June 8, 2021

"And we all know that this is about payback for supporting Brett Kavanaugh, no more. If it brings the law school bad press..."

"... and ruins the already disappointing deanship of Heather Gerken — spoiler, it has — then that’s justice. Just read this, and imagine putting any of these people in charge of your life, your liberty, or your business’s future."

Glenn Reynolds weighs in on the Yale Law School controversy. This is the complicated Amy Chua/Jed Rubenfeld matter that I'm not taking any position on, because I don't trust the witnesses.

Meanwhile, at Lawyers, Guns & Money, Paul Campos is reviling Chua and Rubenfeld.

Campos quotes NY Magazine...
Three other professors [said] that Chua is the victim of overzealous zoomers who have confused the natural hierarchy of achievement — and Chua’s right to favor whomever she wants — with a social-justice outrage. “There are a lot of mediocre students at Yale who were superstars in their little county fairs, and now they’re in the Kentucky Derby and they’re not winning their races and they feel like it’s unfair because other students are doing better,” says one faculty member who thinks the dean, Heather Gerken, was too deferential to students in how she handled the small-group affair.
... and goes nuclear:
This person should be fired directly into the Sun. It’s basically impossible to get into YLS without perfect everything, and the analogy between running the Belmont in 2:24 and impressing a bunch of wankers on the YLS faculty with your talent for subtle ingratiation disguised as “brilliance” is, shall we say, not a super tight one.

It's easy for me to picture how the most elite admissions process could lead to a student body that, in action, feels like "a lot of mediocre students." But that's a dreadful dysfunction of the institution that the faculty is responsible for. It's truly contemptible to stand aloof and blame your students. 

And the use of the rural setting for the analogy — little county fairs — is out-and-proud snobbery of the most embarrassing kind. Little county fairs and the Kentucky Derby — that's rich. Is there horse racing at a county fair? I'd really like to know who came up with that dimwitted analogy, and I can see why it pissed Campos off. He's right that in that analogy, winning the Kentucky Derby is analogized to ingratiating yourself to law professors.

But what we don't really know is what kind of ingratiating was going on with the great power couple that was Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld? Was it something different — creepier and more sexual — than the ingratiating that goes on with other Yale lawprofs?


Ann Althouse said...

DaveL writes:

"It seems pretty clear after reading the NYT article that Chua was attacked for having supported Brett Kavanaugh. It also seems pretty clear that, collecting all the references to the facts of the case, the accusations were completely unsupported and twitter-exaggerated. Finally, the Yale Law School needs a new head. Twitter had a one-hour global outage yesterday. Let us pray for a permanent one."

Ann Althouse said...

Leslie writes:

The only thing I concluded from all of this is that Amy Chua (and maybe her husband?) have an old-fashioned drinking problem/possibly are alcoholics.

In the olden days, students recognized when the root of the problem with a weird prof was chronic excessive drinking. I had several profs like that.

These days, I'm not sure that a student is able to see that that's what is going on (if that is what is going on) because there are so many competing explanations on offer.

"She's a drunk and needs to go to AA" is what might have been said in the old days.

I wouldn't conclude that. It seems more like an addiction to power than to drink. Drink is a lubricant for socializing, and this seems to have been the use of socializing to wield power. It just seems too ambitious and connected to elite power to be a garden-variety drinking problem.

Ann Althouse said...

Birches writes:

"I read through the article posted yesterday with the idea that I would dismiss it as Glenn did. I have to admit that there was some substance to the allegations against Rubenfeld however. But I was very bothered by the article because of the incoherence of the format. The story was strongest when it discussed one law student's relationship with Rubenfeld, but when it got to the most powerful accusations against him, it went back to Chua and her relationship with Kavanaugh and JD Vance. It really made me believe that the whole thing was BS. If Rubenfeld is a sexual harasser, great, get him. But don't go for the two for one because of whom his wife interacts with. It feels manufactured. Like Kavanaugh 2.0."

Ann Althouse said...

