Tiger Mother Amy Chua Roars Back At Yale Law School
The prominent professor has been stripped of certain teaching duties after allegations of misconduct — allegations she forcefully denies.
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Last night, the Yale Daily News published an explosive report about Professor Amy Chua of Yale Law School — yes, that Amy Chua, the famous author of a controversial, bestselling parenting memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. From the Daily News:
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.
Teaching a small-group class, a required 1L course of around 15 first-year students led by a single professor, is a responsibility at YLS, but also a privilege. The teachers tapped for the task tend to be prominent, popular, and pedagogically skilled — all adjectives that would apply to Chua, the drama surrounding her notwithstanding. Here’s more from the Yale Daily News:
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….
For additional background on the allegations against Chua — as well as prior allegations against her husband, Professor Jed Rubenfeld, which resulted in his suspension from the faculty for two years — see the YDN piece, as well as this Above the Law story by Joe Patrice. To their critics, Chua and Rubenfeld are legal academia’s answer to Bonnie and Clyde.
(Or maybe Tom and Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby, since Chua and Rubenfeld are rich, attractive, and don’t carry guns. They have many positive qualities; since news of Chua’s punishment broke, students and faculty have flooded the YLS administration with praise for her as a teacher, mentor, scholar, colleague, and friend. But like the Buchanans, if Chua and Rubenfeld have a flaw, it might be a certain kind of carelessness.) [UPDATE (8:25 p.m.): Some commenters on Twitter have pointed out that the sexual harassment allegations against Rubenfeld amount to far more than “carelessness.” To be clear, I’m not referring to “carelessness” as in negligence; I’m referring to the “carelessness” exhibited by Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. Read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s full quote here. (I’ve deleted two sentences from this paragraph that contributed to this confusion.)]
What does Professor Chua have to say for herself? In a bombshell missive of her own, an open letter to her fellow faculty members, the Tiger Mother roars back at Yale Law School and Dean Gerken. Chua reveals that the Yale Daily News found out about her removal from the small-group lineup before she did — she learned of her punishment when YDN reporter Julia Brown called her up on a Sunday for comment — and then describes a subsequent Zoom meeting she had with Gerken and Professor Michael Wishnie, counselor to Dean Gerken:
On the 5:15 Sunday Zoom call, I was treated absolutely degradingly, like a criminal. Heather confirmed what the reporter had told me: she had in fact decided that I was to be removed from the Small Group roster for next year, and (she said) she had been planning to tell me on Monday. But instead of explaining how this information had made it the Daily News before being communicated to me, or why I’d been suddenly stripped of teaching a Small Group, or how on earth the Daily News could possibly have confidential personnel information about me (that had to have been originally disclosed by someone in the Administration), Heather said it was time for me to “be candid.” Mike said nothing the whole time, and just took notes. Besides Heather saying repeatedly, “This is the time for you to be candid, Amy,” she asked me over and over, “Did you have a federal judge to your house with students?”
For her part, Chua denies having a federal judge over to her house with students:
I honestly had no idea what she was talking about, and I felt that I was in an inquisition. I was distraught and totally confused. I kept asking what was going on. A federal judge over to my house with students?! No, no, no, I told her. The suggestion is not only 100% false but (during COVID) ludicrous.
As some of you might recall, Chua was hospitalized for three weeks in 2018 after a massive internal infection. The idea of someone with her health history throwing ragers during the pandemic would be… surprising.
Now, Chua acknowledges — and doesn’t apologize for — having had some students over to her house during this time:
As I wrack my brain to try to imagine what “dinner parties” with students they could possibly be referring to, I can only think of a few possibilities—all of which I not only stand by, but am proud of.
As many of you know, there were a number of serious crises for our students in the last few months…. In the midst of these events, a few students in extreme distress reached out to me, feeling that they had no one else to turn to, many of them feeling that the law school administration was not supporting them. Because we could not meet in the law school building, we met at my house, and I did my best to support them and console them.
She denies, however, that any of these meetings were “dinner parties,” and she denies that her husband Jed was present for any of them.
