To the Editor:
We are professors who teach constitutional law at Stanford Law School. We have political views ranging across the political spectrum, but we share a commitment to the protection of free speech under the First Amendment as well as to academic freedom.
We are concerned about recent attacks on Professor David Palumbo-Liu of Stanford’s department of comparative literature. A recent article in The Stanford Review alleged that a group that Professor Palumbo-Liu helped found, the Campus Anti-Fascist Network, is “undeniably a chapter of a terrorist group, championing the same kinds of violent resistance that have muzzled free speech across the country.” While acknowledging that Professor Palumbo-Liu stated that, “damaging buildings and attacking people physically … is not what [the group] advocate[s],” the article nevertheless called for his resignation from the University on the grounds that he had “assume[d] a leadership position in a movement whose activities have been classified as domestic terrorism.” Following publication of the article and coverage of it on media outlets beyond campus, Professor Palumbo-Liu has received threatening communications, including death threats.
We may not agree with Professor Palumbo-Liu on many issues. At least insofar as the public record reveals, though, there is no evidence that he has advocated violence or is a member of a terrorist group. Whatever his advocacy of controversial positions, it has not risen to the level of speech directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action nor has it been likely to produce such action, and thus his speech lies well within First Amendment protection. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969).
We are concerned that the article advocates for the resignation of a professor based on his constitutionally protected speech regarding issues of public concern. Free expression of ideas is the lifeblood of an open society as well as a university. We are concerned that these values of open discourse and free debate be preserved and defended.
R. Richard Banks
The authors are professors at Stanford Law School who teach classes on constitutional law. Contact them via Jenny Martinez at jmartinez ‘at law.stanford.edu.