Last month New York magazine published a piece about Yale Law School’s Amy Chua and her husband (and fellow law professor) Jed Rubenfeld. The piece was about the downfall of the legal power-couple at America’s leading law school. What probably prompted it was a supposed scandal that had popped up in which Chua, perhaps best known as the author of the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, was accused of inviting students to her house for drunken parties.
It turns out Chua, too, was investigated by a fact finder, hired by the law school, who looked into claims that she had abused her power over the clerkship process, made inappropriate comments, and engaged in “excessive drinking” with students. In 2019, Chua incurred a “substantial financial penalty,” according to a letter complainants received; accepted limits on socializing with students; and apologized to complainants for “remarks I made in jest or frustration that were capable of being misinterpreted in a way that made them seem hurtful or intimidating.”
This was all secret until this April, when the Yale Daily News reported that Chua would no longer be teaching a small group. Students had gone to the administration with, among other items, screen-grabbed text messages between students with secondhand accounts of socializing at Chua’s house, which were then circulated over email and subsequently republished on the Above the Law blog. Such gatherings also violated COVID-19 safety protocols.
Chua has said she was blindsided by the story and denied violating any agreement, or hosting parties, though she does admit to inviting students into her home for mentorship. “I was publicly humiliated with a total falsehood,” she tells me, “and I was treated degradingly.”
At first, she planned to stay quiet, she says, until her daughter Lulu (the rebellious cub in Tiger Mother, now a law student herself) encouraged her to defend herself publicly. Chua published a 67-page PDF of glowing letters from students, some of whom she concedes were about to be graded by her, and her own incensed letters to the faculty. She tweeted her way from New Haven into national cancel-culture martyrdom, defended by the likes of Bari Weiss and Megyn Kelly, who claimed Chua was really being punished for championing Brett Kavanaugh.
Irin Carmon, the author of the piece is a far left writer who is probably best known for co-authoring the book “Notorious RBG” which made the Supreme Court Justice into a hip, left-wing celebrity in the final few years of her life. For Carmon, the fact that Chua once said something positive about Brett Kavanaugh and was defended by Bari Weiss is really all you need to know about her. There’s no real effort to explain whatever this latest controversy was about at Yale.
But last week Elizabeth Bruenig wrote a lengthy piece for the Atlantic which actually walks readers through the latest uproar at Yale over Chua, describing in detail what happened that led to stories at New York, the NY Times, etc. The entire piece is worth reading but here’s a spoiler for you: She did nothing. Well, she did something but it wasn’t worthy of criticism. In fact, the students who were actually involved don’t think it was worthy of criticism. Here’s Bruenig’s very brief conclusion after talking to everyone involved:
It appears to me that what transpired amounts to a skirmish between a notorious professor and an administration that seemed so eager to relieve itself of her presence that it lunged at an opportunity to weaken her position at the expense of two students who were left to deal with the consequences of the ultimately aborted campaign.
In order to avoid naming the three students involved in this story, Bruenig gives them each nicknames. The Guest is a male student who went to college at UCLA. The Visitor is a female student from Atlanta, GA. The two became friends at Yale’s Law School after working on a project together. Both students also became concerned about issues of minority representation at Yale Law School and that led to an invitation to meet with Chua:
Not that the Guest had any reason to contemplate any of this when, early in the spring semester of 2021, he decided to step down as an executive editor at the Yale Law Journal. The Guest, who describes himself as half-Korean, had misgivings about the way the journal’s staff had responded to his questions about the lack of racial diversity in its ranks, and his suggestions for addressing it. Still, even after making his decision, the Guest felt uncertain and unsettled. He confided this to the Visitor, who as a Black student at Yale Law had wrestled with similar questions, and she took it upon herself to bring them up with Chua during a Zoom meeting that served in place of the professor’s usual office hours. At that point, the Visitor recalls, Chua casually offered to talk with the two of them about the Journal affair at her home in New Haven, and the Visitor called the Guest to pass the invitation along.
But there was someone else in the house when the Guest got invited to Chua’s house. This person, who she calls the Archivist, happened to be in the Guest’s house doing laundry and overheard plans to go to Chua’s house. For whatever reason, he began documenting everything. Here’s what he wrote about that initial call:
Feb. 18. I go over to [the Guest’s] to do my laundry. While at his apartment, I hear him call [the Visitor], who explains to him that Chua has just invited them over for dinner tomorrow. They discuss what to wear and what they should bring (ultimately deciding to bring a bottle of wine). [The Guest] makes zero mention of going over because of any personal crisis. After the phone call, he says that he’s been invited to a dinner party at Chua’s. [The Guest] implores me not to tell anybody so that Chua doesn’t get in trouble.
Anyway, the Guest and the Visitor go to Chua’s house. They decide to bring a bottle of wine as a gift for inviting them. Chua offers them cheese and crackers but tells them she has dinner plans later. One of the students opens the wine and drinks some but Chua doesn’t have any. Both students felt Chua’s advice was helpful and made them feel better about the situations they had asked her about.
Meanwhile, the Archivist, who wasn’t invited and didn’t attend, began sending messages to other people, seemingly trying to get them worked up about the meeting with his two friends. “I think it’s deliberately enabling the secret atmosphere of favoritism, misogyny, and sexual harassment that severely undermines the bravery of the victims of sexual abuse that came forward against Rubenfeld,” he wrote.
A month later, the Guest and the Visitor had a second meeting with Chua to discuss the same issues. This time they brought a “date-and-cheese plate” to her house. The Archivist was outraged by this second meeting. He contacted Ellen Cosgrove, the Dean of Student Affairs who also happened to be the school’s Title IX coordinator. He sent her screenshots of text messages to back up his story about the meetings at Chua’s house. He then wrote a 20-page pdf which in which he included the same screenshots but also took some editorial shots at his friends. That document began circulating and became known as “the dossier.”
A week later, Chua was stripped of her ability to lead a small group she was supposed to lead in the fall semester. She found out about it when someone from the Yale Daily News called her for comment about it. At first the Guest and the Visitor were confused by what all the fuss was about. But it gradually became clear to them that Dean Cosgrove was looking for more than just a slap on the wrist. She was hoping to nail Chua.
During the last two weeks of classes, the Guest told me, he was in frequent telephone contact with Cosgrove and her deputy. “They seemed very interested in trying to get me to say something against Professor Chua in a complaint and not in actually helping me in the things that I was very concerned about,” such as responding to the acute invasion of his privacy by a fellow student, he recalled. (A spokesperson for Yale Law School told The Atlantic that Cosgrove objects to this characterization.) Though the Guest had no interest in filing any kind of complaint against Chua, he felt that the administrators tried to persuade him with arguments “framed in terms of ‘Well, you have a moral obligation to protect future generations of students; you need to protect these students; the students think that you need to do this; the students think that you have a moral duty.’” But he demurred. “At one point, I even think I said, like, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to complain about. I don’t know what the misconduct is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to complain about.’”
Similarly, the Office of Student Affairs told the Visitor “All we need you to—all we need is the alcohol, just give us the alcohol. And that’s enough.”
Both the Guest and the Visitor told officials they felt more upset by what the Archivist had done than anything Chua had done. Yale didn’t seem interested in that. This sounds like one more example of someone offended on behalf of others who were never offended in the first place. The piece suggests that the Archivist’s behavior is a sign of where Yale Law School and all academic institutions seem to be heading these days.