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Yale Law School is imploding.
What might be the single most prestigious academic institution in the United States is tearing itself apart in a manner befitting a Warsaw Pact country, with students spying on professors and on each other, politically-motivated inquisitions, and absurd demands for preferential treatment based on identity politics.
The central figures of the meltdown are two married professors, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.
On March 26, a group of students at Yale Law School approached the dean’s office with an unusual accusation: Amy Chua, one of the school’s most popular but polarizing professors, had been hosting drunken dinner parties with students, and possibly federal judges, during the pandemic.
Her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, also a law professor, is virtually persona non grata on campus, having been suspended from teaching for two years after an investigation into accusations that he had committed sexual misconduct.
At the law school, the episode has exposed bitter divisions in a top-ranked institution struggling to adapt at a moment of roiling social change. Students regularly attack their professors, and one another, for their scholarship, professional choices and perceived political views. In a place awash in rumor and anonymous accusations, almost no one would speak on the record. [NY Times]
Chua, whose classes are some of the most popular at Yale, has been stripped of the right to lead a small group (a collection of 10-15 first-year students that is a core part of the Yale Law experience). The school appears intent on driving her from the campus entirely.
The details are intricate, sordid, and almost impossible to untangle at a distance. But what’s very clear is that the attacks on Rubenfeld and Chua are not simply about their behavior. They are deeply intertwined with politics. While it’s easy to ridicule this as yet another episode in the decline of America’s elite Ivy League academies, the drama at Yale Law also reveals how much worse American meritocracy is about to become.
Professors Chua and Rubenfeld are both liberals, but they’re also, one person told Revolver, “the closest thing to a conservative presence at Yale Law.” Chua became a national celebrity in 2011 with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. In the book, Chua described her demanding parenting regimen for the couple’s two daughters.
Some of Chua’s other books, although written from a liberal perspective, have findings that contemporary nationalists might appreciate. World on Fire, published in 2003, warned that the drive to export free-market “democracy” around the world was fanning the flames of ethnic hatred. 2018’s Political Tribes pointed out that the rise of Donald Trump was fueled by the decay of America’s ruling class into smug, judgmental elitists who despised the core population of the country. Chua was also the rare liberal defender of Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation battle — her daughter even clerked for him.
Professor Rubenfeld, meanwhile, is one of America’s top legal scholars, and in 2014 he attracted notoriety as the most vocal liberal critic of the “affirmative consent” movement that swept the nation’s college campuses. For those who have forgotten, “affirmative consent” is the insane standard that a person is guilty of sexual assault if they do not receive prior explicit approval for any amorous advance. Imposing “affirmative consent” nationwide was a major left-wing fad of the mid-2010s, and Rubenfeld capably exposed the silliness of this.
Under this definition, a person who voluntarily gets undressed, gets into bed and has sex with someone, without clearly communicating either yes or no, can later say — correctly — that he or she was raped. This is not a law school hypothetical. The unambiguous consent standard requires this conclusion.
Sexual assault may not be perfectly defined even in the law, but that term has always implied involuntary sexual activity. The redefinition of consent changes that. It encourages people to think of themselves as sexual assault victims when there was no assault. [Rubenfeld, NYT]
More recently, he has fought tech censorship by representing an anti-vaccination group in its lawsuit against Facebook.
In other words, despite being liberals, the couple have piled up more than enough sins against the liberal religion to attract an army of enemies. And now, the two seem on the brink of being driven from Yale altogether. Rubenfeld has been suspended two years for alleged sexual harassment, though the actual allegations against him are remarkably mild (claims of attempted kisses and questions about students’ personal lives figure prominently). Professor Chua, meanwhile, is being targeted for hosting a handful of students at her home, which: 1. may have violated Yale’s strict coronavirus protocols (oh no!), 2. may have broken her own agreement in 2019 to not socialize with students outside the classroom, and most importantly, 3. infuriated several brittle students, who suggested that an adult meeting with another adult constituted “grooming.”
The whirlwind of jealousy and mental illness at the center of the Yale debacle is well illustrated by the “text message dossier,” a 20-page document compiled by a jealous Yale student and submitted to administrators as proof of Chua’s sinister wrongdoing. The texts show a Yale student peppering his classmates with questions about private visits to the Chua’s home, visits that in any sane society would be completely normal.