Dave Begley writes: "The Keya Paha County Fair in Nebraska has a rodeo and a great barn dance."

Ann Althouse said...

Tina writes:

What goes entirely unexamined here is the glaring fact that the best Yale students are no more objectively skilled or intelligent than the best law students at the tiny state schools they mock. Yale’s big draw isn’t superior legal education or accomplishment: it is the name Yale, which in turn is pimped out to the best connected and most desirable, (not most intellectual, with a few exceptions). Yale likes children of fame, social power, great wealth, certain activism, and the cream of the very special race/gender/sexuality crop.

Clerkship are public service jobs, and so they should go to the most accomplished, skilled, productive, and intelligent students distributed across the U.S. rather than from a handful of institutions that discredit themselves by playing fairy godmother then stamp their feet when they aren’t bowed to properly. No wonder they’re a neurotic, illogical mess. And I’ve never met an intellectual who couldn’t screw up sex crime law either through publication, rumination, or personal behavior. The campus feminists set real sex crime prosecutions back decades while we on the front lines of unambiguously horrific crimes watched public attitudes towards victims sour at the spectacle of slut-walks and frivolous demands that bad dates be treated like violent gang rapes. Your professor smooches you in the hallway of his house? Punch him in the nose if you oppose that on principle, and don’t go back. That should clear things up nicely. Try to leave a mark everyone can see. If you’d rather keep quiet to protect some future clerkship, then don’t complain: that’s the price you’re apparently willing to pay.

Ann Althouse said...

Elizabeth writes:

I think the analogy is apt but at the same time inaccurate. Yes, there is horse racing at county fairs, at least in CA. It’s a huge part of the fairs and the state fair. The horses that run at the regular, second-tier tracks move to the fair circuit in the summer. County fair racing is great! But, no, it’s not the top-level horses.

But it’s inaccurate, because it can’t possibly describe very many (if any) YLS students, at least based on how the article describes their admissions. Unless they admit some based on pay-to-play rather than qualifications. (The Derby has pay-to-play horses in the field…)

Odd to have a professor basically insult students at such an elite institution.

Ann Althouse said...

Alex writes:

I believe the appropriate response from normal people to the Yale bruhaha is to root for injuries.

I think that the Kentucky Derby analogy is fine. I think the real offense is that Ms. Chua said the unspoken part aloud: that it's not entirely about academics. To get ahead you need to be good at building relationships with people who can help you. This goes for law school, partnership track at a prestigious law firm, government work, etc. We're supposed to pretend that we're a pure meritocracy where everything can be reduced down to a quantifiable state and a single score somewhere, but it can't be. Sometimes the boss simply likes the other guy more. The problem is that you have a student body most of whom have spent their lives carefully crafting their resumes and sucking up to the right people in order to get ahead. In their high schools and undergrad programs they were probably the smartest, hardest working students there. They knew which teachers to impress, which local leaders could give them the best recommendations, etc. Now, they're somewhere that all their peers are equal or better than they are, and it's a shock.

I find the mediocre students line to be more interesting. Is the perception that the students are mediocre one based on an overexposure to high-performing students, or is it something else? Like I said above, you have a student body who have likely spent their lives preparing to get into Yale. They've taken all the right classes, passed all the correct tests, and have picture-perfect resumes. But, in the process did they end up casting aside everything that makes them unique, makes them interesting, and makes them stand out? What often distinguishes the mediocre from the exceptional is a willingness to take risks, an ability to see situations from a different perspective, and an ability to apply the first two into novel solutions to problems. Those traits tend to be suppressed when your life is spent checking boxes and sucking up to someone else.

Ann Althouse said...

Skeptical Voter writes:

It’s not a terribly pretty sight at Yale—infighting and recriminations over who gets invited, and who does not get invited to a professor’s home. But that crack about little county fairs hit home. I went up to Boalt Hall at Berkeley in the fall of 1965. I’d come from a large California state college ( a “big county fair”). And yes there was horse racing at the local county fair in the summer. I can understand fear and anxiety among law students.

