Gripped by ‘Dinner Party-gate,’ Yale Law Confronts a Venomous Divide


New Haven, Conn. — On March 26, a group of Yale Law School students approached the dean’s office with an unusual allegation: Amy Chua, one of the school’s most popular but polarizing professors, had drunk dinner parties with students. Were hosting, and possibly federal judges, during the pandemic.

Ms Chua, who rose to fame by writing “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”, is known for mentoring students from marginalized communities and helping lawyers secure prestigious judicial clerkships. But she also has a reputation for unfiltered, boundary-pushing behavior, and in 2019 agreed not to drink or socialize with students outside the classroom. Her husband, Jade Rubenfeld, who is also a law professor virtually personified on campus, was suspended from teaching for two years after an investigation into allegations that he had committed sexual misconduct.

The dinner parties, the students said, appeared to be in violation of Ms Chua’s antisocial agreement, and there was evidence that she was unfit to teach a “small group” – a class of 15 or more first-year students that is a hallmark. Yale legal education, and to which she was recently assigned – in the fall. “We believe it is unsafe to give Professor Chua (and her husband) such access and control to first-year students,” said Heather K., an official with the Yale Law Women, a student group. Wrote to Gerken.

The students provided what they said was evidence of the dinner, in the form of a dossier that contained secretly screen-shotted text messages between a second-year student and two friends. This set off a wide chain of events that led to Ms Chua’s removal from the small group roster.

Ms Chua says she didn’t do anything wrong, and it’s not clear exactly what rule she broke. But after more than two dozen interviews with students, professors and administrators—including three students who say they went to her home to ask for advice during a punishing semester—perhaps the only sure thing in the questionable saga is : There is no solid evidence that Ms. Chua is guilty of what she was originally accused of doing. According to the three students involved, there was no dinner party and no judge; Instead, he had students in groups of two or three in just a few afternoons, mostly so they could consult him.

“I met Professor Chua, who I had had a deeply disturbing experience, an experience that depended on my race and identity,” said one Asian student.

It may seem a simple matter, a professor missing a course, but nothing is easy about Ms. Chua, who is always shrouded in controversy and confusion. The “dinner party-gate,” as Ms Chua jokes, has become a major headache for the school.

The story has been picked up across social media and picked up in multiple outlets The Chronicle of Higher Education To Fox News. Ms. Chua’s retweet of a scathing Megyn Kelly comment (“Tell the damners to sit,” Ms. Kelly tweeted), suggested that Ms Chua was projecting herself as a victim of “cancellation culture”.

In law school, the episode exposes bitter divisions in a top-ranked institution that is struggling to adapt in a moment of social change. Students regularly attack their professors and each other for their scholarship, professional choices and perceived political views. In a place full of rumors and anonymous allegations, almost no one will speak on the record.

A feature of this difficult year is the increased demand for student groups. Against this background, Dean Gerken’s critics at the faculty worry that he acted too hasty in the Chua case, prioritizing students’ concerns over the rights of the professor.

Particularly problematic, several professors said in interviews, was her reliance on a text-message dossier prepared by a student who learned that two of her friends had gone to Ms. Chua’s home – and believed that the visits had entangled him in that, and Mr. Rubenfeld, behavior.

This is a curious document. Among other things, text messages from the aggrieved student repeatedly ask her to accept a friend to meet the judges there, and the friend repeatedly refuses. (“If you promise to keep it between us, I will tell you—it was Chief Justice John Marshall,” Friend texts in an exaggerated reference to the long-dead jurist at the end.)

Ms. Gerken referred to the dossier at the April 21 faculty meeting as evidence of Ms. Chua’s misconduct. Several professors interviewed who looked at the material said they were shocked by how persuasive it was.

“What evidence?” One asked. Another called it “tuttletail detective”.

“Where are we – in 1953 in Moscow, when children were urged to report about their parents and siblings?” said the professor.

Ms Chua acknowledged a warning to students to keep quiet about getting together (“I told them all, ‘Don’t mention it,’ because everything I do gets me in trouble,” she said. Said), but he maintains that he did not violate any rule.

“There are many things in the past that I could say, ‘Oh, I probably spoke too casually,’ or, ‘Maybe it was interpreted that way,'” she said in a recent interview. “It’s the most recent thing – there’s zero truth in it.”

Ms Gerken declined to be interviewed, but said in a statement that the professors’ COVID-related behavior was relevant in determining their fitness to teach a small group.

“Health and safety expectations and making sound decisions about such matters should determine whether a faculty member is appropriate to teach a classroom, especially a small group curriculum,” she said. “Professor Chua has publicly admitted that he served food and drinks indoors during the early weeks of the spring semester, when Covid was spiking and universities were repeatedly asking our community to attend indoor gatherings without masks. told to avoid it.”