It’s impossible to read the document and not feel disturbed. There is a person who wakes up, eats, sleeps, and studies law at America’s most elite school who took hours to edit and compile this work of malicious gossip to take out a professor, and perhaps some students, that he or she didn’t like.
Revolver spoke with several current students at Yale Law School and others familiar with the events in the case. In a telling sign of the totalitarian vibe overtaking the nation’s elite institutions, none of them were willing to comment publicly. In fact, all of them seemed terrified at the prospect of being found out.
Whatever the truth of what’s happening there, one thing is clear: The actual behavior of the professors is only a tiny part of the story. This is just one episode in a long-running campaign to fully transform Yale Law School from a bastion of old American academia and culture to a post-merit facility for funneling money and prestige to the future commissars of the Globalist American Empire.
“The whole corona violation thing is a total pretense,” one current student told Revolver. He said politics, of both the university and national variety, are almost certainly the real driving force of the drama.
Another person close to the situation told Revolver that pressure against both Chua and Rubenfeld had been building for the better part of a decade, as their crimes against America’s new ruling ideology have accumulated. In 2014, more than 75 Yale law students (out of a student population of less than 700) signed a petition attacking Rubenfeld for his affirmative consent criticism. And in 2018, within weeks of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, both Chua and her husband came under investigation, and they’ve been under siege ever since. Rubenfeld was suspended, while Chua had to apologize for “inappropriate remarks” (made, in private, to other adults) and agree to curb her socializing with students. The events of 2021 are, in some ways, just the culmination of a years-long offensive within the academic bureaucracy.
None of the people Revolver spoke with could explicitly debunk allegations of misconduct against Rubenfeld and Chua. However, some of them pointed out relevant facts that the press has been disinclined to report. Chua, for instance, remains a very attractive woman into her 50s, while some of the students who have levied harassment allegations against her husband are, according to one person close to the matter, “morbidly obese.” True, feminist activists can lecture ad infinitum that harassment is about power and a cad with a pretty wife will still target ugly women. Those with common sense, though, recognize that outer and inner ugliness are substantial barriers to harassment, and substantial spurs to unjust allegations. Furthermore, rage over Rubenfeld’s scholarly efforts critiquing “affirmative consent” are the exact sort of provocation that would inspire shrill and hysterical allegations of misconduct.
According to Stephen, a current Yale Law student Revolver spoke with (Stephen is a pseudonym), the real drama with Chua is rooted in the basic nature of Yale Law School.
Yale is, indisputably, the most prestigious law school in the United States. Its students have the highest LSAT scores and the highest undergraduate GPAs. Admission to Yale Law School is a capstone to nearly 20 years of academic competition and striving.
But Yale has also positioned itself as the school where the rat race ends. While grading in most law schools is hyper-competitive, at Yale standard grades have been abolished altogether. There are no class ranks and no Latin honors.
For students who simply see Yale as a ticket into a lucrative corporate law job, the system works fine. But for fiercely competitive students (and it is hard to get into Yale without being deeply competitive), there’s a problem. The most prestigious job for any young lawyer to get is a Supreme Court clerkship. These clerkships offer a quick path into legal academia or a plum job at a top firm with a six-figure signing bonus. Supreme Court clerks are often on the fast-track to becoming judges themselves; six of the nine justices on the Court right now once clerked for it.
Securing a Supreme Court clerkship, in turn, typically requires landing a preliminary clerkship with a federal “feeder” judge. For instance, when he was a judge on the D.C. Circuit court of appeals, Brett Kavanaugh was a top feeder judge for clerks. In fact, every single other justice on the Court today has employed clerks who previously worked for Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit.
So, how does one get these feeder clerkships? At most schools, the process is relatively straightforward: Be at the absolute top of one’s law school class. But at Yale, there are no class rankings, and objectively measuring student achievement is difficult. Instead, the process is dominated by a small handful of professors whose recommendations carry enormous weight.
