Yale Law School Dean’s Response to TrapHouseGate Controversy

Aaron Sibarium, Washington Free Beacon reports:

Heather Gerken, Dean of the Law School, took full responsibility for “things that the Law School Administration should have done differently” in an email to the entire school.

Gerken stated that no student, or group of students, should have any reason to think administrators act in an unfair or biased manner. He was referring to administration’s denial of an invitation via email. [Yale Law School student Trent]Colbert sent September and the alleged suggestions of his group to Zack Austin (Federalist Society President), indicating that Austin had put Colbert to work.

Gerken sent an email to summarize the findings of an inquiry by Deputy Dean Ian Ayres. It did not mention Colbert but attributed it to bad communication.

Gerken stated that she spent each year of her deanship trying “to foster an inclusive community” and to create an environment in which students feel included rather than being called out. “The email message from administrators to members of the 2L class”—in which Associate Dean Ellen Cosgrove and Diversity Director Yaseen Eldik condemned Colbert’s “racist” message “in the strongest possible terms”—”did not strike the appropriate balance between those two goals.”

Gerken maintained that Eldik, Cosgrove and others were only “attempting” to comply with University policy when discrimination complaints are brought. …

Colbert invited his classmates to his “traphouse” in September, and this is the root of all the controversy. Colbert was rebuffed by classmates for the offensive email. Eldik and Cosgrove suggested that he send an apology to Eldik, which he did not. They also informed him that his membership in the “oppressive” Federalist Society had “triggered” his peers….

Gerken announced also that she has set up a committee “to think about how we can maintain our beloved intellectual environment.” She stated that the committee would “consider steps we as a community can take to make an environment where people are able to disagree.”

It is a small step, but it’s a good step. The last part of that sentence may seem like a mistake.

While I can appreciate the fact that secret recordings or sharing personal correspondence may deter honest conversations, But at the same time, I doubt that people would have taken Colbert’s complaints—which Gerken now admits are well-founded—seriously without the recording that showed exactly what the administrators were telling him. For credibly reporting on misconduct by police officers, recordings of citizens-police interactions have been important (cf. here and here), so recordings of student-administrator interactions are important for credibly reporting on pressure and implied threats by administrators.

Yale may have reacted to the situation by saying that, at least in part “bad events happened here”, but it is important to establish rules (or mere ‘norms) to make it impossible for anyone to crediblely report bad events in future. This would be very counterproductive.