expression controversy. We decreased this bonus by a quarter of a point each year, so we awarded a full point for support given in 2022, three quarters of a point for support given in 2021, half a point for support given in 2020, and one quarter of a point for support given in 2019. We also applied penalties when the administration sanctioned a scholar or when a speaker was disinvited from campus. Each time a scholar was sanctioned (e.g., investigated, suspended, terminated) we subtracted one point from a school’s score. If the administration terminated a scholar, we subtracted two points, and if that scholar was tenured, we subtracted three points. When the sanction did not result in termination, we decreased the penalty by a quarter of a point each year, so a full point was subtracted for a sanction in 2022, while three quarters of a point was subtracted for a sanction in 2021, half a point was subtracted for sanction in 2020, and one quarter of a point for sanction in 2019. Finally, each time a successful disinvitation, we subtracted one point from a school’s score.[9] After we applied the bonuses and penalties, we standardized each school’s score so that the average score was 50.00 and the standard deviation was 10.00. Following standardization, we added one standard deviation to the final score of colleges whose speech codes received a Green rating, we subtracted half a standard deviation from the final score of colleges that received a Yellow rating, and we subtracted one standard deviation from the final score of schools that received a Red or Warning rating. Overall Score = (50 + (ZRaw Overall Score)(10)) + FIRE Rating ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- [1] The Scholars Under Fire Database includes both supported and sanctioned scholars. It can be found on FIRE’s website at For 2022, the cutoff date for inclusion was July 1, 2022. [2] The Campus Disinvitation Database can be found on FIRE’s website at For 2022, the cutoff date for inclusion was July 1, 2022. [3] The Spotlight Database can be found on FIRE’s website at [4] A total of 208 schools were surveyed, however 5 of them received a “warning” rating from FIRE for their speech policies. An overall score was calculated for these schools but they were not assigned a ranking. [5] Scholars Under Fire Database: [6] Scholars Under Fire Database: [7] Campus Disinvitation Database: [8] The Spotlight Database is on FIRE’s website at [9] In the 2023 College Free Speech Rankings, penalties for terminations and successful disinvitations will begin to decay in the same manner that the penalty for a sanctioned scholar decays.

The Contrarian Ethos


By Mimi St. Johns | From the Stanford Review, November 14, 2022,


[Editor's note: Mimi St. Johns is currently a junior at Stanford studying both Computer Science and German.] 

The philosopher G.K. Chesterton once quipped, “freedom of speech means practically, in our modern civilization, that we must only talk about unimportant things.” At the moment, freedom of speech is more restricted than possibly any other time in the history of Stanford — and more broadly America. Depressing as that may be, this predicament often allows for contrarians to have an even greater effect.


