Stanford Backtracks After Prohibiting Use Of Trump Photo For Sexual Assault Conference

Law professor Michele Landis Dauber had been trying to get the photo approved for months.
A screenshot of the "Access Hollywood" video featuring Donald Trump, Arianne Zucker and Billy Bush.
A screenshot of the "Access Hollywood" video featuring Donald Trump, Arianne Zucker and Billy Bush.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

Stanford University is making headlines again ― this time for allegedly censoring a poster promoting a sexual assault awareness conference that featured an image of President Donald Trump.

Created by veteran law professor Michele Landis Dauber, the poster included a screenshot of Trump, Billy Bush and actress Arianne Zucker from the now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasts about kissing women without their consent and grabbing them “by the pussy.” Dauber, who has been teaching at Stanford Law for 16 years, created the poster to promote a conference she’s co-hosting in May titled “The Way Forward: Title IX Advocacy In The Trump Era.”

Although Dauber created the poster in January, she says she’s still fighting with the university to get it printed and disseminated before the conference date, which is now just two weeks away. The flyer was supposed to be put up around campus, published on the conference’s website and sent out to students by email.

The Guardian reported that Stanford barred Dauber from printing the poster with Trump’s image because it went against school policies surrounding political activity on campus. The university believed the flyer could be “seen as partisan,” according to The Guardian.

Lisa Lapin, Stanford’s vice president of communications, initially told The Guardian that Dauber had “not been barred” from using Trump’s image and demanded the article be retracted. The publication, however, had emails provided by Dauber that proved the university had prohibited her from using the photo for months. Lapin then amended her statement and said that the law school “did not believe that the photo was appropriate.”

“As a nonprofit the university must comply with the law that prevents it from engaging in certain partisan activities,” Lapin told The Huffington Post on Monday morning. “While the university does not take positions, individuals on our campus are encouraged to share their ideas.”

Below is the poster Dauber created for the sexual assault awareness conference.

The drafted poster with a screenshot from the "Access Hollywood" video, provided by Dauber.
The drafted poster with a screenshot from the "Access Hollywood" video, provided by Dauber.
Michele Dauber

After months of back and forth with the university, Dauber told The Huffington Post this is about way more than a poster.

“I think what we’re dealing with is the chilling of free speech under Donald Trump, especially in the context of sexual assault,” Dauber said. “This really is an issue about academic freedom and censorship. It’s important for professors to know that this is what the future of academic freedom under Donald Trump may look like.”

Dauber is no stranger to speaking out against the powers that be: the law professor is currently leading the fight to recall the judge who sentenced former Stanford student Brock Turner to only six months in county jail for three felony sex abuse convictions.

According to Dauber, the same day the university censored her flyer, the faculty senate had a discussion with Stanford’s president about budget concerns under Trump’s administration.

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that we count on universities to be the bulwark of critical thought and free speech but university budgets, for example, depend so heavily on government subsidy,” Dauber said.

Although Stanford’s logo appeared on the flyer, Dauber told HuffPost she raised most of the funds for the conference herself, and that the university had very little to do with creating and planning the event. Dauber said she offered to pay for the flyers and distribute them, but Stanford would still not budge.

“This is an important issue that goes to Stanford’s integrity,” Dauber said. “But also beyond Stanford to the integrity of American universities and the importance of free speech and academic freedom under a president who has shown over and over again that he’s very thin-skinned, very sensitive to criticism and will lash out at critics.”

“I think what we’re dealing with is the chilling of free speech under Donald Trump, especially in the context of sexual assault.”

- -Michele Landis Dauber

In an email to HuffPost on Monday morning, Lapin disputed Dauber’s story.

“The law school believed the use of the image, at an event with institutional sponsorship, created ‘an appearance of partisanship’ that it seeks to avoid,” she said. “However, the school was willing, and in fact offered to the professor, to seek a final decision from the university authority on the matter, which is the Office of the General Counsel. Professor Dauber understood she had an option for this final opinion, but said she wanted to ‘think about it.’ She never in fact sought this final decision from the university prior to going to the press with her claims.”

Lapin said the university sent an email late Friday night giving permission to Dauber to use the photo. According to Lapin, the university determined that the use of the photo specifically for this conference was permissible under its policy.

“The law school has communicated with Professor Dauber to assure she has permission to use the photo in question,” Lapin wrote.

Dauber said she didn’t receive an email Friday night from the university. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon, she said, that the university finally sent her an email telling her the flyers were being printed with the photo of Trump and the website would be changed.

While the image is now featured on the conference’s website, Dauber said she’s still waiting on the university to make hard copies of the flyers to be distributed on campus.

I’ve been trying for months to get the university to allow the use of this image,” Dauber said. “I’m disappointed that it took media reporting in order for the university to say that they will honor its obligation to protect faculty academic freedom.”

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