Paul L. Caron

Saturday, October 23, 2021

A Worrisome Peek Inside Yale Law’s Diversity Bureaucracy


Following up on my previous posts (links below):  The Atlantic, A Worrisome Peek Inside Yale Law’s Diversity Bureaucracy:

Yale Law Logo (2020)Have you ever wondered what deans of diversity do behind closed doors? Until last week, the public had little visibility into their methods. Then covertly recorded audio emerged of Yaseen Eldik, Yale Law School’s director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and Ellen Cosgrove, an associate dean, pressuring a student to issue a written apology for emailing out a party invitation that offended some of his classmates.

The Yale Law student in question, Trent Colbert, belongs to two student groups, the Native American Law Students Association, or NALSA, and the conservative Federalist Society. He emailed members of the former group that “we will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House … by throwing a Constitution Day Bash in collaboration with FedSoc,” adding that refreshments would include “Popeye’s chicken, basic-bitch-American-themed snacks (like apple pie, etc.),” and various beverages. That is what offended some of Colbert’s peers, including the president of the Black Law Students Association, who reportedly likened Colbert’s references to “Trap House” and Popeyes to blackface.

A dispute over a party invitation—even an arguably offensive one—may sound more like a matter for a high-school vice principal than one for Ivy League deans. Nevertheless, the diversity administrators spent many hours on this low-stakes drama among high-IQ adults, affording outsiders an unusual peek at their methods and a related series of crucial mistakes, most stemming from an inability or unwillingness to see how the interests of students diverge from the interests and incentives of their office. Irrespective of whether the invitation was racially offensive, the behavior of Yale Law’s diversity bureaucrats was unethical, discreditable, and clearly incompatible with key values that the elite law school purports to uphold.

Similar diversity offices are now operating at institutions around the country, but their inner workings remain mysterious to many faculty members and students. The Yale Law controversy raises the underexamined question of what it actually means for diversity offices to ethically fulfill their mission, and whether choices made behind closed doors would retain support if exposed to sunlight. ...

The audio in this controversy affords a rare opportunity to examine how administrators involved themselves behind the scenes and clarify why some observers are appalled by those actions. While trying to placate students aggrieved by Colbert’s message, Yale diversity officials made five major errors: ...

The most significant question that remains unanswered at Yale Law School: Was this case unusual, or do the diversity bureaucrats at Yale treat lots of people this way behind closed doors? Cosgrove and Gerken, the law school’s dean, figured prominently in my colleague Elizabeth Bruenig’s report on a bizarre controversy that erupted around Amy Chua, a prominent Yale Law professor whom administrators apparently punished in the spring. Some students had made murky complaints that Chua had entertained other students at her home—and that this was evidence of a threat to students’ safety. Bruenig attributed the dispute to “the culture of elite institutions, where putatively righteous ends justify an array of troubling means, and noble public virtues like fairness and safety cloak more prosaic motives.”

The school’s faculty have a collective responsibility to probe what’s being done in their name.

In a statement Monday, Gerken said that ensuring that Yale Law lives up to its values is her responsibility, “and I stand ready to take any steps necessary to do so.” She added, “I will not, however, act on the basis of partial facts reported out in a charged media environment, as that would be a disservice both to members of our community and to the norms of our profession.”

Ian Ayres, the law school’s deputy dean, will lead a review of the incident. If the assessment is to prove useful, it should ask how deeply Yale Law truly believes something else that Gerken wrote in her message:

The vigorous exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of this Law School. Protecting free speech is a core value of any academic institution; so too is cultivating an environment of respect and inclusion. These two values are mutually reinforcing and sit at the heart of an intellectual community like ours. There are times when it can be a challenge to balance these twin values.

Failing to adequately protect free speech was just the beginning of what Yale Law's diversity administrators got wrong in Colbert’s case. Never mind the office’s question-begging name. Withholding important context from the community, exploiting asymmetries of information to pressure a student, pretending to be acting on his behalf, obscuring clear conflicts of interest, and ghostwriting apologies in an academic setting are all ethical failures that—contrary to Gerken’s wishes for her institution—cultivate neither respect nor inclusion.

New Haven Register, Yale Law School Looking Into Controversy Over a Party Invitation

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