According to Stephen, Chua is a target for liberal activists in part because she is the least meritocratic figure in this “informal economy for getting clerkships.” Most of Yale’s top professors make their clerkship recommendations a de facto prize for the most impressive students in their classes. Chua, on the other hand, represents an alternative. Chua’s sponsorship does not depend on being the most academically brilliant. Instead, Chua is willing to help those with a good narratives or high emotional intelligence “play Moneyball” with the clerkship process. She rewards those with charisma and drive, or those she simply takes a special liking to. In the past, this made her a favorite of many identity groups on campus, as she was one of the best ways for an affirmative action-admit at the school to ascend even higher, despite otherwise being a relative mediocrity.
“Chua is good at recognizing that judges are sensitive to victim narratives,” Stephen said. “[But she wants] the person who can marry the victimhood narrative with discipline … She’s not helping the student who wants to burn it all down.”
But as progressive wokeism has accelerated, he said, Chua has been left behind.
“Chua’s sin is not that she is playing favorites,” Stephen said. “It’s that she is doing it in a way that cuts against the hierarchy they see.” To the extent Yale’s meritocracy is breaking down, he said, the cabal targeting Chua wants prizes to go to “the lazier, the dumber, the most activist, the most unhinged.” Chua has made herself the enemy by not giving herself over wholly to a political agenda.
“The heretic is much worse than the pagan,” Stephen said. “They may be using the language of meritocracy, but they want to go further in the other direction and have people just give them things based on their identity.”
According to Stephen, the long-term fix to Yale’s crisis would be for the school to adopt the same meritocratic practices that exist at other universities: Class ranks, real grades, and Latin honors. With a more explicit meritocracy in place, there would be no need for the informal racket of professorial recommendations which has caused so much drama. But Stephen said this solution would never happen, for obvious political reasons.
“It’ll end with more people like Chua, but just picking based on what this ruling class likes,” he said. “[The activists] want professors to reward people who come in and spend all their time on prison advocacy, building social media profiles, doing emotional labor, whatever.” Stephen added that while Yale’s older professors, no matter how liberal, were firm supporters of merit, new professors were already signaling a greater openness to politically-motivated recommendations.
This politicized economy of status is on the way not just because the most activist wing of students are demanding it, but because Yale dean Heather Gerken is happy to supply it.
“Gerken is a huge liberal ideologue,” another student said. “She wants to be politically relevant. She’s very careful to have all the right opinions. She sends cloying emails about every remotely relevant social justice current event.”
The student pointed out that Gerken had sent no emails about Aruna Khilanani’s recent lecture at Yale, in which she fantasized about shooting white people in the head. Gerken, meanwhile, has sent many emails about police shootings of black men that have nothing to do with Yale or New Haven.
This even speculated that she might be trying to transform the school into a more explicitly “woke” institution in a Hail Mary bid to get a Supreme Court nomination from Joe Biden if he manages to get two such nominations (his first has, naturally, been promised to a black woman).
Prior to Dinner Partygate, Yale was already ravaged by another controversy rooted in the tension between its elite status and its use of affirmative action to balance out its classes. In February, the Yale Law Journal was hit with allegations it was (surprise, surprise) racist against black applicants. As the Washington Free Beacon noted at the time, the opposite was in fact true, and black applicants to the journal benefited from substantial affirmative action:
The activists made no concrete demands about numeric representation but alleged “inequities” in Journal admissions. “Meeting with affinity groups to present platitudes about valuing diversity in the admissions process is insufficient,” the Black Law Students Association said.
The Journal must commit to fundamental changes to its governance structure, admissions policy, submission plan, and slating that will ensure this perpetuation of racism does not ever happen again.”
The numbers tell a different story, however. Not only are blacks and Hispanics elected for membership to the top law school’s most prestigious journal at a higher rate than their white counterparts, but the admissions rate for blacks—61 percent—is higher than that of any other ethnic group.
Blacks comprise 16 percent of Journal admits, and Latinos 14 percent—even though they make up just 7 percent and 11 percent percent of the student body, respectively. Increasing the share of these groups on the Journal would make it less representative of Yale Law School than it currently is. [Washington Free Beacon]
The panic attack at Yale is decades in the making. Half a century ago, California judge and Yale alum Macklin Fleming warned what would eventually occur if universities diluted meritocratic standards to favor “underprivileged” groups.
