One of my professors during my Ph.D. years described academia as a small town with a weekly newspaper. As it happens, I now live in a small town with a weekly newspaper, and I can attest to the accuracy of her metaphor.
Of course, like any small town, we love our gossip, and whether you’re in Mondoville or academia, the best gossip is generally about the rich folks on the hill.
That brings us to Yale Law profs Amy (“Tiger Mom“) Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, erstwhile Big Profs on Campus who are now awfully close to personae non gratae. Rubenfeld has been accused of being a serial sexual harasser of law students (accusations seemingly confirmed by the Elis, who have relieved him of various duties), while Chua has, for many years, hosted get-togethers for groups of her ostensible mentees. Reportedly, those get-togethers have occasionally gotten out of hand and caused the students discomfort, while other students believe themselves to be disadvantaged in the quest for things like clerkships by not being in this bizarre version of Miss Jean Brodie’s “set.” [Side note: If creepy dinner parties are that discomfiting to these students, one can only imagine how they might handle answering questions from say, a SCOTUS justice. Discomfort (like education) can take many forms. End of side note.]
Per an article in New York magazine’s “Intelligencer” section,
It turns out Chua, too, was investigated by a fact finder, hired by the law school, who looked into claims that she had abused her power over the clerkship process, made inappropriate comments, and engaged in “excessive drinking” with students. In 2019, Chua incurred a “substantial financial penalty,” according to a letter complainants received; accepted limits on socializing with students; and apologized to complainants for “remarks I made in jest or frustration that were capable of being misinterpreted in a way that made them seem hurtful or intimidating.”
This was all secret until this April, when the Yale Daily News reported that Chua would no longer be teaching a small group. Students had gone to the administration with, among other items, screen-grabbed text messages between students with secondhand accounts of socializing at Chua’s house, which were then circulated over email and subsequently republished on the Above the Law blog. Such gatherings also violated COVID-19 safety protocols.
OK, fine, or not fine depending on one’s perspective, I guess. The tempest continues, as Chua has been accused of further activity of this sort. But what caught my eye about this was a quote from an unidentified Yale prof, and that has become this installment of the QotD:
“There’s a weird schism among the students where they want the place to be utterly transparent and utterly equitable,” mused [the unidentified prof], “but they also want to keep the prestige and privilege that the place affords.”
The Old Boys’ Network for me, but not for thee, huh? Funny how that works, and it’s one of the things that makes me glad to be in the working-class neighborhood of academia’s small town.
A tip of the Mondo Mortarboard to Margaret Soltan, of the indispensable University Diaries.