Yale Law School Reappoints Dean at Center of Trap House Controversy

Announcement comes in spite of faculty misgivings

Heather Gerken (Harold Shapiro/Yale Law School)
January 19, 2022

Heather Gerken, the Yale Law School dean who authorized the email condemning second-year law student Trent Colbert for his use of the term "trap house," has had her deanship renewed, the university announced on Wednesday.

Gerken "is committed to upholding the core values of the institution," Yale University president Peter Salovey said in a congratulatory email to the law school. The announcement comes amid concerns that Gerken violated those values repeatedly—first when she allegedly pressured students to defame Yale Law professor Amy Chua, then when she instructed other administrators to condemn Colbert for a "racist" and "pejorative" party invite.

The Chua scandal has elicited a lawsuit from two former students, who say Gerken attempted to "blackball" them for not speaking out against Chua. Gerken's handling of the trap house saga drew fire from several top Yale Law professors, including Akhil Amar, who called the administration's conduct "dishonest, duplicitous, and downright deplorable."

Yale Law School is "not living up to its highest standards" of open debate, Amar said at the Federalist Society’s annual convention in Washington, D.C.

At one point, the controversies seemed in danger of torpedoing Gerken’s reappointment. In November, Original Jurisdiction's David Latt reported that the decision to reappoint her had been postponed by a month, amid ongoing faculty outrage about the trap house scandal. Some saw the delay as an ominous sign for her deanship, while others floated the possibility that she would not be renewed for a full five-year term.

Those worries appear to have been misplaced. Gerken "has already accomplished an ambitious agenda in her first term," Salovey said. "I am confident that the Law School will continue to benefit tremendously from her vision, talent, and energy in the years ahead."