Law.com, Amy Wax Controversy Drags Penn Law Into Free-Speech Dilemma:
Few people seem satisfied with Penn Law's latest response to the professor's comments, highlighting the fraught nature of free-speech issues for deans and other administrators who must balance competing pressures.
University of Pennsylvania Law School Dean Ted Ruger found himself in a familiar spot last week—caught between outraged students demanding sanctions against Amy Wax for what they view as her racist public comments and free-speech advocates who believe that the controversial professor has a right to air her views, however offensive.
Ruger had been in a similar position at least twice in the past two years when Wax published op-eds and gave interviews that were widely perceived as denigrating immigrants and black students at the law school.
The dean has taken a middle-of-the-road approach with Wax, and in the latest incident issued a statement condemning her comments as racist. He also said that they do not reflect the law school’s position, but did not take formal action against her. Penn Law said Wax will be taking a previously planned sabbatical during the upcoming school year, however.
The recent controversy stems from Wax’s statements that U.S. would be “better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,” during a panel at a national conference for conservatives.
Ruger’s latest response seems to have satisfied few people on either side of the matter. A consortium of Penn Law affinity groups and student organizations Tuesday issued a statement saying that the law school will continue “perpetuating white supremacy” as long as Wax remains on the faculty. (They had earlier circulated a petition calling for Wax to be removed from teaching.)
Meanwhile, some legal academics and free-speech advocates have rebuked Ruger for what they see as overstepping. Those critics argue that it’s not the place of a dean or a law school to weigh in on the content of a professor’s speech. ...
Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston and a conservative who has also been protested by students for his views, said in an interview Thursday that Ruger went too far. ...
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and author of a recent book on campus free speech, said that deans have a responsibility to publicly disown racist speech while also resisting pressure to punish the professors responsible for that offensive speech, which is essentially the balance Ruger struck this week. Wax should not be fired for her comments, he added, but others should exercise their free speech rights to reject her conclusions.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Wax & Alexander: Paying The Price For Breakdown Of The Country's Bourgeois Culture (Aug. 13, 2017)
- Reaction To Law Profs' Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' (Aug. 25, 2017)
- Penn Law Students Try To Ban Amy Wax From Teaching Civil Procedure Due To Her Breakdown Of The Bourgeois Culture Op-Ed (Sept. 10, 2017)
- Controversy Over Law Profs' Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' Shifts From Penn To San Diego (Sept. 21, 2017)
- More Law Prof Reactions To The Wax & Alexander Op-Ed On The Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' (Sept. 22, 2017)
- Reynolds: It Is Time Academics Preach the Virtues They Practice (Sept. 26, 2017)
- Penn Alumni Speak Out Against Breakdown Of The 'Bourgeois Culture' Op-Ed (Sept. 26, 2017)
- Wax: The Closing Of The Academic Mind (Feb. 19, 2018)
- Penn Dean Denies Amy Wax's Claim That He Asked Her To Take Leave Due To Controversial Op-Ed (Feb. 21, 2018)
- Gelbach: On Amy Wax’s Credibility And Conduct (Feb. 24, 2018)
- After 'Disparaging' Comments About Black Students, Amy Wax Barred From Teaching 1L Course At Penn (Mar. 14, 2018)
- The Penn Law School Mob Scores A Victory (Mar. 19, 2018)
- Wax: The University Of Denial — Aggressive Suppression Of The Truth Is A Central Feature Of American Higher Education (Mar. 24, 2018)
- The Wax Wars Rage On At Penn Law (Apr. 16, 2018)