Yale Daily News

University President Peter Salovey has responded to a case study on the sexual misconduct allegations against tenured law professor Jed Rubenfeld.

Rubenfeld was suspended for two years following a 2018 University Wide Committee investigation into allegations of verbal harassment, unwanted touching and attempted kissing in the classroom and at his home. He “categorically and unequivocally” denies these allegations, Rubenfeld wrote in an email to the News.

Last month, students from the Yale Law School Title IX Working Group and Yale Law Women sent Salovey a report outlining how Rubenfeld’s case has demonstrated flaws in Yale’s policies around allegations of sexual misconduct. They demanded that the University make Rubenfeld’s suspension permanent, release the findings of its investigation to the extent legally possible and make critical changes to the UWC adjudication process. 

In a Nov. 3 email obtained by the News, Salovey responded to the leaders of the two groups. He addressed broader concerns around the University’s management of misconduct allegations, but did not offer any specifics about Rubenfeld’s case. Salovey’s email largely focused on explaining why Yale’s policies would remain the same, instead of implementing the suggestions outlined in the groups’ report. 

“It is disappointing that President Salovey took so long to send a response that neither meaningfully addresses the serious concerns we raised in our report nor indicates that Yale is working to fix a flawed system and actually protect students from predators on campus,” Yale Law Women chair Margaret House LAW ’22 wrote in an email to the News. “We are committed to continuing this work to make the process fairer and to continue advocating for justice for survivors.”

When asked for comment, University spokesperson Karen Peart referred the News to Salovey’s letter to the student groups and outlined the resources available to complainants.

Transparency in the Rubenfeld investigation

Rubenfeld faced multiple allegations of sexual misconduct going back to April 2008, including claims that he attempted to kiss and touch students without consent.

“I believe it took courage for these students to come forward, and it came at a personal cost to them,” Rubenfeld wrote to the News. “I respect them for that, even if I deeply disagree with their claims.”

According to the student groups’ report, the University’s handling of misconduct allegations has been unnecessarily secretive. For example, Yale did not announce Rubenfeld’s suspension –– news of that came instead from an Aug. 26 New York Magazine article

The report requested that Yale release a “community impact statement” if a UWC investigation leads to disciplinary action. The statement would detail how the punishment protects the Yale community and how the panel decided on what information about the investigation to release. But according to Salovey, Yale informs the community about individual cases “when disclosure is deemed necessary to safeguard the campus environment or to support ongoing activities within a department or school.”

“I agree that there are merits to transparency as you point out in your report,” Salovey wrote in his email. “That said, the University also places a high priority on maintaining confidentiality in these cases. We continue to believe that parties in sexual misconduct cases would be discouraged from bringing their complaints forward if they understood that their matters would become public through University disclosure.”

Three students from the groups –– House, Yale Law Women advancement chair Sarah Baldinger LAW ’22 and former co-chair of the Title IX Working Group Mollie Berkowitz LAW ’21 –– spoke to the News in response to Salovey’s email. Their responses do not represent official stances for either student group. 

“The University should support accusers by releasing the findings of the [Rubenfeld] investigation,” Baldinger wrote in an email to the News. “Jed Rubenfeld has commented on the record about the investigation to reporters at publications like New York Magazine and the ABA Journal. When Rubenfeld is the only person who is allowed to speak publicly about the investigation, he gets to control the narrative and minimize the severity of the claims against him.”

According to Rubenfeld, these confidentiality rules apply to him as well, and there are “many things [he] can’t say.” Rubenfeld did tell the News that “completely false” information has been circulating about his case, disputing media reports that say he faced accusations of unwanted sexual touching. The University has not disclosed the specific allegations he faced.

But Rubenfeld has said in previous news stories that he has made comments he now regrets.

“Like a lot of professors from my generation,” Rubenfeld wrote to the News, “I said some things I now regret –– comments I wouldn’t make any more, stories I wouldn’t tell, and I of course will not repeat these mistakes in [the] future.”

