Pierson College Dean June Chu has been a successful academic and administrator at Yale University. However, that stellar record came to a halt — and Chu was put on leave — after it was discovered that she had written reviews on Yelp deemed offensive. The controversy again raises the question of whether teachers should be subject to discipline for their comments outside of schools. Chu is not accused of saying anything offensive to students or even on campus. Yet her Yelp comments were enough to force her into a leave of absence.
In one review of a Japanese steakhouse, Chu wrote“I guess if you were a white person who has no clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you . . . if you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” She also described a theater as having “sketchy crowds (despite it being in new haven)” and a movie theater as having “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7.”
Chu issued a public apology that said “There are no two ways about it. Not only were they insensitive in matters related to class and race; they demean the values to which I hold myself and which I offer as a member of this community.”
Pierson Head Stephen Davis called the post “reprehensible” and faculty and students denounced Chu as espousing racist and classist sentiments. After a search, additional problematic comments were reportedly found. Davis’ letter to the faculty and students stated in part:
I am very aware that when I last wrote to you on Saturday morning, it was to ask you to partner with me in envisioning a way forward — to carve out a space for grace — in the aftermath of Dean Chu’s email to the college apologizing for two Yelp reviews in which she had used inappropriate and unacceptable language pertaining to matters of class and race. I did so even though I found the views she expressed to be deeply harmful to our community fabric. I did so because I was convinced that her apology was genuine, because I believed that those posts were not representative of her and of the good work I had seen Dean Chu do in her capacity as dean, and because I still had hope for the possibility of envisioning a path toward healing and reconciliation.
Today I am grieving because I no longer can envision such a way forward. When I wrote to you on Saturday morning, it was with the understanding — and under assurance from Dean Chu, an assurance given to me and to others — that she had posted only two troubling reviews on social media. On Saturday evening, I found out that she was in fact responsible for multiple reprehensible posts, enough to represent a more widespread pattern. The additional posts that surfaced compounded the harm of the initial two, and they also further damaged my trust and confidence in Dean Chu’s accountability to me and ability to lead the students of Pierson College.
Yet, there still remains the question of whether faculty should be subject to discipline for their exercise of free speech outside of this academic work. As we have previously discussed (including the story involving an Oregon professor), there remains an uncertain line in what language is protected for teachers in their private lives. The incident also raises what some faculty have complained is a double or at least uncertain standard. We have previously discussed controversies at the University of California and Boston University, where there have been criticism of a double standard, even in the face of criminal conduct. There were also such incident at the University of London involving Bahar Mustafa as well as one involving a University of Pennsylvania professor.
Chu was not speaking as a Yale employee or using school resources. She is not accused of improper conduct at the university. Do you believe that Chu should be subject to discipline for expressing her views on social media?