Provocative and friendly, Ms. Chua and her husband have long attracted attention at Yale Law School.

But both are divisive figures, not just “Tiger Mother,” Ms Chua’s tough-love parenting memoir, or years-long rumors of Rubenfeld’s inappropriate behavior toward female students. In times of left-wing conservatism, Mr. Rubenfeld seems intent on pushing the envelope. When he wrote a New York Times opinion essay in 2014 questioning the fairness of campus sex-assault findings, dozens of students signed one. Letter Why oppose?

For Ms Chua, similar trouble struck in 2018, when Yale Law graduate Brett M. Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court and Praised him as a good teacher of women. (His eldest daughter was hired as a clerk for him, and took the job after his promotion.) On a campus surrounded by bitter anti-Kavanaugh protests, his views were considered betrayal, especially when it came to the fore. that he was said Have told students that Judge Kavanaugh’s female clerk “looked like a model.” Suddenly, his reputation as someone helping students to get judicial clerkship was perceived negatively.

With the #metoo movement gathering, years of rumors joined the official inquiry. Yale has opened a Title XI investigation into allegations that Mr. Rubenfeld had made inappropriate sexual remarks and attempted to touch and kiss female students. The details are secret, but in August, some of the claims were upheld, and they were suspended. (He denies sexually harassing the students.)

As far as Ms Chua is concerned, her critics have portrayed her as quick to play favorite roles, unfairly drawing students into her confidence and engaging in her husband’s behaviour. Following his pact not to drink or socialize with students in 2019, he apologized to students he might have offended.

“I’ve been unfiltered and over the top,” she said. “I’ve seriously tried to change.”

Promises of change did little to ease the concerns of students who saw Ms. Chua’s name on the small group list in March and told the dean they had evidence that Ms. Chua broke their pact. was.

The mention of the evidence filled the administration with enthusiasm. “Dean Gerken is taking this news very seriously and looks forward to moving forward,” Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove wrote to students on March 26. “Will you be able to share the texts with me?” He asked them to keep his request private.

Two days later, Ms Chua received an email from the student newspaper, The Yale Daily News, saying she had heard she would be snatched from her small group.

That was news to Ms. Chua. Later that day, she met Ms. Gerken on Zoom. It was not a pleasant meeting. The dean mentioned wine and the judges, Ms Chua said, before announcing that she had decided on a “separate lineup for small group professors”.

Ms Chua stepped down instead of pushing, she said.

The dean’s office responded that Ms Chua had ample opportunity to defend herself.

“Throughout my deanship, I have not made a decision about disciplinary action involving a faculty member until the person accused of misconduct has been notified of the allegations and has had an opportunity to respond. . Period,” Ms. Gerken said in her statement.

She continued: “If a faculty member offers to withdraw from a course and I accept that offer, the matter is closed.”

The case could actually have been closed if the Yale Daily News hadn’t been published. its article The following week, referring to “documented allegations” that Ms Chua “hosted private dinner parties with current law school students and prominent members of the legal community.”

Ms Chua took out her angry letter to her coworkers and posted it on Twitter. “As the only Asian-American woman on the academic faculty, I can’t imagine any other faculty member would be treated with such disrespect,” She wrote.

Then all hell broke loose.

Released by an alumna in the anti-chua camp distressed five page letter Describing how his love for Ms. Chua had soured in 2018, when Ms. Chua decided to “throw the students under the bus” refuting her claims that she had acted against Judge Kavanaugh’s law clerks. I had commented on.

“From the bottom of my heart, Amy, you drove me crazy,” the alumna wrote.

While the author was close to Ms Chua, most of the law students who criticized her said they had never met her – and were warned not to do so.

“We fear that Chua continues to harm the students,” a student wrote to Dean.

Equally emotional were the dozens of letters supporting Ms Chua, who posted them on his personal website. The letters spoke of his highly personal support for students of color, for first-generation professionals, for students from state colleges, for foreign students.

To suggest that he harmed the students by inviting them over to his home, a pro-Chua student said, “Ridiculous in the first place, even if they are real children. But these are adults.”

Lost in the cacophony were the fates of two students whose text messages were featured in the dossier, and who said the episode left them unable to trust their own classmates. His identity was revealed when the producer of the dossier prepared a supplementary “timeline” containing his name, and passed it on to other students; Soon it was all over the school.

The students said that by releasing the timeline they were attacked by classmates because they were somehow involved in Ms. Chua’s alleged misconduct and were also victims.

The ensuing uproar prompted the Asian student to withdraw his application for a prestigious teaching-assistant job with another professor, he explained, because he feared people would say “that I had some kind of harmful arrangement with Professor Chua.” position through.

The students said that the dean’s office never asked them what really happened…

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