Following up on my previous posts (links below): Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: Too Noxious for Tenure?, by Musa al-Gharbi (Columbia):
Academic freedom was invented to protect scholars with reprehensible views. ...
A few weeks ago, at a National Conservativism conference in Washington D.C., one of the speakers, the University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, argued that the United States would be "better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically, at least in fact if not formally, by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that had failed to advance." ... Her comments echoed previous remarks that have, in fact, led many to brand Wax herself as a racist. ...
Each of these statements was met with challenges to the accuracy of her claims, public condemnations from her dean and colleagues, and widespread calls for her dismissal.
Many have described Wax’s case as a difficult test of academic freedom and its limitations. It’s not. Tenure and academic freedom, as we currently understand them, were literally created in response to another prominent scholar’s getting canned for making inflammatory statements on race and immigration. ...
[F]aculty members should be able to follow the facts as they understand them, wherever they lead — and describe the world as they see it — even if it runs sharply against the ideological and political sensibilities of the people who run the universities, even if it cuts against trustees’ or donors’ material interests, even if the positions being advanced are unpopular with other academics or the public at large. Indeed, it is precisely in these instances where academic freedom matters most. ...
At every stage, people have attempted to censor scholars they disagreed with by appealing to the arguments now being marshalled against Wax. For instance, it was (and is still) argued that challenging white supremacy amounted, in practice, to fomenting racial hatred and division.
When the Temple University media professor Marc Lamont Hill argued for a "free Palestine from the river to the sea" during a speech at the United Nations, he was accused of calling for the destruction of Israel. There were calls for his termination — a Temple trustee called these remarks "hate speech" and declared his intent to punish Hill. However, Hill was ultimately saved by the same tenure protections Wax is relying on today.
Many others are not so fortunate. In this sense, Wax’s critics have the issue precisely backward: The problem is not that Amy Wax is protected by tenure. The problem is that most other academics, especially women and scholars of color, don’t enjoy comparable protections.
Rather than trying to circumvent the protections afforded to Wax — which could make it easier to also terminate left-leaning scholars on political grounds — we should instead be working to shore up and expand tenure protections to cover a broader swath of the intellectual community. We should be working to complete Dewey’s project rather than dismantle it.
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)
- Amy Wax Controversy Drags Penn Law Into Free-Speech Dilemma (July 27, 2019)