In the Review’s founding decade, the 1980s, politically incorrect hits like Caddyshack, Airplane, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High played in theaters. George Carlin and Rodney Dangerfield, still in their irreverent prime, dared to tour college campuses. Donahue and Oprah broadcasted taboo social, cultural, and political topics onto American screens. The Latchkey Kids — a generation of children with little parental supervision — found their way into the world. America has changed significantly since then. Now, like it or not, we’re in a culture war. At Stanford, the current coming-of-age generation is not the freewheeling Latchkey Kids but one of sheltered students, protected from anything that is possibly offensive by a nanny state of a university. The 1980s were a time when unpopular opinions were still tolerated by the public, without mass-scale condemnation or cancellation. Stanford was still the spot for intelligent bohemians who tolerated disagreement. Now, we’re at a period in Stanford’s history when many, understandably, have a bleak view of this university and their place in it. Students not only face a battle when espousing dissenting opinions, but they also deal with a campus bereft of genuine social connection and the fading geographic relevance of Silicon Valley. While we can only speculate about what exactly the next decade will look like, we can be certain of how the Review and contrarianism fit into it. Minority opinions are not only crucial, but they can also be supremely impactful in the next decade. Perhaps this is because we find ourselves in a time where that which is most pertinent can no longer wait. Contrarianism is most needed now. Throughout the past 35 years, the Review is the one place on Stanford’s campus where free speech has been consistently celebrated. This publication is a home for contrarians, intellectual outlaws, and those with controversial opinions. Though the inquisitive and irreverent ethos of Stanford is dying, it’s always alive in individuals and in the Review. Contrarianism is not disagreement purely for the sake of opposition, but unfiltered thought for the purpose of intellectual engagement. Tolerance for unorthodox beliefs is at a modern low. This is perhaps most prominent on college campuses. A majority of college students feel uncomfortable expressing their opinions and some even think violence is an acceptable reaction to speech with which they disagree. Instead of more conscious learners, modern higher education is building mobs. These hordes continually degrade the fabric of university education and culture. This struggle exemplifies Stanford’s gradual stagnation from an academic standpoint. We see it in the injection of leftist ideology into every facet of university life. Humanities courses often cover obscure topics and focus on identity politics. Engineering and science courses — ones that most think should be the most concrete and logical — are often not. If we cannot genuinely discuss big ideas and debate in the highest echelons of American education, then where does intellectual honesty exist? How does one instill it in at least some of the crop of future leaders that Stanford indelibly spawns? The answer lies in small groups of students and faculty who remain willing to question the leftist orthodoxy and argue for heterodox opinions. When institutions fail, it’s up to individuals to save our society’s fundamental values. Ernst Jünger, a German reactionary thinker, wrote “when all institutions have become equivocal or even disreputable, and when open prayers are heard even in churches not for the persecuted but for the persecutors, at this point moral responsibility passes into the hands of individuals, or, more accurately, into the hands of any still unbroken individuals.” This is the spirit of contrarianism. The courage required makes people more confident and better writers. We can rise out of the ashes of a broken university. This is not a time to be complacent: we must be proactive. For the remainder of Volume LXVI, we’ll continue to expose woke antics in every corner of campus, offer thoughtful and intellectual pieces, and showcase the intellectual vitality of our quite disagreeable community. Most importantly, we’ll continue to build an even stronger heterodox political scene at Stanford. We are the intellectual rebels and most importantly, you can be too! For any students lost and searching for a place where rational intellectual engagement is still alive, drop by a meeting or consider joining the Review. You have the opportunity to expose and elucidate some of the most crucial arguments of the decade. This is a moment that should not, and cannot, be wasted. Fiat Lux, Mimi St Johns

Stanford’s Prof. Gerald Gunther Warned About Limits on Campus Free Speech Three Decades Ago 


By Ronald L. Collins, March 29, 2023


Three decades ago, Stanford Law School’s renowned constitutionalist Gerald Gunther (1927-2002) predicted the problem that today has engulfed his law school in a heated free speech controversy. Gunther did so in a debate published in the Stanford Lawyer in 1990. His exchange with professor Charles Lawrence centered around the topic of whether “one person’s freedom of expression may be another’s verbal assault — a dilemma with First Amendment implications.” 


Below are a few passages from Professor Gunther’s comments:


"[Limits of free speech on campuses] are not only incompatible with the mission and meaning of a university; they also send exactly the wrong message from academia to society as a whole. University campuses should exhibit greater, not less, freedom of expression than prevails in society at large.

"Proponents of new limits argue that historic First Amendment rights must be balanced against 'Stanford’s commitment to the diversity of ideas and persons.' Clearly, there is ample room and need for vigorous University action to combat racial and other discrimination. But curbing freedom of speech is the wrong way to do so. The proper answer to bad speech is usually more and better speech-not new laws, litigation, and repression. "Lest it be thought that I am insensitive to the pain imposed by expressions of racial or religious hatred, let me say that I have suffered that pain and empathize with others under similar verbal assault. My deep belief in the principles of the First Amendment arises in part from my own experiences." ​ Gunther’s personal history influenced his views on free speech. The German-born American constitutional law scholar was in primary school when Hitler gained power and experienced “virulent anti-Semitism.” One Nazi teacher called Gunther a “Jew-pig” and “segregated him from his classmates.” In response, his family fled Germany in 1938, “only a few hours after witnessing the destruction of their town synagogue.” Reflecting back on those experiences, Gunther explained: “I lived in a country where ideological orthodoxy reigned and where the opportunity for dissent was severely limited. The lesson I have drawn from my childhood in Nazi Germany and my happier adult life in this country is the need to walk the sometimes difficult path of denouncing the bigots’ hateful ideas with all my power, yet at the same time challenging any community’s attempt to suppress hateful ideas by force of law. . . . Obviously, given my own experience, I do not quarrel with the claim that words can do harm.” Such harm notwithstanding, Gunther felt compelled to defend such expression: “I firmly deny that a showing of harm suffices to deny First Amendment protection, and I insist on the elementary First Amendment principle that our Constitution usually protects even offensive, harmful expression. “That is why — at the risk of being thought callous or doctrinaire — I feel compelled to speak out against the attempt by some members of the Stanford community to enlarge the area of forbidden speech under the Fundamental Standard. Such proposals, in my view, seriously undervalue the First Amendment and far too readily endanger its precious content. Limitations on free expression beyond those established by law should be eschewed in an institution committed to diversity and the First Amendment.” For Gunther, even offensive speech — the very kind railed against by Stanford’s Tirien Steinbach (associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion) — deserved protection: “[S]peech should not and cannot be banned simply because it is ‘offensive’ to substantial parts or a majority of a community. The refusal to suppress offensive speech is one of the most difficult obligations the free speech principle imposes upon all of us; yet it is also one of the First Amendment’s greatest glories — indeed it is a central test of a community’s commitment to free speech.”