I’m blessed with a sticky memory and quick recall. College was easy, my grades were high, and the school’s pre law advisor told me I’d had the highest LSAT score seen at my college in years. When I got to Boalt, I looked around at my fellow 1L students and saw some really smart people—much smarter than me. One of them had been a research assistant at Harvard to theologian Paul Tillich. I’d married just before law school and my wife wanted us to return to her hometown to practice. I didn’t know much about the practice of law (my family had engineers and school teachers). I looked at Martindale Hubbell to see the qualifications of lawyers practicing in the larger firms in that city, reasoning that those firms would probably have an opening when I graduated in 1968. Most of the lawyers in those firms were law review and Order of the Coif, i.e. from the top 10% of their law school classes (you “graded on” to law reviews in those days). I knew I wasn’t as able as many of my classmates; but I also knew I could work harder than many of them. Richard Nixon’s comment about his “iron backside” studying at Duke Law comes to mind.

I made the review, and Coif, and got a spot at the biggest firm in my wife’s home town. But hard work won’t overcome great brain power. That research assistant to Tillich graduated number one in the class, and was Editor in Chief of the review. He went on to a forty year career teaching at large Midwestern law school.

Ann Althouse said...

Colorado Dude writes:

"Alex wrote an extremely perceptive final paragraph in his comment on this post. May I add a coda, please?

"He discussed what distinguishes “the mediocre from the exceptional.” He omitted one way to stand out nowadays: advocating the cancel culture movement. It will be supremely interesting to see whether top ranked schools’ students who are cancel culture campus leaders are hired due to their activities OR absolutely excluded from consideration as obvious troublemakers."

Ann Althouse said...

Ken writes:

"There are too many unreliable witnesses to be confident of what happened. But you don’t need to be sure what happened to presume innocence and require proof."

It's not a criminal trial. There are multiple people involved and some or all are lying or distorting. There's no way to do justice to everyone based on what's in the press. Evidence is offered, and the school knows more than it is sharing. Did the school -- notably the Dean -- handle it wrongly? You can't decide without casting aspersions on someone, so that's why I'm keeping a neutral position.

Ann Althouse said...

Bill writes:

"You never went to a county fair? Back in the day harness races were a thing—70 years ago. Can’t vouch for today."

Yes, I've gone to a county fair, and it didn't have horse racing. But I didn't exclude the possibility that some country fairs have horse racing. That's why I asked. The Dane County Fair -- in my county -- has farm animals, not race horses!

Ann Althouse said...

another old lawyer writes:

"You shouldn't trust the reporting either. With any complicated situation, if you're relying on a single source of reporting to make a judgment, the likelihood of your judgment being correct is probably not much greater than random chance. I mean, how many incomplete and contradictory reports and claims have you read about any Covid issue? What's the likelihood you read the right report/claim in whatever you read first?"

I have never trusted the reporting. Not on this or on anything.

The people who are expressing a strong opinion here seems to be reacting to the Brett Kavanaugh issue.

Ann Althouse said...

Paul writes:

"Most county fairs I have been to race sulky horses (essentially the horse is dragging a rider who is in a cart). They do not race thoroughbred horses with a jockey on the horse’s back, Kentucky Derby style. So the analogy seems a tad strained, but the message is clear, some significant number of YLS students were wunderkids at their college and just average among the incredibly talented field in the law school, and they are striking out at favoritism shown."

Ann Althouse said...

Jonathan writes:

"I'm sympathetic to the ideal that you shouldn't have to schmooze to be selected on merits, but it's unrealistic to expect a crusade claiming to do that will have anything other than typical union outcomes, i.e. the leaders of the movement profiting and no one else."

Ann Althouse said...

