Law professor Amy Chua will no longer be leading a first-year small group at the Yale Law School next year after students raised allegations that she is still hosting private dinner parties at the home she shares with her husband, suspended law professor Jed Rubenfeld, despite having agreed in 2019 to cease all out-of-class hours interactions with students.
Chua did not respond to multiple requests for comment on her 2019 agreement and punishment, the allegations or losing her small group.
Chua previously agreed to stop drinking and socializing with her students outside of class and office hours in response to allegations of misconduct, according to a December 2019 letter obtained by the News from Law School Dean Heather Gerken to affected parties. But law students met with Law School administrators on March 26 and brought forward documented allegations reviewed by the News that Chua has continued hosting private dinner parties with current Law School students and prominent members of the legal community. Three days later, Chua was removed from the list of professors who will lead small groups, which are intimate groups of around 15 first-year law students led by a professor at the Law School, for the 2021-22 academic year.
“While we cannot comment on the existence of investigations or complaints, the Law School and the University thoroughly investigate complaints regarding violations of University rules and the University adjudicates them whenever it is appropriate to do so,” Gerken wrote in a statement to the News. “Faculty misconduct has no place at Yale Law School. It violates our core commitments and undermines all the good that comes from an environment where faculty respect and support students. The Law School has a set of clearly articulated norms governing student-faculty interactions and is committed to enforcing them.”
The News spoke with seven Law School students and alumni, all of whom were granted anonymity due to fear of professional retribution, about Chua’s alleged misconduct and the terms of her punishment. They all emphasized the immense power and influence that Chua holds in the legal community and at Yale, including her prior service on a clerkship committee that helps law students secure their first jobs in the field.
Eleven students independently reached out to the News highlighting their positive experiences with Chua, particularly noting her efforts to support her students and encourage a diversity of opinion in classroom discussion.
Allegations of misconduct
Chua and Rubenfeld first came under public scrutiny in September 2018 when they reportedly told female law students that they needed to look and dress a certain way to attain clerkships for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90.
Rubenfeld is currently serving a two-year suspension from the Law School following a University Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct investigation into allegations of verbal harassment, unwanted touching and attempted kissing in the classroom and at his home. Students have since called for Rubenfeld’s permanent removal and demanded greater transparency about the findings of the sexual misconduct investigation into him, but University President Peter Salovey has not released any specifics about Rubenfeld’s case.
A report published in October by students from two groups at the Law School — Yale Law Women and the YLS Title IX Working Group — details a timeline of the case against Rubenfeld, which begins in September 2008 with a report of the “monthly soirees” held at Chua and Rubenfeld’s household. The report also reveals that Rubenfeld’s small group was reassigned in the fall of 2015 after an “informal investigation” from the Law School into his behavior in the classroom and at his house.
Gerken’s 2019 letter reveals that Law School alumni have brought forward allegations that Chua drank heavily with YLS students and remarked inappropriately on both students and faculty.
One recent Law School graduate told the News that she witnessed Chua and Rubenfeld “deliberate” on students’ appearances, private relationships and other topics during dinner parties that she attended at their house.
“Having been on the receiving end of that behavior, I know personally that it is not always welcome, and that it is not all in good fun,” the recent graduate wrote to the News. “They purport to be provocateurs, but in fact they’re just bullies. But, if you want Chua’s help — and she often touts how much she can help marginalized students — then you play by her rules.”
In a 2019 letter from Chua to affected parties obtained by the News, Chua wrote to express her “deep regret for anything [she] said and did in [her] interactions with students that might have impacted any students negatively,” acknowledging that she “can be unguarded or unfiltered.”
Chua’s private punishment
Gerken outlined the terms of Chua’s punishment in her 2019 letter to Chua.
In the letter, Gerken explains that Chua would not teach any required courses — which include small groups — for the 2020-21 academic year and would not resume teaching required courses until the Law School is “assured that the kind of misconduct alleged will not occur.” Chua also agreed to a “substantial” financial penalty, the amount and nature of which remains unclear.
The letter also explained that “under [Gerken’s] deanship,” Chua would not serve on the clerkship committee, which helps Law School students secure judicial clerkships. Chua told the Guardian in August that she voluntarily gave up this role and that it was a “pleasure to step back” because she “never wanted to be on the committee.”
Additionally, Chua also agreed “on her own initiative” to stop drinking with her students and socializing with them outside of class and office hours, according to the letter.
The Law School declined to comment on the terms of Chua’s punishment.
A broken agreement: The small group controversy
After not having led a small group since reaching the 2019 agreement, Chua was publicly renamed a leader of a first-year small group on March 22, according to an email obtained by the News outlining the application process for next year’s Coker Fellows — third-year law students assigned to each small group.
The small group is a defining part of the first-year experience at the Law School, with students in the same group attending all the same classes in their first semester and relying on the professor for initial mentorship, academic advice and professional connections. Students form strong relationships with their small group leader and often interact with the professor outside of regular class and office hours, according to law students that spoke with the News.
On March 26, multiple law students met with Law School administrators to discuss Chua’s appointment to lead a small group. The students alleged in the meeting that Chua has continued inviting current Law School students to her and Rubenfeld’s house for dinner parties — despite having agreed in 2019, according to Gerken’s letter, to cease drinking and socializing with students in all out-of-class settings.
After the meeting, a student submitted to Law School administrators a written affidavit detailing allegations that Chua hosted law students at her household for dinner on multiple occasions this semester, as well as documented communication between themself and other law school students who acknowledged having gone to Chua’s household. The News has reviewed these communications and has confirmed their receipt by Law School administrators, who declined to comment on the communications or allegations and referred the News to Gerken’s statement.
The following Monday, on March 29, the Law School publicly reversed Chua’s appointment when they removed her name from the list of small group leaders on the Law School academic affairs website and subsequently added law professor James Forman Jr. LAW ’92. Forman did not respond to a request for comment.
Upon hearing that Chua had lost her small group, at least eight law students have sent emails to Gerken and other Law School administrators voicing their support for Chua, according to emails forwarded to the News.
Gerken has encouraged students who have experienced misconduct to reach out to Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove, who oversees the offices of student affairs and career development and is the Law School Title IX coordinator.
Julia Brown | [email protected]