Kate Stith’s tactful dissent

Kate Stith was a member of the first Dartmouth co-ed undergraduate class. She was among the group of 37 hardy young ladies awarded A.B. degrees along with 809 gentlemen. We were classmates in that class. Kate went on to a distinguished career culminating in her appointment to the faculty at Yale Law School, where she is now Lafayette S. Foster Professor of Law.

I had read about Kate in the Daily Dartmouth during our last quarter on campus before graduation that spring and for some reason her name and story stuck in my mind. I was thrilled to connect with her when she came out to the Twin Cities in March 2007 to attend the swearing-in of my friend Rachel Paulose (YLS 1997) as United States Attorney for Minnesota. Professor Stith represented the law school while serving as deputy dean at the time.

Professor Stith also presided over the March 10 Federalist Society free speech event that was disrupted by students protesting the participation of a speaker from the Alliance Defending Freedom. She instructed the disrupting students to “grow up.”

YLS Dean Heather Gerken deliberated over the event for a few weeks at the conclusion of which she issued a mushmouth statement. Dean Gerken’s statement seemed to me insufficient to the occasion.

Now Professor Stith has disseminated a memorandum to tenured YLS faculty that tacitly takes issue with Dean Gerken’s statement. Aaron Sibarium expertly explicates the memo in the Free Beacon story “Yale Law Professor Takes on Dean, Calls Disruption of Free Speech Event a ‘Blatant Violation’ of School Policy.”

Professor Stith’s memo comes in the form of a law student’s “brief” of a case for discussion or study. It briefly summarizes the facts and the law, applies the law to the facts, and supplies the applicable analysis. Directed to tenured law school faculty, it seems to me almost satirical — she is laying out the case for dummies. Professor Stith concludes her analysis:

FREEDOM OF SPEECH FOR ALL: The Room 127 event had two speakers, one from the Left and one from the Right. The topic was First Amendment Freedom of Speech. The two panelists, who disagree on much else, had joined together in the Supreme Court, both arguing that the State of Georgia had violated the First Amendment at a public college. They recently won, 8-1. Disrupting that panel discussion was especially ironic.

Message: Wake up! Professor Stith’s memo demonstrates tact and collegiality as she seeks the correction of the institution’s course. I admire her wit and her skill in writing between the lines for an audience disinclined to hear her message.

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