Yale Law Professor Is Suspended After Sexual Harassment Inquiry

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Jed Rubenfeld, a prominent professor at Yale Law School, was widely known as someone who could jump-start students’ careers by helping them secure coveted clerkships with federal judges.

But this week, another narrative about Mr. Rubenfeld’s behavior toward students burst into public view as university officials said that Yale had suspended him from the faculty for two years and would restrict his interactions with students upon his return to the campus in New Haven, Conn.

The suspension followed a university investigation into allegations that Mr. Rubenfeld, a faculty member for 30 years, had sexually harassed female students, both verbally and by attempting to kiss or touch them without their consent, according to people with knowledge of the inquiry.

Credit…Peter Kramer/NBCUniversal, via Getty Images

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Rubenfeld, 61, denied that he had harassed anyone, or kissed or touched anyone without consent. But he acknowledged making comments to students over the years that he regretted, and said inquiries into allegations against him had begun in 2018.

“I have been teaching for 30 years,” he said. “I have made jokes and comments that I would not make today and I wish I had not made. This may have made students uncomfortable. I respect students for coming forward if it did.”

He added: “But I never sexually harassed anybody. That’s a completely a different thing.”

The news of the suspension was reported by New York magazine on Wednesday morning.

Former Yale Law School students have said that Mr. Rubenfeld, and his wife, Amy Chua, are seen as having a distinctive ability to land clerkships for favored students. Ms. Chua is also a law professor at Yale and is perhaps best known for her 2011 memoir, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.”

Kathryn Pogin, who graduated from the law school this year and had a class with Mr. Rubenfeld, called Mr. Rubenfeld and Ms. Chua a “power couple.”

“They’re both very charismatic and well-connected,” said Ms. Pogin, who now studies philosophy at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Ms. Pogin, who said she had not filed a complaint about Mr. Rubenfeld, said she believed that some students might not have come forward with allegations about his behavior because of the professors’ influence.

Ms. Chua declined to comment on Mr. Rubenfeld’s suspension. But she denied having “special connections” with judges.

“Many judges trust me because I am willing to put in the time to mentor and get to know my students, especially minorities and students from state schools and marginalized backgrounds that judges would normally not hire,” she said.

Yale is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious law schools in the country. Student activists, however, have increasingly said in recent years that it has turned a blind eye to the behavior of its alumni and faculty. Their criticism grew in 2018, when Brett M. Kavanaugh, who graduated from the school in 1990, was nominated to the Supreme Court and allegations of sexual misconduct were leveled against him.

The news of Mr. Rubenfeld’s suspension was contained in a message sent to some faculty members earlier this week. His faculty web page was no longer accessible on Yale’s website on Wednesday, and emails sent to his Yale account did not go through.

Yale declined to comment on the suspension, but a message sent on Wednesday to the law school community from Heather K. Gerken, the dean of Yale Law School, acknowledged “press reports” regarding “faculty misconduct.”

“While we cannot comment on the existence of investigations or complaints, the law school and the university thoroughly investigate all complaints regarding violations of university rules and the university adjudicates them whenever it is appropriate to do so,” she said. “The law school has a responsibility to provide a safe environment in which all of our students can live and learn in a community of mutual respect.”

The people with knowledge of the inquiries, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said Ms. Gerken had pushed for a fair, thorough investigation into the allegations against Mr. Rubenfeld.

The professor himself had been outspoken about issues of sexual consent and how universities deal with rape investigations. In an op-ed published in The New York Times in 2014, he wrote that rape investigations were “unreliable and error-prone” and that “mistaken findings of guilt are a real possibility.” He also criticized definitions of consent, writing that “sex with someone under the influence is not automatically rape.”

In the interview on Wednesday, Mr. Rubenfeld said the op-ed drew heated criticism. “Ever since then, I began to be targeted with false allegations against me,” he added.

He declined to say whether he was being paid by the university during his suspension.

Ms. Pogin, the Yale graduate, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the suspension.

“Meaningful accountability of tenured professors for sexual misconduct at Yale has historically been rare,” she said. “Given how long the university took with this investigation, many of us thought Yale was stalling until our class graduated, and so would no longer be there to protest if nothing happened.”

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