Events at Stanford Law School Protesting Federal Judge Kyle Duncan (Updated)

On March 9, 2023, a Stanford law school student organization (the Federalist Society) had invited Judge Kyle Duncan of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to give a talk and answer questions about specific cases and how they relate to recent Supreme Court developments. Unfortunately, the judge was continually heckled by a group of protestors and then the law school’s Associate Dean for DEI read to the judge and the attendees her previously prepared remarks largely attacking the judge. The judge eventually was escorted from the school by a security detail that intervened after there were mounting concerns.


As was reported in our July 28, 2023 Newsletter, on July 20, 2023, Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez announced that Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach had resigned from Stanford Law School. The text of Dean Martinez' announcement is set forth in our July 28 Newsletter.

A Vimeo video showing key portions of the protest against Judge Duncan and the intervention by the law school’s Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach is available here. And here are some items about the issues being raised (see also comments from our readers here):   Law School Dean Jenny Martinez’s Letter to the Community A copy of Stanford law school Dean Jenny Martinez’s March 22, 2023 letter to the Stanford law school community is available here:  ​ From David Lat – Dean Jenny Martinez Speaks Out About the Protest of Judge Duncan at Stanford Law School: Excerpt: In the world of campus free-speech issues, certain pronouncements have acquired canonical status. There’s the Kalven Report (1967). The Woodward Report (1974). The Chicago Principles (2014). And now we have a new addition to their august ranks: the Martinez Memo (2023). This is what leadership looks like . . . [Website editor's note: See our own compilation of the Chicago Trifecta here.] ​ As I’ve said before, I wish Judge Duncan had been more restrained in reacting to the protestors. But as I told Nico Perrino of FIRE when we discussed L’Affaire Duncan on his free-speech podcast, So To Speak, that’s not really the news; the news is that yet another event at an elite law school was subject to a disruptive protest. (And in fairness to Judge Duncan, let’s not forget that he was provoked—by protestors who said, among other things, “we hope your daughters get raped”—and he tried to give his prepared remarks for quite some time before finally criticizing the hecklers.) ​ See also prior posting: ​ WSJ Op-ed by Stanford Law School Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach  The WSJ published an op-ed by Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach in which she expressed her own views about the incident. A copy of that op-ed can be found at this link: Excerpt: Diversity, equity and inclusion plans must have clear goals that lead to greater inclusion and belonging for all community members. How we strike a balance between free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion is worthy of serious, thoughtful and civil discussion. Free speech and diversity, equity and inclusion are means to an end, and one that I think many people can actually agree on: to live in a country with liberty and justice for all its people. From Above the Law – Mandatory Programming at Stanford Law: Excerpt: The letter [from law school Dean Jenny Martinez] is well written enough, but there are some obvious questions that remain after reading. What is going to be the content of the half-day thought etiquette course?  Will there be an arts and crafts segment that details how distracting your protest cards are allowed to be? Will the civility for dummies course have some defensive strategems for what to do if the esteemed speaker calls you some flavor of idiot like Judge Duncan did? There should be some elaboration, given the recognition of behavior that is freely within one’s rights to express but still unfit for whatever culture Stanford is aiming for. . .. [On the other hand,] there are some views worth nipping in the bud, whose tacit approval in the name of tolerance and civility enable social mores that violate tolerance. From NY Times – Free Speech Doesn’t Mean Free Rein to Shout Down Others: Excerpt: . . .an ideological monoculture doesn’t prepare students for these kinds of confrontations. Instead, they’re provided with a mountain of confirmation bias divorced from real-world context. . .. Those who strike down free speech aren’t liberators; they’re oppressive (even when they silence powerful men). And when aspiring lawyers act oppressively, they don’t just undermine liberty; they undermine the very profession they seek to join. From National Review: Excerpt: [Associate Dean for DEI Tirien Steinbach] never acknowledges or apologizes [in her WSJ op-ed] for her own gross misconduct. On the contrary, she defends her conduct in terms that directly conflict with Martinez’s criticism of her: She aimed “to give voice to the [protesting] students.” She “wanted Judge Duncan to understand why some students were protesting his presence on campus” so that he could ponder “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” So much for Martinez’s admonition that administrators “should not insert themselves into debate with their own criticism of the speaker’s views and the suggestion that the speaker reconsider whether what they plan to say is worth saying.” From a law school alum: Excerpt: The fundamental flaw in this reasoning [by the law school’s Associate Dean for DEI] is the assumption that free speech should be “balanced” against diversity, equity, and inclusion, or any other societal goal. Balancing free speech against any goal of society (Who decides what are and ranks societal goals? Who balances? What standard or test is used to balance?) is a slippery slope that leads very quickly to the curtailment of free speech.

