Paul L. Caron

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Lat: Yale Law Faculty Meets Amidst Multiple Scandals And Controversies

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  David Lat (Original Jurisdiction; J.D. 1999, Yale), As The Yale Law School World Turns:

Yale Law Logo (2020)The New Haven soap opera continues—with a faculty meeting this afternoon that should be quite the showdown.

Happy Friday. It’s time for some updates in everyone’s favorite legal-academic soap opera, As the Yale Law School World Turns.

As usual, I assume familiarity with all recent scandals and controversies at Yale Law School, including Dinner Party-gateTrap House-gate, and Antiracism Training-gate. Also as usual, I reached out to the YLS administration for comment, providing them by email with detailed bullet points listing the core factual points in this post. The administration issued this statement, through spokesperson Debra Kroszner: “We are not going to respond to speculation and false accusations made anonymously in the press. Dean Gerken is committed to maintaining the confidentiality of faculty deliberations, as is our norm, and we have no further comment.”

Alrighty then! There’s a lot to cover, so let’s dive right in. ...

There has been another (unjustified) uproar related to the Yale Federalist Society.

On November 5, the Yale Federalist Society hosted a murder-mystery event—as it has done every semester for the past three semesters, without incident. This year’s event was called “Hell to the Chief: A Murder Mystery of Political Intrigue,” and it involved the murder of a fictitious chief justice.

On November 23, Joe Patrice wrote a post on Above the Law about the murder-mystery party, with the title FedSoc’s Capitol Riot/Presidential Assassination Party Plan Totally Tracks. He blasted the event as “a murder mystery based on killing a president thrown by this group in the months after their fellow travelers stormed the Capitol forcing the evacuation of the Vice President.”

Alas, Patrice wrote his ATL post based on nothing more than the cover art for the invitation, which is like reviewing a play based on the promotional poster. So he got a few things wrong, as noted by Zack Austin, president of the Yale Federalist Society, in this request for a correction (emphasis added):

First, the storyline of the murder mystery was not that “the [P]resident is killed in some sort of coup attempt,” nor was it even remotely related to January 6th. The evening’s pretend murder victim was not the President, but rather a fictitious Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The cover image you included in your article depicts the Supreme Court’s chambers.

Obviously we were not cheering for the assassination of a federal judge. As it happens, my fiancée’s eldest brother had to miss our engagement because he was assigned to protect Judge Esther Salas after her son was murdered by a violent misogynist last year.

Perhaps more importantly, the ATL post misrepresented the central message behind the event, as Austin explained (emphasis added):

Second, your comments that the event constituted “intentional trolling,” “obliviousness,” or implicit advocacy of insurrection are not rooted in fact. To confirm this, you might ask your source to take a photo of the back of the cover sheet. Each was printed with a foreword where the author explained that the game’s purpose was to serve as a cautionary tale and to reinforce the importance of the rule of law and the danger of unchecked power. Saying that we lacked self-awareness contradicts the actual moral of the game.

When I receive a correction request that has merit, I thank the sender, apologize for the mistake, and correct my story. When Joe Patrice received Zack Austin’s correction request, he wrote an entirely new post that doubled down on his original conclusion, despite completely new facts.

I can’t say I’m surprised. When it comes to all things FedSoc, people reach conclusions first and find the facts to support them later. And even if there are no supporting facts, that doesn’t stop people from reaching conclusions anyway. Recall how diversity director Yaseen Eldik accused Zack Austin, a “cis/het white man,” of making Trent Colbert, “a man of color with a backyard,” send out the trap-house email—even though Austin didn’t learn about the email until after the fact.

I’d like to close with a favor to ask of my readers: I’d like to hear from defenders of Dean Gerken and the YLS administration more generally. I have many sources for my reporting, but I realize there’s self-selection going on: the folks most willing to talk to the media tend to be folks with criticisms of the status quo, so I probably don’t have a full cross-section of opinion in the YLS community. As always, I’m happy to keep my sources anonymous if they so desire—which is typically the case, given concerns about retribution.

These concerns are understandable. Instead of telling members of the Yale Law community to speak freely to the media because it has nothing to hide, the YLS administration has circled the wagons, complaining about “secretly recorded conversations and the sharing of private correspondence without permission.”

Complaints like these exert a chilling effect on whistleblowers and others who would like to surface problems at YLS so that they can be addressed. Addressing such issues is a process that causes turmoil and discomfort in the short term, but makes for a better and stronger institution over the long term. And a better and stronger Yale Law School is what all of us—students, faculty, administrators, and alumni—all want in the end.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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