Report: Yale Law Dean Signed Off on Condemnation of 'Trap House' Email—Then Threw Her Colleagues Under the Bus

Revelation comes as Heather Gerken's deanship is under review

Heather Gerken (Harold Shapiro/Yale Law School)
December 3, 2021

The dean of Yale Law School, Heather Gerken, authorized the email condemning second-year law student Trent Colbert for his use of the term "trap house," according to a report from Original Jurisdiction's David Lat.

The revelation—which comes amid a contentious review of Gerken's deanship—suggests Gerken has been downplaying or deliberately obfuscating her involvement in a scandal that's dogged the law school for months.

Gerken vowed in October not to "act on the basis of partial facts" and tasked Yale Law School deputy dean Ian Ayres with assembling a report on the incident. In a follow-up email that appeared to summarize the report, Gerken said that the administration's message condemning Colbert was inappropriate and implied it had been sent without her permission.

"I have spent every year of my deanship trying to foster an inclusive community and create an environment where students feel called into the community rather than called out," Gerken wrote. "The email message from administrators to members of the 2L class did not strike the appropriate balance between those two goals."

But faculty who've seen the report say it confirms that Gerken signed off on the condemnation, according to Lat. It is not clear if the report will be made public, or whether Gerken had any other involvement in the meetings between Colbert and the administration. Faculty haven't been allowed to read the report for themselves; they've had to go to Ayres's office and ask for it to be read aloud to them.

The Yale administration has adopted such cloak-and-dagger protocols amid ongoing tensions between Yale faculty, who, in Lat's telling, have been debating the "trap house" incident in faculty-wide emails for weeks. Monica Bell and other young professors have defended the administration's treatment of Colbert, while law school luminaries like Roberta Romano and Akhil Amar have derided it—with Amar calling on the administration to apologize for its "deplorable" conduct.

Gerken is embroiled in a separate scandal after two students filed a lawsuit alleging the dean threatened to jeopardize their careers unless they made false statements about Amy Chua, a Yale Law professor whom Gerken removed from a teaching post after she allegedly violated an agreement not to host students in her home. When the students refused, according to the suit, Gerken and associate dean Ellen Cosgrove took steps to have them blackballed from a prestigious fellowship.

Yale Law School did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A meeting has been scheduled for Dec. 8 to discuss giving Gerken another term.

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