‘Trap House’ Dean Retires From Yale Law School

Retirement comes after Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school, was mired in multiple scandals

Ellen Cosgrove /
June 21, 2022

Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of Yale Law School who pressured a student to apologize for using the term "trap house" in an email, has decided to retire, the law school announced on Tuesday.

"I want to thank Dean Cosgrove for her years of service to generations of students at Yale," Heather Gerken, the dean of Yale Law School, said in an email to students and faculty. "Dean Cosgrove's last day at the law school will be August 12."

Cosgrove's seven-year tenure has been controversial. Along with Yale Law School diversity director Yaseen Eldik, Cosgrove hinted to second-year law student Trent Colbert that he could face disciplinary consequences if he didn't apologize for inviting classmates to his "trap house," a term she and Eldik characterized as racist. Without an apology, Cosgrove implied in a September meeting, Colbert might have trouble with the bar exam's "character and fitness" investigations, which she could weigh in on as associate dean.

The law school found itself doing damage control after the Washington Free Beacon published audio of the meeting—and after figures across the political spectrum slammed Cosgrove and Eldik for chilling free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education likened the meeting to a mafia shakedown; Ruth Marcus, the deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post, likened it to Mao's Cultural Revolution. Writing in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf called Eldik and Cosgrove's behavior "unethical, discreditable, and clearly incompatible with key values that the elite law school purports to uphold."

It was one of three scandals to beset Cosgrove over just the past year. In November 2021, Cosgrove, Eldik, and Gerken were hit with a lawsuit alleging that they retaliated against "two students of color" for refusing to make "false statements" about Amy Chua, a professor who has repeatedly ruffled the administration's feathers. And in March 2022, Cosgrove looked on as hundreds of student protesters disrupted a bipartisan panel on civil liberties. The protest was a "blatant violation" of the law school's free speech policies, according to Kate Stith, the professor moderating the panel, and caused so much chaos the police were called.

After the "trap house" scandal, some professors called on Yale to punish Cosgrove and Eldik.

"When things like this happen, there should be a formal investigation and disciplinary proceedings," said Princeton University's Robert George. "If, after a full and fair hearing, administrators are found guilty of violating free speech or other academic freedom rights of students or faculty, they should be dismissed."