No one can be expected to accept an inferior status willingly. The black students, unable to compete on even terms in the study of law, inevitably will seek other means to achieve recognition and self-expression. This is likely to take two forms. First, agitation to change the environment from one in which they are unable to compete to one in which they can. Demands will be made for elimination of competition, reduction in standards of performance, adoption of courses of study which do not require intensive legal analysis, and recognition for academic credit of sociological activities which have only an indirect relationship to legal training. Second, it seems probable that this group will seek personal satisfaction and public recognition by aggressive conduct, which, although ostensibly directed at external injustices and problems, will in fact be primarily motivated by the psychological needs of the members of the group to overcome feelings of inferiority caused by lack of success in their studies. Since the common denominator of the group of students with lower qualifications is one of race this aggressive expression will undoubtedly take the form of racial demands. [National Affairs]
Dean Gerken herself represents the decline of Yale. Her predecessors as dean of Yale Law include Guido Calabresi, who co-founded the field of law and economics, and Robert Maynard Hutchins, who became dean at just 28 years old before becoming one of the foremost educational philosophers of the 20th century. Gerken, on the other hand, is notable for, well, writing nine vampire romance novels for her daughter to read.
What to make of all this? The campaign to take down Chua shows the nature of the decay of meritocracy in America. One hundred percent pure test-based meritocracy isn’t always the best system. Sometimes, it’s worth having backdoors for unconventionally qualified people to reach opportunities. Amy Chua, in her way, tried to create these opportunities. If her mentee J.D. Vance becomes the America First statesman he has shown the potential to become, it will be a victory for her methods.
But in the modern Globalist American Empire, bucking meritocracy is only acceptable when one is going fully woke. For the activist cabal, it’s not enough that they can make it all the way to the country’s #1 law school by being reasonably bright and then getting preferential treatment. They want the entire system to be politicized. They want the absolute best legal jobs in the country — the Supreme Court clerkships, the professorships, the judicial nominations — to be handed out purely for identity reasons. To get that reality, they will destroy anybody in their path, even distinguished and genuinely liberal professors. They won’t be happy until a flawed merit-based system has been completely overthrown for a system built entirely on privilege — the privilege of membership in the right race or the right post-modern sexual minority.
In late 2020, Revolver profiled the sad decline of the Rhodes Scholarship. Once the supreme marker of undergraduate achievement in the United States, woke politics have transformed the Rhodes Scholarship into just another zombie organization handing out lifetime achievement awards for left-wing activism. Instead of rewarding people showing a talent for literature, or science, or statesmanship, the Rhodes Trust has been handing out scholarships to non-binary anti-imperialist Inuit poets, illegal immigrants, and the founders of gratuitous diversity, inclusion, equity groups on already-left-wing campuses. These assorted activists and freak shows are then presented to the public as the summit of American academic achievement.
But the root of the shift, we explained, wasn’t simply in changing elite values, but structural changes to the scholarship process:
In the past, 50 separate state committees chose finalists, after which eight regional committees selected four scholarship winners apiece. Now, the process is only single-step, with 16 regional committees picking two winners, with no state finalist phase.
The Scholar noted that under the old system even if a committee wanted to choose an under-qualified candidate for the sake of “diversity,” they tended to only make one such pick among the four winners. Under the new system, with 16 regional committees, there is still a tendency to make at least one “diverse” pick, but now such winners comprise half of all selections rather than just one fourth.
The new selection process encourages left-wing activism over real achievement in another way, the Scholar said.
“The old system involved up to 500 people, mostly older Rhodes Scholars, interviewing across the two levels,” she said. “Now the system involves perhaps 100 or 120 people, so it’s much easier to stack the entire process completely with liberals. And that’s definitely what the US Secretary who runs it wants to do.”
While the Rhodes Trust has gone rotten faster than Yale Law, the same forces are in play. A hyperprogressive organizational leader is teaming up with highly motivated low-level operatives to change a once-great institution into a vehicle for politics. With Rhodes, the organization has already become a complete joke unworthy of respect. Yale isn’t quite there yet. But it is closer to collapse than it first appears.
And as Yale goes, so goes every other institution in the country.