A University of Pennsylvania Law School professor whose outspoken views on race and culture have drawn heavy criticism from students and colleagues will no longer be allowed to teach a required class for college students. freshman law, Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger announced yesterday.
The ban is the latest escalation in a months-long feud between the law school and conservative professor Amy Wax.
The tensions began last August, when Wax co-wrote an editorial in Philadelphia Applicant which extolled the superiority of the “bourgeois cultural hegemony” that Wax and his co-author, Larry Alexander, claimed reigned in America before the 1960s.
In the part of the play that sparked the most outrage, Wax and Alexander said:
Not all cultures are equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. Plains Indian culture was designed for nomadic hunters, but is not suited to a 21st century First World environment. Nor are single-parent antisocial habits prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-“acting white” rap culture of inner-city blacks; anti-assimilation ideas are gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants. These cultural orientations are not only incompatible with what an advanced market economy and a functioning democracy require, they are also destructive of the sense of solidarity and reciprocity among Americans. If the bourgeois cultural scenario – which the upper middle class still largely observes but is now hesitant to preach – cannot be largely reinstated, things are likely to get worse for all of us.
The editorial sparked a long series of reactive editorials, petitions and open letters between Wax, her colleagues and various other groups affiliated with Penn. Five of Wax’s colleagues criticized his article in an editorial in Penn’s student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanianand 33 signed an open letter “categorically reject[ing]” his claims. The wax fought back in the student newspaperr, and later, in the the wall street journalwhat prompted yet another answer of a fellow critic. Heather MacDonald jumped in. You get the picture.
One of the critics’ repeated demands was to remove Wax from teaching civil procedure, a required first-year course in which students are randomly assigned to year-long “sections” taught by different professors. Black students, they said, should not be forced to be taught by a teacher who supposedly thought them inferior. The Penn Law Chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, a progressive legal organization, noted that Wax’s comments were “an explicit and implicit endorsement of white supremacy” and asserted that “his fanatical views inevitably seep into his words and actions in class and into private conversations with students”.
Throughout it all, Ruger has publicly refused to discipline or expose Wax, citing the law school’s commitments to free expression. Wax alleged in it the wall street journal editorial that Ruger had privately asked him to take time off, which Ruger denied.
This month, however, a new front in controversy opened up when a group of Penn Law alumni published a new petition drawing attention to Wax remarks made on a September 2017 episode from “The Glenn Show,” a video series on the Bloggingheads.tv website hosted by Brown University economics professor Glenn Loury. In her hour-long chat with Loury, Wax discussed the controversy around her editorial and her opposition to race-based affirmative action, which Loury, who is black, so fiercely. opposes.
During this discussion, Wax discussed his belief in the so-called “mismatch hypothesis” of positive education in higher education, which holds that racial preferences harm minority students by placing them in high-stakes elite academic environments for which they have not been adequately prepared.
“Here’s a very inconvenient fact, Glenn,” Wax noted“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black graduate student in the top quarter of the [Penn Law School] class and rarely, rarely in the top half… I can think of a student or two who graduated in the top half of my required freshman course. Well, what are we supposed to do about it? You’re really putting a real uphill battle in front of that person, and if they were a better match, it might be a better environment for them. That’s the mismatch hypothesis, of course.”
The petition again called for Wax to be banned from teaching civil procedure. This time Ruger complied.
In an email sent to Penn Law students, the text of which was obtained by the Daily Pennsylvanian, Ruger said the decision was not based on the substance of Wax’s comments, but on his disclosure of student rankings and grades in violation of law school policy. “As a scholar, [Wax] is free to defend its views, no matter how much those views diverge from our institutional philosophy and thoughtful practices. As a teacher, however, she is not free to violate the policy that student grades are confidential.”
He also claimed, however, that Wax’s claims about the performance of black students at Penn Law were false and could have a negative effect on black students in his classes. “In light of Professor Wax’s statements, black students assigned to his class during their first week at Penn Law may reasonably wonder if their professor has ever come to a conclusion about their attendance, performance and potential for success. in law school and beyond,” he said.
However, Ruger was careful to present his decision as mere administrative judgment and not as punishment: as Dean, it is my responsibility to allocate faculty educational resources in the best interests of students and faculty. by right. ” did he declare. the curricular decision does not entail any sanction or reduction of Professor Wax’s status within the faculty, which remains secure. Normally, this decision would be private, but because Professor Wax has made these inaccurate public statements, and students and alumni have raised their concerns publicly, it is important to share them with our community.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a civil liberties watchdog group for students and teachers at public colleges and private schools that guarantee speech rights, isn’t so sure. “We’re monitoring the situation,” says Samantha Harris, FIRE’s vice president of policy research, “both to make sure Penn isn’t punishing a professor for speaking on a topic of public interest, and also to ensure that there is no double-standard applied by the University regarding what Penn professors can and cannot say without facing some sort of official retribution.”
For her part, Loury didn’t buy Ruger’s explanation. In an email, he called Ruger’s justifications “clearly biased…intended to discredit [Wax] and to justify his wrongdoings.”
Disclosure: I attended Penn 2013-2016 and interned at FIRE in 2015.