Since Rubenfeld’s suspension: Yale Law Women and YLS Title IX Working Group advocate for increased transparency and justice
In the fall of 2018, Yale Law School Professor Jed Rubenfeld was slammed with allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct. How have student groups and the University administration responded in the aftermath?
Content Warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.
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Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld was publicly accused of a pattern of inappropriate behavior and sexual misconduct in October 2018. Student allegations ranged from verbal harassment to unwanted touching and attempted kissing both inside the classroom and at his home.
For two years, it seemed that the University took no action until students received news about the findings of an internal investigation in August 2020. That investigation resulted in Rubenfeld’s suspension until 2022. Details around the suspension were never formally announced to the Law School community, sparking demands for greater transparency among students and faculty.
“It was not a surprise to basically any woman in my class that this investigation is going on,” said Grace Kao LAW ’15 in an interview with the News in 2018.
In a 2020 message to the Yale Law School community, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken stated that she was unable to comment on the existence of misconduct allegations but that the University addresses all matters of misconduct “thoroughly.”
Rubenfeld, alongside his wife, professor Amy Chua, had come under national scrutiny prior to the misconduct allegations. In September 2018, The Guardian reported that the couple allegedly told female students that they should “look and dress” a certain way to attain a clerkship for Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90, advising them that Kavanaugh preferred to select female candidates based on their attractiveness.
“I have made jokes and comments that I would not make today and I wish I had not made,” Rubenfeld told The New York Times in August 2020. “This may have made students uncomfortable. I respect students for coming forward if it did … But I never sexually harassed anybody. That’s a completely different thing.”
In an email to the News in November 2020, Rubenfeld wrote that he “categorically and unequivocally” denies the allegations made against him.
Yale Law Women and Yale Law School Title IX Working Group’s joint report
Yale Law Women, a student organization at the Law School now known as Yale Law Women+, and the Law School’s Title IX Working Group jointly released a report on Rubenfeld’s case in October 2020.
The first section of the report, penned solely by the Yale Law Women Board of 2020-2021, directly addresses University President Peter Salovey, demanding him to permanently remove Rubenfeld and release information regarding the allegations and findings of Yale’s internal investigation.
“When Jed Rubenfeld is allowed to return to YLS and resume teaching, in just two years, he will still be dangerous,” reads the report. “There is no reason to believe there will be any change in his behavior — the only change will be that all the students who are aware of his transgressions will have graduated, thereby impairing institutional memory. We do not want Jed Rubenfeld to prey on a new generation of students.”
As of fall 2022, Jed Rubenfeld has resumed teaching at the Yale Law School, instructing the classes “Advanced Constitutional Law” and “Advanced Constitutional Law: Directed Research.”
The second section of the report provides a timeline of Rubenfeld’s allegations, tracing them through publicly accessible sources such as news articles and online posts. The report notes “monthly soirées” and drinking parties hosted by Rubenfeld and his wife, Law School professor Amy Chua, at which students allegedly experienced uncomfortable and coercive interactions and behavior.
This timeline cites forum posts and jokes made during Yale Revue — a yearly Yale Law student-produced comedy show — performances, which imply that the Law School community was aware of Rubenfeld’s “mildly inappropriate behavior.”
The report also points to a 2017 anonymous Top Law Schools forum post that warned Yale Law School students to keep their distance from Rubenfeld “unless you enjoy being hit on by a middle-aged, married man who wields power over your career.” These sentiments were also echoed in Slate’s 2018 coverage, which detailed how Rubenfeld and Chua’s influence in helping students attain career-advancing, competitive clerkship positions and deterred or hindered alleged victims’ decision to report Rubenfeld’s behavior.
The final section of the report highlights three broad recommendations for improving the University’s response to misconduct. According to the report, these suggested changes would be feasibly enforced in the wake of the Trump administration’s changes to Title IX policy, which allow plaintiffs to be cross-examined and redefines sexual harassment as a series of actions that are “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive.”
The first recommendation calls for an updated reporting system, where students would be able to anonymously file records of misconduct and be alerted if other reports had been made against the same offender. The report also demanded that the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, or UWC, which investigates and adjudicates allegations of sexual misconduct under the University’s Title IX Office, and the UWC hearing panel release a “community impact statement” after any internal investigation found evidence of misconduct. Within the statement, the UWC would have to explain how the resulting disciplinary action would protect the Yale community and why and how they chose to disclose certain information about cases. Currently, the hearing panel must only provide a written decision report of its findings, remedies and penalties to the parties involved and is not publicly released.
The report also urged the University to provide pro-bono legal representation to all student claimants and student respondents involved in a UWC investigation. The two student groups advocated that, as the Title IX process increasingly resembles a legal proceeding, it is imperative that the University help students obtain legal services free of charge. They went on to note that Yale was an outlier among its peer institutions for failing to do so.
The University and the Law School respond
UWC Chairs Mark Solomon and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler informed student groups that their demands for pro-bono legal representation would not be met. In an email to the groups, Solomon and Spangler explained that the UWC could instead refer students to a panel of “UWC advisors,” two of whom had legal training. In an email to the News from October 2020, University Spokeswoman Karen Peart wrote that this advisor system has “worked well” in the past and that students could also reach out to supportive bodies such as the Title IX Coordinators, SHARE Center counselors and Yale Police.
Salovey responded to the leaders of Yale Law Women and the Title IX Working Group in a Nov. 3 email, one month after receiving the report. While Salovey addressed general concerns about the University’s management of misconduct allegations, the email did not provide specific information about Rubenfeld’s case nor did it respond to the recommendations outlined in the report. Instead, Salovey’s email doubled down on Yale’s policies, stating that while “there are merits to transparency…, [the] University also places a high priority on maintaining confidentiality in these cases.”
The News reported that in the aftermath of the Rubenfeld investigation, Yale Law professor George Priest ’69, alongside a host of students and faculty, urged the University to rethink its policies to better support complainants.
“I think the administration is doing everything in its power, but it does abide by University regulations,” Priest said. ”I think these privacy restrictions are certainly designed to protect complainants, and that’s fine, but it shouldn’t be protecting perpetrators. Change the rules, Yale University and Yale Law School ought to be on the vanguard of changing these rules to protect victims and not perpetrators.”
The UWC is composed of faculty, senior administrators and graduate and professional students throughout the University.