Last year Yale law professor and husband to Tiger Mom author Amy Chua Jeb Rubenfeld was placed on a two-year suspension from teaching after the school found that he had sexually harassed three students. But the specifics of the allegations against Rubenfeld, which included verbal harassment and attempted kissing, have been largely confidential. Now a New York Magazine piece about allegations against Rubenfeld, who has been accused of making inappropriate comments and engaging in “excessive drinking” with students, details Rubenfeld’s sexual misconduct with students and the Yale power couple’s abuse of power at a university structured to give them far too much in the first place.
As students describe to New York’s Irin Carmon, Rubenfeld and Chua (collectively known as “Chubenfeld”) were known to hold the golden ticket for those looking to nab prestigious clerkships; the piece notes that the most prestigious of those clerkships can include signing bonuses of $400,000 on top of a six-figure salary. The recruiting process for those clerkships relies on professors’ endorsements, which made winning Rubenfeld and Chua’s affection crucial for students. From reading the piece, it’s clear this created a culture in which students were uneasy to resist Rubenfeld and Chua’s demands, given their collective power not just at the university but in law at large.
It’s why a student in Rubenfeld’s 2014 “small group,” groups of 16 to 18 students led by one member of the law school faculty, felt like she had to sit through a conversation with the professor in which he asked students questions like, “the statistic that one in five women had been raped — was that true in their experience?” or “What would they do if their partner wanted them to do something they weren’t comfortable with during a sexual encounter?” Rubenfeld also fancied himself a provocateur, once reportedly asking in class if it was “okay to penetrate a baby,” offering up the fact that “you use a spoon to feed a baby.”
One night Rubenfeld, after ordering himself and the 2014 student a round of drinks specifically after seeing her order Scotch, “would start leaning toward her, touching her arm or the small of her back as he joined a conversation, or staring into her eyes,” according to New York. And on another night, at a small group party at Rubenfeld’s home, the same student said she accidentally tripped on a staircase and suddenly found herself being cradled by the professor as he attempted to kiss her. Rubenfeld would later deny this in proceedings, saying “She is not someone I would call attractive,” and went on a rant in which he admitted that she wasn’t even the first woman who had accused him of trying to kiss her.
A teaching fellow who had also been a small group student of Rubenfeld’s also describes a moment when, serving as his teaching assistant, he put his arm around her waist and squeezed it during a small group event. On another occasion, during a night meeting about a paper, Rubenfeld asked the teaching fellow why she wasn’t married, saying she must have been the prettiest girl in her high school and that “it must have been tough with the boys, being a smart girl.” In the compiled list of anonymized accounts that complainants received, another former student wrote, “he repeatedly steered our conversations away from my paper toward my looks, my personal life, and things of a sexual nature.” Six complainants say they believe Rubenfeld flirted with them, and some said they even rearranged their course schedules to avoid his classes and spoke less in class.
Chua would also invite her respective small group to her home, or throw parties in which students were invited. At one party in New York City, a student said Chua told her that her “big brown beautiful eyes” were a distraction in class, inviting Rubenfeld to comment on them as well. Another student said that Chua speculated about the sexuality of her students and “mimicked a student with a disability in class one day,” all of which Chua denies.
The socializing seemingly required of Yale law students, the drinking, the partying, the sharing of embarrassing stories with your professors, created a culture in which students felt like they had no choice but to participate, even if it meant that socializing crossed the line with students several times. “I don’t think you need to be drinking buddies with your professor to be professionally successful,” one current student tells the magazine. For Chua and Rubenfeld, clearly they demanded even more.
(Updated 3/3/22 with new details)