Setting aside the accuracy of the allegations against her, Chua makes some points about due process:
1. Confidential information about my  agreement with Heather has been disclosed to students or the press. Though the report of this agreement by the Daily News is inaccurate, there are enough correct details to leave no doubt that confidential information, known only to the Dean’s office, has somehow been disclosed. This breach is a gross violation of the standards that apply to all deans and all administrators at this University, and quite possibly a violation of law as well.
2. To this day, ten days after I was removed from next year’s Small Group roster, I still have received no explanation whatsoever from the Dean’s Office about why this decision was made. I asked Heather, and she refused to answer. My emails to her are not even replied to. Instead I have been left to read allegations in the Yale Daily News….
3. The information that the Dean had decided to bar me from teaching a Small Group (again, an assignment I didn’t want), which should also have been confidential, was evidently communicated to students before the School even told me about it. This also means that the decision to remove me from the Small Group roster was made before I had even learned that any allegations had been made against me, so that I had no chance at all to defend myself against whatever the allegations were.
Invoking her long track record of mentoring students, especially ones from less privileged backgrounds, Chua closes her letter as follows:
I stand by my record of service to this school, and I could not be prouder of the help and support I’ve tried to give our students. For what it’s worth, dozens of current and graduated students submitted emails protesting the School’s decision and attesting to the positive impact I’ve had in their lives, the majority of them (I believe) from students from minority or marginalized communities. Many of these emails make the point that I am being targeted by “a small group of students” who have never taken a class from me and who oppose “controversial” opinions I’ve expressed….
If you’ve read this far, thank you and sorry for taking so much of your time. Let me add that I am not seeking reinstatement to the Small Group roster. I do think, however, there should be an investigation into how these breaches of confidentiality occurred, with serious punishment for anyone found to be responsible.
What does Dean Heather Gerken have to say about the situation? Through Debra Kroszner, Yale Law School’s spokesperson, Dean Gerken issued this statement in response to my inquiry:
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.
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.
As for the breaches of confidentiality that Chua alleges, Kroszner had this to say: “Yale Law School does not comment on, or even acknowledge the existence of, faculty disciplinary cases, and it strictly maintains the confidentiality of faculty employment files.”
Here’s one possibility that crossed my mind. In general, when a student files a complaint against a faculty member, that student — or “complainant,” to use the more technical term — is informed of the resolution of the complaint, including steps taken to address the problem. It’s possible that some of the information obtained by the Yale Daily News about the 2019 agreement between Dean Gerken and Professor Chua came from students who filed complaints, as opposed to Dean Gerken or another member of the administration. I find it hard to believe that Dean Gerken or another administrator leaked any of this news to the media. What motive would she have for doing so, since it doesn’t exactly put YLS in the best light?
Looking ahead, here’s what I’m wondering: can this marriage, i.e., the marriage between Chuafeld and Yale Law School, be saved? For many years, it was a mutually beneficial partnership. But in the wake of the disciplinary actions taken first against Jed Rubenfeld and now against Amy Chua, can things ever be the same?
Also, on a more fundamental level, does this match still make sense? Chuafeld became famous (or infamous) for saying controversial things — boasting that Chinese mothers are superior, claiming that there are reasons some cultural groups succeed while others do not, and (allegedly) recommending that law students dress in a certain way for clerkship interviews. But Yale Law School in 2021 — a school that definitely leans left, which to its critics might even be “woke” — might not be the best environment for people who purport to be tart-tongued truth-tellers.
As you can tell from her many years of service to the Yale Law School community, Amy Chua has a deep love for YLS. But if the Tiger Mother decides at some point to take her talents to another zoo, don’t be too surprised.
UPDATE (6:55 p.m.): Some Twitter commentary on the controversy:
UPDATE (10:30 p.m.): In the penultimate paragraph, in response to another comment on Twitter, I have changed the reference to “tart-tongued truth-tellers” to “people who purport to be tart-tongued truth-tellers” (because I do not intend to personally endorse any particular position of Chuafeld as the “truth”).
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