Academic Freedom

Videos from the November 2022 Academic Freedom Conference Sponsored by the Classical Liberalism Initiative at Stanford

In early November 2022, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business hosted a two-day conference on issues related to academic freedom and with panelists and attendees nationwide and even worldwide. Videos of each of the individual panels can be found here: Also, here’s a link to the conference agenda:

This program was organized by some very talented Stanford faculty who, in addition to their other teaching and research, are leading a unit at Stanford known as the Classical Liberalism Initiative and which sponsors a regular series of webinars found here:  

Faculty Letter re Restoring Academic Freedom


[Editor’s note: The following letter was drafted by a diverse group of Stanford faculty members from various departments throughout the University. The letter has now garnered signatures from nearly 1,700 faculty members from colleges and universities throughout the country and worldwide and with the number increasing daily. A list of all the signatories can be found here:]

The mission of the university is the pursuit of truth and the advancement and dissemination of knowledge. A robust culture of free speech and academic freedom is essential to that mission: Intellectual progress often threatens the status quo and is resisted. Bad ideas are only weeded out by unfettered critical analysis.

Unfortunately, academic freedom and freedom of speech are rapidly declining in academic institutions, including universities, professional societies, journals, and funding agencies. Researchers whose findings challenge dominant narratives find it increasingly hard to get published, funded, hired, or promoted. They, and teachers who question current orthodoxies, are harassed in person and online, ostracized, subjected to opaque university disciplinary procedures, fired, or canceled by other means. Employment, promotion, and funding are increasingly subject to implicit or explicit political litmus tests, including approval from bureaucrats seeking to impose a social agenda such as specific views of social justice or DEI principles. Activism is replacing inquiry and debate. An increasing number of simple facts and ideas cannot even be mentioned without risk of retribution. Public high-profile victims are the tip of the iceberg. An atmosphere of fear and self-censorship pervades academia. Many faculty and students believe they cannot voice their views, question dogmas, investigate certain topics, or question the loss of academic freedom without risking ostracization and damage to their careers. Knowledge is lost, and many talented scholars are leaving academia. Universities and professional societies are failing to resist such illiberal forces–which have arisen many times throughout history, from all sides of the political spectrum –and to defend academic freedom and freedom of speech. Many universities and professional organizations now qualify their support for freedom: free speech, they say, so long as the speech does not offend or exclude; free speech, so long as it does not challenge institutionally approved narratives and conceptions of social justice; free speech, but only within narrow credentialed boundaries. These restrictions are counterproductive, even to their goal of advancing a particular ideology. People infer from censorship a desire to protect lies from being exposed. Historically, censorship has supported monstrous regimes and their ideologies. Bad ideas are only defeated by argument and persuasion, not by suppression. True justice and freedom cannot exist without each other. The loss of academic freedom results in part from a leadership crisis. While many university leaders issue statements that support open debate, they nonetheless oversee and expand politicized bureaucracies that harass, intimidate, and punish those who express views deemed to be incorrect and enforce ideological conformity in hiring and promotions. A boilerplate generic defense of free speech does little good if at the same time university administrators conduct investigations in secret, without due process, and based on anonymous complaints; if administrators publicly ostracize the victim to all potential future employers. Boards of trustees, alumni organizations, donors, government granting agencies, and other institutional stakeholders likewise fail to uphold the principles of academic freedom. Universities and professional organizations are instead moving headlong into institutional political and ideological activism. Departments and other university units make public statements of political views, thus effectively branding as heretics -and even bigots- members who may question those causes. Increasingly, centers and “accelerators” are devoted to political and policy advocacy, advocacy of the supporting