Jane Genova
Jane Genova

After a two-year investigation, Yale Law School has suspended Robert R. Slaughter professor Jed Rubenfeld for sexual misconduct. That will be for two years.

During that process, Rubenfeld had been on leave. If he returns post-suspension, he will not be able to teach small-group or required courses. He denies the allegations, which include inappropriate verbal behavior, unwanted touching and attempted kissing. His profile is no longer on the law school’s website. He joined the law school in 1990. In 1994, he became a full professor.

New York Magazine’s Irin Carmon broke the story, which immediately caught fire. A primary reason why are the power players in the loop.

In addition to star professor Rubenfeld, they include his wife Amy Chua, author of “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother” and John M. Duff Jr. professor at Yale. She is controversial because of her tough parenting philosophy.

Another brand name associated with Rubenfeld is current U.S. Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. Chua published an opinion-editorial in the Wall Street Journal supporting his nomination. Their daughter Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld later served as a SCOTUS clerk for Kavanaugh.

Rubenfeld argues that he had been targeted for this kind of investigation because he had been a critic of how institutions of higher education proceed with sexual harassment complaints. For example, he published a major article, “Privatization and State Action: Do Campus Sexual Assault Hearings Violate Due Process?” In one section, he writes:

“… the campus trials conducted all over the country have been so unreliable—in some cases so incompetent, so Kafka-esque— they would almost be risible, if their effects on the lives of the people …”

As regards how Yale Law School handled his own matter, he contends that he had that he was not allowed to know the identity of his accusers. That, of course, is a fundamental of “due process,” at least in the legal sense. However, as Abovethelaw’s Kathryn Rubino reports, Yale Law School requires that the identity of the accusers be revealed to the accused.

Throughout the investigation there has been more than the usual amount of schadenfreude. Not only was Rubenfeld an influential professor and part of a power couple, it was rumored that the couple’s presence unduly dominated the law school. In addition, when Chua published “Tiger Mom” in 2011, the two became global celebrities. Nine years later, the book still ranks high on Amazon—12,756. Obviously, that can invite the Green Monsters of the Mind.

As a career coach for those who perceive themselves as “stuck,” I am being asked: Does Rubenfeld have a shot at a comeback?

Of course, he does. This is America, land of myriad chances. After being fired by Henry Ford at that auto company, Lee Iacocca transformed himself into a folk hero at another one—Chrysler. The booted Steve Jobs boomeranged back to Apple and saved it. Even though he served time in prison, Michael Milken reinvented himself as a philanthropist. The infamous intern Monica Lewinsky is now a respected advocate for internet privacy.

Initially, I recommend, Rubenfeld should lay low. That might be difficult for an outsized achiever such as himself. During that time, he should shop for a public relations agency specializing in reputation restoration.

In media outreach to tell his story, it would be most effective for him to build on his own thought leadership about what is wrong with the approach of higher education in managing sexual misconduct allegations. He could gain plenty of support on that—both in legal circles and on Main Street, where careers have been ruined and education put on hold by such procedures.

In the U.S., filing a lawsuit is increasingly the way to send a message. Inside Higher Ed reports on litigation by a student suspended from Michigan State University for alleged sexual misconduct.” Filed in federal court in July 2019, “John Doe v. Michigan State University, et al.” was a proposed class action..

Yes, Rubenfeld is on to something in which both the courts of public opinion and law are interested.

In addition, doing good is a proven route to doing well. Rubenfeld can leverage his legal insights in an underdeveloped economy which needs a reliable legal system in order to grow. A year spent in that sort of setting can be followed by establishing a foundation to continue his initiatives.

But what is most important to all who have had a professional reversal of fortune is the story they are telling themselves. If it is self-accepting, including of the dark elements in all human nature, then it provides the platform to the Next.


Since 2008, Jane Genova ([email protected]) has been a career coach for those who see themselves as “stuck.” She co-authored the book “The Critical 14 Years of Your Professional Life” and her career insights are published in AOL, Abovethelaw, Bloomberg, Harvard Law School, Payment Week, Business.com and MyBankTracker. Complimentary consultation available.