Pennsylvania moves against Amy Wax over racism complaints

After years of escalating protests, controversial law professor to face disciplinary process at Ivy League institution

January 19, 2022

The University of Pennsylvania law school, under sustained protest, has agreed to pursue disciplinary action against Amy Wax, a long-time professor with a history of comments that are widely considered to be racist.

Penn’s law school dean, Theodore Ruger, had for years resisted taking the step, even as Professor Wax questioned the academic ability of black students and advocated a US with greater white dominance.

But in a note to the law school community, the dean said he now accepts that Professor Wax’s ongoing promotion of white supremacy is making it difficult for students to expect fair treatment in her classes.

Professor Ruger also said that Professor Wax “has exploited her faculty access to confidential information about students in ostensible support of her inaccurate statements”.

The Ivy League university, in a separate statement, said the dean’s decision begins a process in which faculty together will decide if her conduct warrants sanction, and its severity. Professor Ruger will serve as the complainant and Professor Wax will be allowed “full due process” in the matter, the university said.

The case raises the possibility of escalating the intensity of conservative political criticism of US higher education. One Penn colleague, Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education history, reiterated both his opposition to Professor Wax’s political views and his concern that the university faces even greater danger should it attempt to restrict her speech.

Professor Wax has long been part of that fray in the wider political sphere and – backed by tenure and more than two decades of experience at Penn – gives indications of revelling in it.

On a podcast last month hosted by Glenn Loury, a leading black conservative intellectual and professor of economics at Brown University, Professor Wax said that US immigration policies should emphasise “cultural compatibility” and criticised “the influx of Asian elites”, who she regards as favouring Democratic party policies.

Professor Wax also dismissed any concern about Penn taking action against her, saying she already has been “cancelled” repeatedly – using a term frequently employed by conservatives to describe public protests of intolerant perspectives. Professor Loury is a critic of affirmative action, and has been a regular public sounding board for Professor Wax.

An online petition started earlier this month, urging Professor Ruger and the faculty senate to take action against Professor Wax and her “obviously racist statements”, has collected more than 2,500 signatures.

In her interview with Professor Loury, Professor Wax described the complaints against her as largely non-specific and coming from alumni with names she does not recognise.

The petitioners, however, complained that her “racist comments have become a semi-annual ritual that receives temporary furore and temporary consequences”.

In 2018, after Professor Wax co-wrote an editorial extolling the superiority of the nation’s white male-dominated political culture of the 1950s, Professor Ruger removed her from teaching any courses that students may need as mandatory for graduation. In 2019, the dean issued a statement rejecting her calls for white societal dominance as “repugnant to the core values and institutional practices of both Penn Law and the University of Pennsylvania”, but declined to take further action.

Her critics signing this month’s petition said that Professor Wax felt emboldened by the university’s hesitancy to respond. “Such impunity reflects poorly upon Penn Law, the University of Pennsylvania, and, if seen through the lenses of foreign communities, even American higher education environment,” they wrote.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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