Under intense pressure after a series of complaints and petitions, the University of Pennsylvania Law School has finally initiated a process to decide what action can be taken against the controversial and openly racist law professor Amy Wax.
Wax’s latest remarks have kicked off a furor, particularly among Asian students. While the student organization has welcomed the university’s move even as it says this is not enough, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) has called the action an attack on “extramural speech”.
The Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger made a statement Jan 18: ‘Taking her public behavior, prior complaints, and more recent complaints together, I have decided it is my responsibility as dean to initiate the university procedure governing sanctions against a faculty member.
‘As I have already discussed with the faculty senate leadership, I am aggregating the complaints received to date, together with other information available to me, and will serve as the named complainant for these matters.
‘This process is necessarily thorough and deliberate, but using it allows consideration of the range of minor and major sanctions permissible under the university’s rules.’
The letter acknowledged that Prof Wax in 2017 made derogatory public statements about the characteristics, attitudes and abilities of a majority of those who study, teach and work at the university.
Dean added, “In some of those instances, she exploited her faculty access to confidential information about students in ostensible support of her inaccurate statements.
“Her conduct has generated multiple complaints from members of our community citing the impact of pervasive and recurring vitriol and promotion of white supremacy as cumulative and increasing.
“The complaints assert that it is impossible for students to take classes from her without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animus. These complaints clearly call for a process that can fairly consider claims, for example, that her conduct is having an adverse and discernable impact on her teaching and classroom activities.”
It was on Dec 19, during an appearance on Brown University professor Glenn Loury’s web show Bloggingheads.tv, that Wax was critical, among other things, of increased Asian immigration to the U.S., warning of the “danger of the dominance of an Asian elite in this country”.
Reacting to the university decision, Apratim Vidyarthi, a third-year law student at Penn, told indica, “My first reaction was a disappointment. I was not surprised [by Wax’s statement], given her history. I am incredibly fired up and want to hold the law school and university accountable so that we see them change their policies and make sure they do a thorough and transparent investigation and take remedial measures.”
Calling Dean Ruger’s move a good first step, Vidyarthi said, “But we will continue to pressure the university (and not just the law school) to be transparent about this process, including informing students of the involved parties, the timeline and what sanctions are being proposed.
“We hope the sanctions are major sanctions, rather than the minor ones outlined in the faculty handbook,” he continued, adding that the students want the law school to create a committee to discuss the tenure process and how to prevent such a situation in the future; and to expand financial support for students of color and immigrant students, “as was stated in our original petition”.
Prof Wax had openly singled out Indian students, remarking, “If you go into medical schools, you’ll see that Indians, South Asians, are now rising stars.”
Sudhanshu Kaushik, the founder of the North American Association of Indian Students, who started the petition against Wax, told indica, “The law school ordering a commission into Professor Amy Wax is just not enough — especially when we hear of new hate crimes against Asians on a daily basis.
“We implore the Penn Law administration to create an environment where all people of color, including Asians, feel safe and looked after. They can start by ensuring Amy Wax does not get to spread her hate among the Penn community,” Kaushik said.
Meanwhile, a letter was sent Jan 16 in support of Prof Wax to Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, by the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), a coalition of faculty members from across the country and across the ideological spectrum committed to upholding the principles of academic freedom and professorial free speech.
The letter said the alliance expresses ‘our firm view that Professor Wax should suffer no formal consequences as the result of these public statements. Regardless of what one thinks about Professor Wax’s personal political views, the only appropriate action that the University of Pennsylvania should take in this situation is to publicly reaffirm the free speech rights of the members of its faculty.
‘This call for the university to take formal action against Professor Wax is a clear threat to her freedom of speech. Such a public interview is a form of what the American Association of University Professors calls “extramural speech”. Extramural speech is a protected form of freedom of expression. When professors speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.’
Penn Law refused to comment on the issue. Spokesperson Meredith Rovine told indica. “At this time, as required by the university handbook and to preserve the integrity of the process, we will not make any public statements about the charges and proceedings until they have been completed.”