ideologies, and suppression of competing ideas. Professional organizations and journals announce, all too often, that certain kinds of research, no matter how methodologically valid, may not be published, and have turned to advocacy. University bureaucracies demand that certain authors be included and others excluded from reading lists and classroom discussion. What can be done? We call for all Universities, academic associations, journals, and national academies to adopt the “Chicago Trifecta,” consisting of the Chicago Principles of free speech, the Kalven Report requirement for institutional neutrality on political and social matters, and the Shils report making academic contribution the sole basis for hiring and promotion. The Kalven report emphasizes, “To perform its mission in society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.’’ The University and its administrative subunits must abstain from taking position on the political issues of the day: “While the university is the home and sponsor of critics, it is not itself the critic and therefore cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness.” “The neutrality of the university as an institution arises … not from lack of courage nor out of indifference and insensitivity. It arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints.” We also call for faculty to create (or join existing) non-partisan associations, aimed at defending these values on campus, and at a national level such as FIRE, the Academic Freedom Alliance, Heterodox Academy, FAIR and ACTA. Professional organizations should prioritize the defense of academic freedom and free speech of their members. Many universities have officially adopted the Chicago Principles. Robust structures must be developed to uphold these principles. Faculty under fire from student groups, other faculty, deans and administrators, or university staff, must be able to effectively assert their freedom of speech and inquiry by appealing to those statements. Universities must deploy safeguards to ensure that administrators work to uphold these principles rather than to undermine them. University disciplinary procedures must become transparent, following basic centuries-old protections of the accused such as the right to see and challenge evidence, confront witnesses against them, the right to representation, and innocence until proven guilty. University leaders must also promote and institutionalize free speech and academic freedom by concrete actions. Freedom is a culture, not merely a set of rules, and a culture must be nurtured. Free speech, free inquiry, tolerance for opposing views, meeting such views with argument, logic and fact, abstaining from ad-hominem attacks, character assassination, doxing and other unethical behavior must be highlighted in the orientation materials for all new students and employees. Freedom comes with a culture of responsibility, but responsibilities are better enforced by social norms than by extensive rules enforced by non-academic bureaucrats. If community members or groups petition school leaders for the sanction or punishment of a faculty member or a student for expressing their point of view, university leaders should publicly and clearly respond with a statement affirming that the University is a place to discuss and debate all views, and that an attempt to punish others for having “incorrect” views is incompatible with the community standards of the school. The University should also commit to all students, faculty, and employees, that it will not punish or sanction free expression.

How Stanford Failed the Academic Freedom Test


As many readers know, Prof. Jay Bhattacharya, who has been at Stanford for over 30 years, was subjected to extreme criticism and hostility at Stanford in the past three years. And the controversy was solely over a position Prof. Bhattacharya had taken regarding what became known as The Great Barrington Declaration, now with nearly a million signatories worldwide.

Read here Prof. Bhattacharya’s personal description of what he encountered, and why he believes Stanford failed the academic freedom test. 


Whether one agrees or disagrees with Prof. Bhattacharya, in our view and that of increasing numbers of others, Stanford’s leadership fell woefully short in protecting Prof. Bhattacharya’s right to raise important scientific and social issues. It brought to mind Galileo putting forth the preposterous (at the time) idea that earth might revolve around the sun and not the other way around, and having the elites at the time convict Galileo and others of heresy which potentially carried the death penalty. In our view at least, Stanford’s administrators, faculty and even trustees fell far short of their obligations to demonstrate that Stanford is a place that cherishes and protects speech and the freedom to pursue important areas of inquiry, even if unpopular at the time. 

