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Stanford dean at heart of viral video with Trump judge quits job

Tirien Steinbach, center, and Trina Thompson, right, attend the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Annual Dr. MLK, Jr. Gala 2023 at Hyatt Regency in San Francisco on February 16, 2023. | Source: Ando Caulfield for Drew Altizer Photography

An associate dean specializing in diversity and inclusion has resigned from her position at Stanford Law School, months after a free speech controversy was captured in a viral video of a conservative federal judge and student protesters. 

The news comes a day after Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced he would step down after an independent review found flaws in his decades-old research. Provost Persis Drell also announced her departure from the university in May. 

“I write to share that Tirien Steinbach has decided that she will be leaving her role as associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at Stanford Law School to pursue another opportunity,” wrote Stanford Law Dean Jenny Martinez. “Associate Dean Steinbach and I both hope that [the law school] can move forward as a community from the divisions caused by the March 9 event.” 

Steinbach held the position for just under two years and is the third Stanford administrator to leave the university recently. The law school has not yet announced a replacement, though Martinez told the Stanford community her office will soon release information about “future staffing plans.”

The news comes after a March event in which students protested a lecture by Judge Kyle Duncan, a visiting conservative judge who has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ activism and court rulings. Duncan’s visit was hosted by Stanford Law’s chapter of the Federalist Society. 

The protests sparked fierce debates about campus free speech, culminating with a rare move by Tessier-Lavigne: He apologized. 

“We write to apologize for the disruption,” Tessier-Lavigne and Martinez wrote to Duncan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Two weeks after the event, Martinez released a letter discussing academic free speech and discourse, with the dean mandating a half-day free speech and legal norms seminar for all law students. 

Steinbach was embroiled in controversy for her comments during the March 9 protests. She spoke to Duncan at the podium, asking him whether the “juice [was] worth the squeeze.” 

“The event presented significant challenges for the administration, the students, and the entire law school community. As I previously noted, tempers flared along multiple dimensions,” Martinez wrote in an email announcing Steinbach’s departure. “Although Associate Dean Steinbach intended to de-escalate the tense situation when she spoke at the March 9 event, she recognizes that the impact of her statements was not as she hoped or intended. 

“Both Dean Steinbach and Stanford recognize ways they could have done better in addressing the very challenging situation, including preparing for protests, ensuring university protocols are understood, and helping administrators navigate tensions when they arise,” Martinez added.