Students from two groups at the Yale Law School –– Yale Law Women and the YLS Title IX Working Group –– jointly released a report on Sunday addressed to University President Peter Salovey, demanding that law professor Jed Rubenfeld be permanently removed from campus and raising concerns about the University’s sexual misconduct investigation process.
Allegations about Rubenfeld’s sexual misconduct first gained national attention two years ago. In September 2018, he and his wife, law professor Amy Chua, came under scrutiny for telling 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. In October 2018, Slate published an article detailing the experiences of women who alleged that Rubenfeld harassed them, focusing on his position as a potential gatekeeper for high-profile clerkships.
Yet students said they never heard from administrators about proceedings surrounding Rubenfeld’s misconduct until this August, when a New York Magazine article announced that Rubenfeld had been suspended for at least two years, until 2022. The University did not formally announce the suspension to the Yale community, prompting students and faculty to demand greater transparency in sexual misconduct investigations. University officials declined to comment on the specifics of Rubenfeld’s case for this article.
“I am worried about future generations of YLS students if Rubenfeld is allowed to return to campus in two years,” said YLW advancement chair Sarah Baldinger LAW ’22. “We know from public reports that the allegations go back decades and that the [University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct] found misconduct that warranted a two-year suspension. What does the University believe will change in two years? Rubenfeld will still be dangerous, and all of the students who are aware of his misconduct will be gone.”
The 23-page report on sexual harassment at Yale, subtitled “A Case Study on Jed Rubenfeld,” contains three sections –– the first of which is a letter from the two groups addressed to Salovey. The groups demanded that Salovey permanently remove Rubenfeld from campus in an effort to prevent Rubenfeld from “preying” on a new generation of students. The letter added that the University must amend its UWC process to support future survivors of sexual misconduct.
Additionally, the groups demanded in the letter that the University release the findings of the UWC’s investigation into Rubenfeld to the extent legally possible.
“In sexual misconduct investigations, there is always a balancing act between protecting the parties’ privacy and being transparent with the rest of the community,” said the student leaders of the YLS Title IX Working Group in an email to the News. “The University can and should do more to be transparent about the process and to protect students when there are credible allegations of misconduct by individual faculty members.”
University spokesperson Karen Peart wrote in an email to the News that the University does not confirm or deny the existence of any specific cases of sexual misconduct to protect confidentiality and preserve the integrity of its adjudication process.
The second section of the report contains a timeline of the publicly available information on Rubenfeld’s case that draws from news articles, online posts, course catalogues and recordings of student performances. The timeline begins in April 2008, with a Top Law Schools forum post about “monthly soirées” at Rubenfeld and Chua’s house. Over the years since, the report chronicles references that indicate the YLS community was aware of “at least mildly inappropriate behavior” by Rubenfeld, culminating with his two-year suspension for allegations that include verbal harassment, unwanted touching and attempted kissing in the classroom and at his home.
The third section of the report contains an overview of recommended changes to the UWC process in the wake of the Rubenfeld investigation. For one, the report demands that the University implement a platform for anonymous reporting that notifies survivors when other reports are filed for the same offender.
“Students were afraid to speak out against Jed Rubenfeld individually because they feared retribution and harm to their careers,” the report stated. “There is strength in numbers. If accusers were able to be notified about one another’s existence, they could organize to collectively file formal complaints against the relevant predator.”
Additionally, the report called for pro bono representation for students involved with UWC proceedings. According to the Trump Administration’s new Title IX rules announced in May, accusers may be directly cross-examined as part of the UWC’s process. The report said that students should be entitled to adequate legal representation throughout the Title IX process, which increasingly resembles a legal proceeding.
The Title IX Working Group student leaders –– Mollie Berkowitz LAW ’21 and co-chairs Grace Judge LAW ’22, Evan Walker-Wells ’14 LAW ’22 SOM ’22 and Noelle Wyman LAW ’22 –– said that Yale is an “outlier” among its peer institutions, all of whom help parties in Title IX proceedings obtain legal representation at no cost.
“Absent legal representation, students may be left to navigate a complex and quasi-judicial process — one that now includes live cross-examination — without adequate legal advice,” wrote the student leaders of the YLS Title IX Working Group in an email to the News. “Parties with resources, including faculty members and students from higher income families, could have an immense advantage over parties who cannot afford to hire an attorney. This would only compound existing economic and social inequalities on campus.”
The Title IX Working Group Chairs and the YLW Board sent a letter on Sept. 1 to UWC Chair Mark Solomon and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler outlining their demand that the University provide student-claimants and student-respondents with attorneys on a pro bono basis throughout the UWC process.
Solomon and Spangler responded to their letter on Friday.
“We have been informed that Yale will not provide or pay for legal representation to parties in UWC proceedings,” Solomon and Spangler wrote in the email obtained by the News.
Solomon and Spangler said that the committee can instead refer parties to a panel of “UWC Advisors,” two of whom have legal training.
Spokeswoman Peart wrote in an email to the News that the UWC process, including the advisor system, has “worked well.” She added that there are measures in place to maintain a respectful environment during the questioning process.
In response to Solomon and Spangler’s email, the student leaders of the Title IX Working Group wrote in an email to the News that they were “incredibly disappointed by this decision.”
“Yale had the opportunity to show real leadership on this issue and failed,” the students wrote.
Peart highlighted the supportive measures available to students involved with sexual misconduct investigations, such as Title IX Coordinators, the Yale Police, UWC Secretaries and SHARE Center counselors. She wrote that, while the University must comply with the new Trump administration regulations, the UWC will continue to address formal complaints of sexual misconduct through impartial investigations and hearing panels including members of the Yale community.
The report’s final recommended change is that the UWC explicitly consider the safety of the broader Yale community when determining the result of an investigation, specifically those targeted at faculty offenders.
The groups requested that the hearing panel release a community impact statement whenever an investigation leads to disciplinary action, which would explain how the disciplinary action protects the Yale community and how the panel decided what information to disclose. The report added that clearer communication with the Yale community –– even if certain information is withheld –– will reassure students and empower future survivors to come forward.
“Tenure should not be used as an excuse for retaining dangerous faculty,” the report stated. “Tenured appointments are established to ensure academic freedom, not to excuse Title IX violations or other dangerous behaviors. Jed Rubenfeld has attempted to leverage these academic-freedom protections by claiming that the allegations are a backlash to his 2014 op-ed arguing against affirmative consent standards. This is false.”
YLS Dean Heather Gerken has encouraged students who have experienced misconduct to reach out to Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove, who oversees the offices of student affairs and is the YLS Title IX coordinator.
Julia Brown | email@example.com