Professor Amy Chua was by all accounts a popular and accomplished teacher at Yale Law School. Chua’s life (and standing) however seemed to change dramatically in 2018 when she published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Kavanaugh Is a Mentor To Women.” She reports that she instantly became a pariah at the school and in the academy. Now, Chua is alleging that she was subject to the removal from small first-year classes in an action that lacked the most basic guarantees of notice and due process.
Chua’s allegations has received little attention outside of conservative sites but they raise very serious questions about the basis and handling of claims made against her. Indeed, Chua has alleged that the core allegation is demonstrably false.
Chaua alleges that material from her personnel file was leaked to a student journalist who knew of her punishment before she did. In a rebuttal memo, Chua pointed out what see said were glaring errors in the Yale Daily News article by Julia Brown. The article began with the announcement:
“Law professor 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.”
In her memo to the whole faculty, Chua recounts how she was shocked by the article and the inclusion of non-public information. She objects that “Confidential information about my agreement with Heather has been disclosed to students or the press.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.” She denied having a federal judge at her house for a party or having any such parties with students during the pandemic.
When Chua reached out to Law School Dean Heather Gerken, Chua says that the Dean confirmed what was in the article on her punishment and confronted her on these claims.
If true, that would seem a curious approach of any school, let alone a law school. Chua insists that she was never given an opportunity to refute the allegations and that non-public facts (and the punishment) were leaked to the media before she was informed of the decision.
Chua says that the article conflated and misconstrued core facts. It specifically alleges that Chua violated an agreement in a 2019 letter to cease drinking and socializing with students outside of class. This was tied to a two-year suspension reportedly imposed on her husband, Professor Jed Rubenfeld, for alleged verbal harassment, unwanted touching and attempted kissing of students — allegations that Rubenfeld has denied.
Chua claims that Gerken repeated the false claim in the Zoom meeting that she had hosted a federal judge at her home and other parties. She says that the claim is “insane” and never happened. That would seem a material fact that a law school might want to confirm before imposing such a sanction, let alone before someone improperly leaked the information to the press. Chua wrote:
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, including a student sending racist and terrifying violent messages to other students (and then disappearing), accusations of racism at the Law Journal, and most recently the outburst of anti-Asian violence that’s been in the news. 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. One of the students had received death threats; another student was sobbing because of violence directed at her mother. Jed was not present. On my own time, I’ve responded to students’ cries for help and tried my hardest to mentor and comfort students in times of crisis when they feel hopeless and alone—and for this, it appears, I’m being punished and publicly humiliated without anything remotely resembling due process.
It is impossible to judge the merits of these allegations from such statements in letters or articles. However, that is the point. There is no indication that Yale bothered to confirm these facts with the full participation of Professors Chua and Rubenfeld. The leaking of the story and inclusion of non-public information further shows evidence of animus against Chua.
The actions against Chua also seem in sharp contrast to other faculty like CNN analyst and Yale lecturer Asha Rangappa who was accused of doxing a student critic. Other Yale professors have engaged in equally controversial commentary like declaring Trump guilty of genocide. The concern of many conservative or libertarian faculty members is that any claim or alleged error will result in investigations and sanctions. A type of zero tolerance environment for any controversies involving faculty with opposing views. Yale, like most top law schools, has few conservative or libertarians on its faculty. Intellectual balance at most of these law schools seems increasingly to run from the left to the far left.
The main concern however is not ideology but clarity in how such cases are handled. One high-profile Yale professor was recently terminated but her case actually raises similar issues on the lack of clarity over standards applied by the university. Dr. Bandy Lee, a former faculty member in the School of Medicine and Yale Law School, spent four years violating the “Goldwater Rule” by offering faux diagnoses of President Trump from afar. Neither Yale law school nor its medical school made any objection. However, after receiving a letter from Alan Dershowitz about her similar diagnosis of his mental state, Lee was finally let go. There is no explanation of the standard applied and why it did not apply during the prior four years when Lee was one of the most high visibility faculty members at the law school. Even though I wrote numerous columns criticizing Lee for her unethical conduct, I remain concerned about the unclear grounds for her termination and the implications for free speech. There seems a lack of notice and clarity on the governing rules for faculty engaging in public debates outside of the school. Like the Chua case, it all seems dangerously improvisational and informal.
Professor Chua has demanded an investigation and, in my view, the entire faculty should support that demand. Whatever is found to be true about the merits, there is little question about the abusive process. The lack of notice and due process is chilling. When combined with the leak, it is hard not to see this action as hostile and retaliatory.