Dean Gerken’s gabble

Arriving on the scene a bit late, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken has disseminated a message to returning students regarding the disruption of the March 10 Federalist Society event on free speech. We noted the disruption here (March 17) and here (March 24). We also took note of Judge Laurence Silberman’s comment on the students involved here (March 17).

Dean Gerken’s message is posted online by the law school here. The Washington Free Beacon’s Aaron Sibarium has owned this story. I learned of Gerken’s message from Sibarium’s story here.

As I read her message, Dean Gerken seeks a reprieve from Judge Silberman in this passage:

This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others’ efforts to carry on activities on campus. YLS is a professional school, and this is not how lawyers interact. We are also a community that respects our faculty and staff who have devoted their lives to helping students. Professor Kate Stith, Dean Mike Thompson, and other members of the staff should not have been treated as they were. I expect far more from our students, and I want to state unequivocally that this cannot happen again. My administration will be in serious discussion with our students about our policies and norms for the rest of the semester.

As Sibarium observes, however, Dean Gerken appears to rule out disciplining the students. One infers from “this cannot happen again” that discipline is warranted, but none is forthcoming. The apparent statement of principle amounts to empty words.

Dean Gerken extends no apology to those in the audience who had come to hear the Federalist Society event or to the speakers who were so rudely treated. The paragraph above is embedded in meaningless blather such as this:

As Dean, I am deeply committed to our free speech policies and the values they safeguard. I will protect free speech without fear or favor. But I have waited to write you because it is our conversations as a community that matter most. In our statement-hungry culture, university leaders are constantly asked to be referees, encouraging our students to appeal to a higher authority rather than to engage with one another and tempting outsiders to enlist academic institutions in their own political agendas. Statements are expected instantly from institutions whose core values include deliberation and due process — values that are essential where, as here, the reporting has been so contradictory. And pundits parse any statement to see which side they favor when the role of a university is not to take sides but to articulate its mission with clarity. Most importantly, statements are poor teaching tools. Learning involves speaking and listening, through iterative conversations in smaller settings with mentors and peers. That has always been our teaching model, and that is the only way that our norms can be understood and internalized. Although these conversations are not visible to outsiders, they are taking place here now, and the institution will be the better for it.

Seeking explication of the welter of words, Sibarium notes: “Yale Law School did not respond to a request for comment.” Professor Stith’s statement to the disruptive law students at the moment of truth is considerably more straightforward and concise: “Grow up.”

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