This also is another reason we urge Stanford to adopt the Chicago Trifecta (freedom of expression, the university’s role in political and social matters, and criteria for academic appointments) posted here along with the Back to Basics reforms we have posted here.

ACTA Issues a Challenge to Stanford Regarding Academic Freedom


ACTA (the American Council of Trustees and Alumni) has issued a challenge to Stanford’s faculty, students and alumni on issues of free speech and academic freedom. Their press release can be found here, and an ACTA webpage that is devoted to the Stanford challenge is here. We have posted the related video below, which is also available at YouTube here.  


According to ACTA’s website, the group is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. Their challenge to Stanford, as they have done with other major colleges and universities: commit to a culture of free expression, foster civil discourse, cultivate intellectual diversity, break down barriers to free expression, and advance leadership accountability. And with specific action items listed at their website for each of these five goals.

While our Stanford Alumni for Free Speech and Critical Thinking group was not involved in creating this challenge, we think the issues it raises are very important ones for all of Stanford’s faculty, students and alumni, and we thus hope the issues will receive appropriate discussion and resolution. We also note that the challenge makes reference to the Chicago Trifecta, something we have long endorsed and is posted at our Chicago Trifecta page.

Further information about ACTA and the initiatives it sponsors can be found here, and if you have any thoughts about the challenge or the issues it raises, please feel free to submit them at our Contact Us page.

Student Life

Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students 


An article titled “Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students” was recently published by The Free Press (the Substack publication created several years ago by former NY Times editor Bari Weiss). The article raises concerns about Stanford’s Office of Community Standards and related administrative units, including their involvement in cases involving residential education, student discipline, the Katie Meyer suicide and other items. The article further notes that Stanford now has more than 10,000 administrators who oversee the 7,761 undergraduate and 9,565 graduate students—"almost enough for each student to have their own personal butler.” A copy of the article is available at this link.  


And we again call your attention to our proposed reforms regarding student matters at our Back to Basics webpage.

The Current Student Climate at Stanford


[Editor's note: In addition to the main theme in a recent Daily article about student social life at Stanford, reprinted below, a number of us were struck with a secondary theme regarding what comes across as a climate of fear, stonewalling and retaliation. These words and phrases are in the order they appear in the Daily article, including the redundancies:]

  • Has exerted pressure

  • Lack of communication

  • Adversarial approach

  • Broadly declined to comment

  • Communication . . . broke down

  • There was no guidance

  • Lack of communication

  • Declined to comment

  • Bureaucratic nightmare

  • Requested anonymity because much of the group’s funding is supplied by the office they criticized

  • You feel like you're being audited by the IRS

  • Excessively bureaucratic

  • Burnt out

  • Did not respond

  • Requested anonymity after supervisors warned staff against communicating with reporters

  • Requested anonymity because of [office] policy

  • Requested anonymity in fear of retaliation from superiors

  • Declined to comment

  • Did not respond

  • Couldn’t speak to that

  • Declined to be interviewed fearing retribution for being associated with criticisms of the University

  • The perception would be terrible if I’m associated in any way

  • Were similarly skittish

  • Walked out of an interview after being told he couldn’t review the article in advance

  • Any conversations with the media ‘need to be cleared by me first’

  • Declined to comment

  • Have to be hyper-cautious

  • They hired outside lawyers to investigate

Inside 'Stanford's War on Fun': Tensions Mount Over University's Handling of

Social Life


By Theo Baker, Stanford Daily, October 24, 2022 

On the first Friday of the academic year, a group of students wandered aimlessly through campus, cutting the silence with music played from a portable speaker.

They took turns climbing lamp posts and pushed shopping carts filled with beer through Main Quad. One wore a shirt emblazoned with “Stanford Hates Fun” written in red marker. This was, perhaps, what passed for fun after unclear instructions from University administrators forced the Kappa Sigma fraternity to postpone its annual Eurotrash event, typically the first all-campus party of the year. In a normal year, the postponement of a single party would not be cause for alarm. But to some frustrated students, the delay was yet another example of University pressure to restrict student social life. Across more than a dozen interviews with The Daily, students alleged that Stanford has exerted pressure through its policies, lack of communication and adversarial approach to party registration and funding. The University, on the other hand, has maintained that it has worked to provide social opportunities for students during this academic year, the first in two years free of widespread pandemic restrictions. But a University spokesperson broadly declined to comment on specific allegations raised by students for this article, and numbers provided by the spokesperson indicate that the number of social events on campus has fallen sharply. There were just 45 parties registered on campus during the first four weeks of the fall quarter, compared with 158 in the same period in 2019, according to Student Affairs spokesperson Pat Harris. Student concerns are also not going away: one month after Eurotrash was postponed, four students, including mascots from both Stanford and Arizona State University, walked a 40-foot banner with the same “Stanford Hates Fun” slogan into the middle of a football game during Reunion Homecoming. Without alternatives, students and safety advocates warned that dangerous decision-making, including solitary drinking or rebellious adventures such as pole-climbing, is on the rise. Freshmen this year describe wandering campus Friday and Saturday nights in search of an open party or even trekking to San Jose State University in search of social engagement. Where music and loud laughter once were prevalent, weekends are often much quieter. Moritz Stephan ’24, president of the Sigma Nu (SNU) fraternity, said communication with the administration about hosting social events for non-members broke down in the months leading up to the new school year. “There was no guidance to any organizations about what the rules were going to be for this quarter until the Friday of the first week of classes, which is crazy,” he said. Stephan said he and other Greek life leaders reached out to administrators repeatedly asking for guidance. In addition to the lack of communication, Stephan charged that the administration’s policies on social life and the resulting lack of options have led the existing parties to be dangerously overcrowded. “When you do host [parties], there are just way too many people,” Stephan said. “Last year, there were a couple where 600 to 800 [underclassmen were] trying to storm into our house, breaking through windows, physically and verbally assaulting members doing door security. And we just had to call the police on ourselves to, like, get everything cleared out.” Harris declined to comment on the allegations that the University did not provide adequate and timely guidance, and on the threat posed by overcrowded parties. Students interviewed said discontent about campus social life has been on the rise since last winter, but discourse was kicked into high gear in the spring when San Francisco magazine Palladium published an article called “Stanford’s War on Social Life” written by then-senior Ginevra Davis. (A derivative of that article’s title, the “war on fun,” was a term used by multiple students to refer to the University’s approach to social events.) Though the article drew some criticism for its portrayal of Greek life as an innocent actor in the University’s alleged “war on fun,” the article also galvanized outrage over the steady decline of spontaneity. The piece was followed by other student articles in campus publications, including an op-ed earlier this month in The Stanford Review titled “Take Stanford Back: A Call to Revitalize Fun.” Arman Sharma ’24, author of the Review op-ed, said he wrote his piece in response to “dead silent” bike rides home on weekend nights. He said his friends in the Kappa Alpha (KA) fraternity told him “about the bureaucratic nightmare that they had to go through to get [the annual KAbo party] approved. And I was like, this doesn’t really make sense for a college campus. [One] like this, in particular, that has been known as America’s dream school for a very long time.” Complaints have spread beyond the initial concentration of those in or around Greek life circles — according to several students, a marked decline in social events of all types has swept Stanford as a direct result of actions taken by the administration. One Voluntary Student Organization leader, who requested anonymity because much of the group’s funding is supplied by the office they criticized, said, “You feel like you’re being audited by the IRS to get boba for people.” The student said the University is “excessively bureaucratic” and those trying to host events are “burnt out” from trying to navigate a ruleset that “has expanded and [adds] challenges that don’t need to be there.” Harris, who also responded on behalf of the Office of Student Engagement, wrote that the University has worked to expand social opportunities. “Student Affairs, student leaders, and campus partners have been working earnestly to provide many and vibrant social options for undergraduates this fall,” Harris wrote. “We now have funds specifically earmarked to support all Row houses, Greek and non-Greek, in hosting all-neighborhood or all-campus events,” Harris added. But some students alleged that programs like Cardinal Nights have not been funded and advertised enough to serve as real alternatives, especially since they have been actively hampered by changing school policies. (Cardinal Nights disappeared in