After Rubenfeld’s two-year suspension, he will be able to return to teaching on campus. He is barred from teaching small groups or required courses and will be restricted in social gatherings with students.

The Yale Law Women and Title IX Working Group report urged Yale to permanently remove Rubenfeld from campus. The groups argued that Rubenfeld may harass students when he returns to campus, but the students aware of his earlier actions will have graduated, hampering institutional memory. 

Salovey did not offer any information regarding Rubenfeld’s return to campus in his response to the report. He also did not indicate that the University would release any findings from its investigation into Rubenfeld. 

The fight for pro bono representation

The groups also asked that the University provide free legal representation to all parties involved with University-Wide Committee, or UWC, proceedings. These proceedings, per new Title IX rules promulgated by the Trump administration, could include cross-examinations of those bringing forward allegations. 

As UWC hearings more and more resemble trials, Yale students who can afford private lawyers have already used them, the report said. It explained that, by not providing all students with pro bono representation, students from less privileged backgrounds are at a disadvantage when navigating the UWC process.

“Jed Rubenfeld has tremendous financial resources and unmatched connections within the legal profession,” the report reads. “An individual student with no professional guidance is likely to be outmaneuvered by a skilled lawyer and possibly deterred from pursuing their legal claims in the first place.”

On Sept. 1, the two student groups emailed UWC Chair professor Mark Solomon and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler about this request. The two responded on Oct. 9 that they were informed that the University would not “provide or pay for” such legal representation, according to an email obtained by the News. 

Salovey’s recent email echoed Solomon and Spangler’s response from last month. He wrote that the University “carefully” considered the question of whether to provide complainants with lawyers. The University, Salovey wrote, decided that bringing lawyers into a “community-derived and community-focused” process would not be more equitable. Instead, Yale opted to maintain the existing system of having advisers from Yale’s Title IX Office — only some of whom have legal training — support students involved in Title IX investigations.

To evaluate whether this system works, the UWC has agreed to a review after a “reasonable” period of time, Salovey added. When asked how long until the UWC reviews its policies, Peart said it would happen “after the University has had experience using them.”

“On the attorney resource question, Salovey really misses the mark,” Berkowitz wrote in an email to the News. “Because they are not lawyers, the UWC’s advisors can’t help students meaningfully understand the potential legal consequences of their decisions around the UWC process and the conversations they have with the students they advise are not protected by attorney-client privilege.”

Berkowitz and Baldinger told the News that Salovey’s argument against adding lawyers to the UWC process fails to consider how lawyers are already involved –– but only to students who can afford their own lawyers or secure their own pro bono representation. As such, Berkowitz said Salovey’s refusal to provide counsel to those who can’t otherwise afford it “exacerbates existing inequities” at the University. 

The report’s other requests

Salovey also responded to the groups’ request that the University alert claimants if there are multiple accusations against the person they accuse. Yale needs a technology that allows people to make anonymous, sealed allegations and be alerted if another person accuses the same offender, the report reads. Students may be more likely to speak out against a professor if they know others had a similar experience, the report argued.

Yale’s Title IX Office already keeps a confidential central record of all complaints, Salovey wrote. If there are multiple accusations against the same person, Title IX coordinators may alert the UWC. Yale also conducts “climate reviews” to identify when someone’s behavior may have affected multiple people, Peart added. 

“We feel that the existing processes offer effective means for bringing forward multiple complaints,” Peart wrote in an email to the News.

Salovey said that he also agrees with the report’s stance that the UWC should take into account public safety when making decisions. He wrote that the UWC considers the safety and wellbeing of “all those who may be affected” by the committee’s findings, including members of the community who were not parties to the complaint, as well as the community at large.

Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken has encouraged students who have experienced misconduct to reach out to Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove, who is the law school’s Title IX coordinator and oversees the offices of student affairs.

Julia Brown | julia.k.brown@yale.edu

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu