Embattled Penn Law Professor Amy Wax Deserves Our Support | Opinion

Academia's assault on free speech continues this week, with the revelation that University of Pennsylvania Law dean Theodore W. Ruger has asked Penn's faculty senate to impose "major sanctions" on his colleague Amy Wax, the Robert Mundheim professor of Law. At Penn, "major sanctions" can include termination, suspension, and other severe measures with irreparable consequences for the recipient's reputation and career.

What has Wax done to deserve such treatment? In August 2017, she courted controversy by stating in The Philadelphia Inquirer that traditional values produce happier and more successful societies, and that their absence is a root cause of many of America's ills. This alone was enough to generate a petition signed by over 4,000 people demanding that she be fired from her job, as well as an open letter in which 33 of her Penn Law colleagues condemned her.

Wax doubled down, observing the following month that, in her teaching experience, black students rarely finish in the top half of graduating law school classes. However unfortunate, her observation is nonetheless supported by substantial empirical evidence that no one has refuted. In a swirl of outrage, she was again condemned by campus groups and by Ruger, who removed her from teaching mandatory first-year courses. At the time, Penn was widely condemned for these punitive actions. Paul Levy, a trustee of the university and overseer of its law school, resigned and upbraided the administration, accusing it of "suppressing what is crucial to the liberal educational project: open, robust, and critical debate over differing views of important social issues."

Since then, critics have derided further statements of opinion by Wax, including statements made entirely outside the university context, as "racist." Yet up to and including Ruger's recent letter requesting "major sanctions," Wax has never even been accused—still less, found culpable—of any discriminatory action taken against a student or colleague. To the contrary, according to an anonymous source with personal knowledge of the internal university process, an independent investigator "found no evidence of bias in Wax's dealings with students," and instead suggested that "there is reason to believe that students have mischaracterized or reported faulty recollections of statements Wax allegedly made."

41 University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania, United States. Getty Images

This objective assessment appears to have left no impression on Ruger. For him, it is enough that Wax has allegedly violated the spirit of Penn's "mission," which includes a commitment to "a diverse and inclusive community"—apparently except for views dissenting from woke orthodoxy. In the twisted logic of Ruger's ridiculous letter to the Penn faculty senate, merely questioning diversity-related shibboleths is sufficient for severe sanction if it upsets people on campus. Wax, Ruger maintains, deserves punishment for having created suspicion of what he calls a "discriminatory animus," for allegedly causing other faculty members to view her mere "presence" as "demoralizing and disruptive," and for making statements on public policy issues that he equates with "harassing" behavior.

There is little doubt about what Ruger would like to have happen next. Over the course of the controversy, he has personally denounced Wax's views as "racist," "white supremacist," and "repugnant." At a 2019 student "town hall" meeting to which Wax was pointedly not invited, he reportedly said, "her presence here...makes me angry, it makes me pissed off." He added, the fact "she still works [at Penn]...sucks." Finally, Ruger admitted that "the only way to get rid of a tenured professor is this process...that's gonna take months."

Ruger's biased statements should already have called into serious question both his objectivity and his professional ethics. He has diligently helped along the process of Wax's defenestration as best he could under what are undoubtedly byzantine university procedures.

Perhaps most chilling is the final paragraph of Ruger's letter. Noting that sanctioning a faculty member is a "rare event," he concludes that "the increasingly negative impact that her conduct has had...constitutes a major infraction of University standards." Requesting a further hearing, he implores Penn's faculty senate to "review" her "conduct" and what he calls "the severe harms she has caused to our community." Presuming a negative finding from that hearing, he calls for the faculty senate "to ultimately impose a major sanction on her."

After the pro forma "fair trial," in other words, Ruger expects that Wax will be led to the proverbial firing squad.

Wax is not taking her treatment lying down, as many academics in her position would. Seeing the writing on the wall, she rightly anticipates an outcome as unjust as it will be absurd. A fundraising campaign she launched earlier this week on GoFundMe.com has, as of this writing, raised over $30,000 for her legal fees, which could easily run into six figures to contest a wrongful termination or other unlawful sanction. Anyone concerned with basic American freedoms should contribute. If the totalitarian forces at work in our society can do this to a tenured professor of law holding an endowed chair at an Ivy League university, they can do it to anyone.

The link to the GoFundMe campaign can be found by clicking this link.

Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.