September 2021 after a departmental reshuffling, though it has returned under new management.) And other efforts have proven ineffective. In April 2022, the University created a Student Social Life Accelerator Task Force, claiming “Stanford has long been known for its fun, irreverent, whimsical social scene. Yet it just hasn’t felt as vibrant as it could be.” According to students, the task force has failed to make progress. (The co-chairs of the task force did not respond to a request for comment.) Other policies have also served as cause for concern among some in the student body, including changes to the alcohol policy in May 2021. Multiple members of residential staff said that the changes reversed a previous “open door” understanding, where students who were underage could drink in their rooms under supervision from their residential staff. The Daily spoke with three employees of the Office of Substance Use Programs Education & Resources (SUPER) who requested anonymity after supervisors warned staff against communicating with reporters, according to emails provided to The Daily. One employee characterized the new alcohol policy as “hopelessly out of touch with reality” and “absolute s**t.” Students interviewed agreed, broadly characterizing it as an unhelpful, adversarial system. One Resident Assistant (RA), who requested anonymity because of an Office of Residential Education policy preventing RAs from speaking with reporters, explained that “a lot of [Resident Fellows] in the neighborhood have said, ‘This is the University’s policy on alcohol and drugs, let’s make our own policy.’ [They] are telling us, don’t worry about half of this stuff.” When asked about RFs disavowing University alcohol policy, Harris declined to comment. Another RA vented that “people are still drinking, their doors are just closed. And that leads to people who are drinking for the first time who don’t know their limits,” whom RAs can’t help. Many students echoed the danger they felt this policy caused students. A 5-SURE on Foot employee, who requested anonymity in fear of retaliation from superiors, said the new alcohol policy “made our job a lot worse. I’ve seen firsthand the side effects of that which are, like, really catastrophic. Last year and this year I’ve seen people extremely drunk, some slipping on the verge of alcohol poisoning, just on their own” because they don’t have safer alternatives. Stephan shares this concern for underclassmen. “I’m of age,” Stephan said. “I just went to San Francisco with my friends. And the number of freshmen that I saw there — girls by themselves, trying to get into crappy bars in bad areas with fake IDs — was just scary.” When approached with these concerns about the alcohol policy, Harris declined to comment, and Dean of Students Mona Hicks did not respond to a request for comment. Eurotrash eventually did take place at the end of Week 2, but the party was shut down at 11 p.m. after a student was taken to the hospital. The first major all-campus party was held the third week of the quarter at Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp). Leo Rossitter ’25, a sober monitor at the party which left little room for dancing much less for conversation, said, “Social definitely has a lot more headaches now. The University is putting up barriers [that] are unnecessary.” When asked why, he said he “[couldn’t] speak to that.” Rossitter’s restraint was echoed by a number of other sources. More than 30 students involved in campus social life and employees involved in alcohol and social life policy declined to be interviewed, fearing retribution for being associated with criticisms of the University. When asked whether they would be comfortable with including some of their anodyne quotes in this article with attribution, the club leader whose funds come from the University said: “Ah, sorry, but the perception would be terrible if I’m associated in any way.” Other sources were similarly skittish. Claudio Aguilar ’24, the president of SigEp who had agreed to an on-the-record interview, stood up and walked out of an interview after being told he couldn’t review the article in advance, which is The Daily’s policy. Some of their concerns were not unfounded. When the University learned that a SUPER employee had spoken with The Daily for this article, Joe Kaczorowski, assistant director at SUPER, emailed 5-SURE student-workers telling them any conversations with the media “need to be cleared by me first.” The Daily reviewed materials and policies from the SUPER office extending back several years and could not find records of such a policy. When asked where this policy had appeared in writing previously, Kaczorowski declined to comment. Stephan said that with the current administration, “We have to be hyper-cautious. [It’s] a big reason why almost all Greek parties aren’t open to everyone anymore; we have to control the risk and control the liability.” The alternative to this tiptoeing, he said, is clear: Last spring, all on the same day, the administration “sent basically every Greek org an investigation letter.” Over the summer, they hired outside lawyers to investigate the fraternities for their various potential transgressions. The night of the SigEp party, DJs shut off the music at around 12:34 a.m., a strategy several brothers described as an attempt to get the freshmen to leave. Jack Givhan ’25 summed it up in an interview at the party. “This is the only thing going on tonight.” Theo Baker is a writer for the campus life desk. Contact news 'at'

Miscellaneous Stanford Concerns

Copy of the Meyer Complaint

The lawsuit recently filed by the Katie Meyer family against Stanford raises important issues separate from the merits of the case itself. In many ways, these issues overlap concerns that have been raised in recent years by alumni, students, faculty, parents and other friends of Stanford and are a primary reason for the creation of this website.


Here is a link to the complaint that was filed by the Meyer family in November 2022:

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