Alex writes:

"Colorado Dude is correct. I've long said that social justice is about social positioning on the left. The goal is to demonstrate that the social justice warrior is more ideologically pure than his peers, able to whip up a mob on command, and at the same time allows him to target potential rivals who are deemed insufficiently woke. It's a perfect example of gaming the system, in that it uses the rules of the system in a way which maximizes one person's benefit even at the cost of acting in exact opposite the original intent of the rules. I suspect that we'll see this sort of activism rewarded for a while. It's not going to stop until there is push back from the culture at large, and push-back hard."

Ann Althouse said...

Richard writes:

“the rural setting for the analogy — little county fairs — is out-and-proud snobbery…”

Why, yes it is, but contempt for Fly Over Country is nothing new in certain precincts. Just ask JD Vance. And any place with a county fair, little or otherwise, is almost surely some shade of deplorable Red. It’s like whining about the NYT taking a lefty perspective on everything – yes they do, and for another news flash, the sun also rose in the East today.

The entertaining aspect of the whole thing is how it’s proving the cliché about academics and their picayune fights and how nasty those fights quickly become. So Chua plays favorites (and her critics don’t?); Rubenfeld likes to channel his inner Professor Kingsfield, what with cold-calling students while pressing intentionally provocative hypos, giving them the death-stare and perhaps even a bit of the Biden-handsy stuff to boot (OK, that last one is gross, but perhaps there is another side to that part of the story given how many knives are being sharpened by those looking to bury one in Chua/Rubenfeld). I don’t remember the university as such a snake-pit back in the day. Progress to a progressive, I suppose. My kids (youngest has one more year to go) have all learned how to play that game – a survival skill that will undoubtedly come in handy.

Instapundit says the objective in trying to cancel Chua and Rubenfeld is payback. Perhaps, but to put the same idea in larger context, the objective is just control – who gets to decide what anyone in the Sacred Halls is allowed to say or advocate, who decides what are the bounds of acceptable opinion, ultimately who gets to pick the next generation of the Anointed. You saw the same thing at Harvard when Ronald Sullivan was canceled as a dean for having been so gross as to be part of the Harvey Weinstein defense team. Before him was Amy Wax at Penn, for imaging that middle-class virtues might be preferable on certain metrics to the alternatives on offer. Or two adjuncts at Georgetown LS who were canned for noticing (and lamenting) that the bottom quadrant of their classes in terms of grades was overpopulated by a Certain Demographic That Must Not Be Named.

The commissars intend to make sure that no Bad-Think will be allowed, no notice will be taken of certain realities, and no voice will be permitted to question the Narrative. Lux et Veritas, indeed. Lovely, just lovely.

Ann Althouse said...

Bart writes:

The issue of students feeling bothered, offended, or whatever is not unique to Yale, nor is it new. I remember one student at Middlebury, where I did my BSc [Geology '71] complaining about having been given a C in Geo 101.

"But I was a straight-A student all through high school !!" ... "So was pretty much everyone else here at Midd. That's average around here, and average is a C. If you want better than a C, you'll have to study harder, pay better attention, and learn more. That's on you, and I know you can do better."

She took it to heart, and went on to become a world-renowned volcanologist in an era when women in the discipline were quite rare, and only 9 percent of Americans were college grads at all.

Ann Althouse said...

Douglas writes:

"I am writing to comment on the “mediocre” student point. There is a curve at Yale, just like everywhere else. Even though YLS supposedly doesn’t have grades, somehow everyone knows who’s the top student in the class. The students at the bottom of that curve aren’t very good. If you are grading exams at Yale, I would wager that a handful are great, some are terrible, and most are mediocre and largely indistinguishable, just like at Wisconsin or Harvard or any other good law school. That’s the point."

Under the requirement to distribute grades to meet a curve, I had to become a reader who saw the differences and became attuned to where the center was and what belong at the extremes. If I had had some other goal, such as passing everyone but finding a few to distinguish with "H" for honors (and theoretically failing someone if somehow that ever happened), I would probably read more quickly and see averageness everywhere.

I don't know what Yale Law School's grading system is now, but what I describe above is what it had for many years. So much easier for profs to grade!