Paul L. Caron

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Levy: Why I Resigned In Protest From Penn Law's Board When A Conservative Professor Was Punished

Following up on my previous post, Wall Street Journal op-ed, University of Pennsylvania Trustee and Penn Law Overseer Resigns Over Treatment Of Amy Wax:  The Daily Signal op-ed:  Why I Resigned in Protest When a Conservative Professor Was Punished, by Paul Levy:

Penn Law (2020)In 2018, I resigned as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania and an overseer of its law school to protest the shameful treatment of law professor Amy Wax.

Her sin, in the eyes of her detractors, was to question the wisdom of racial preference policies that brought to the law school, in her estimation, black students who did not rise to the top half of the class.

Her challenge to campus orthodoxy led to a firestorm. ...

In 1967, the University of Chicago’s widely respected Kalven Committee—which was assembled to explore the university’s role in political action—warned:

There is no mechanism by which [the university] can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. … The neutrality of the university … arises out of respect for free inquiry and the obligation to cherish a diversity of viewpoints. ...

I now look upon a once-beloved campus and see oppression the likes of which I did not think possible.

Penn Law talks the talk, but can it walk the walk?

Penn Law now faces a choice between the easy world of groupthink, cliché, and smug campus orthodoxies, or the challenging world of intellectual engagement and debate that leads to truth and understanding. ...

Groupthink is an equal-opportunity disease. If we don’t want to emulate places like Princeton, the University of Chicago, Columbia, and Purdue, which endorsed the University of Chicago’s principles of freedom of expression and live by them, who, exactly, do we want to be? ...

It doesn’t matter whether repression comes from the left or right. It has the same corrosive effect on minds and hearts. Will Penn Law one day earn the kind of press that Falwell got from The Washington Post: “Inside Liberty University’s ‘culture of fear’”? As Wax experienced, we are closer to that at Penn Law than some may think.

Penn Law is at an ethical crossroads. It must immediately offer a sincere apology to Wax, lift the sanctions imposed on her by Ruger, and once again give first-year law students the benefit of her superb teaching and scholarship.

Otherwise, it’s on the easy path of political correctness, with all of its authoritarianism. It won’t be long before Penn Law will be not the peer of Princeton, but merely the progressive twin of Liberty University.

In the past, my wife and I have proudly donated over $10 million to an alma mater we love. We urge Penn Law’s leadership to remove the stain that now rests upon the university.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Resign? Har.

Tell em ya want your $10,000,000 back. THAT'LL get their attention.

Posted by: Fred Connolly | Dec 7, 2019 6:50:52 AM

Anon: "LOL. Catastrophize much?

Perhaps instead of smug giggling, you could make a substantive argument? Even a weak one would be an improvement.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | Dec 6, 2019 2:46:18 PM

Anon, those institutions demand respect for what they were rather than for what they have become. This tweet sums up their strategy.

1. Identify a respected institution.

2. kill it.

3. gut it.

4. wear its carcass as a skin suit, while demanding respect.

Posted by: Woody | Dec 6, 2019 1:14:12 PM

More than 1000 student groups, and individuals affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, are demanding that Penn law professor Amy Wax be fired for a claim regarding immigration policy she allegedly made which they have labeled "racist," harmful to minority students, and antagonistic.

She has also been prohibited from teaching a first-year course in civil procedure for stating that in her experience with black students over 17 years at Penn, few had performed in the top half of their class.

The Dean said she was incorrect but - although he obviously has data which could be used to prove or disprove her assertion - refused to provide it, even in summary fashion without revealing the identities of any students.

It also appears that neither the protestors at Penn nor Penn itself - which likewise condemned Wax's remarks without even trying to refute them - have come forward with any evidence even suggesting that her argument is incorrect, much less any proof that it is so clearly false that it cannot even be discussed or debated.

The students say that suggesting, as alleged, "that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites" is "racist," and "attacks" and "antagonizes" minority students.

For this they argue she should relieved of all teaching duties (the virtual academic equivalent of firing).

But this claim and her earlier one are some which should be subject to objective discussion and refutation in the spirit of academic freedom and open debate, not simply using labeling as a basis for punishment.

In other words, labeling something as "racist," even if it is in fact racist according to most commentators, doesn't necessarily mean that it is incorrect.

Indeed, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, in his Whitney v. California opinion, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."

Thus, before seeking to punish her, those seeking this drastic remedy should have to show not only that many or even most scholars disagree with the alleged conclusion, but that it is so far from the truth that it can and must be rejected out of hand with no debate or examination of any proof, and subject her to severe academic discipline based solely upon labeling it "racist."

Labeling is not a valid or meaningful argument.

For example, professors should not be condemned - much less fired - for simply suggesting that a much smaller number of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, although some might argue that seeking to minimize the horror of the event to the Jewish people is antisemitic. However, arguing that the Holocaust never occurred would likely be outside the bounds of any reasoned academic dispute.

Similarly, while a professor should not be punished for claiming that African Americans and women played only a small role in the founding our country - although it is clearly disputable, and some might claim it is 'sexist," "racist," "misogynistic," etc. - this would be far different from a college employing a professor who teaches that those who signed the Declaration of Independence were all secretly Black and/or female.

Many critical assertions regarding Blacks - e.g., the role of race in crime and criminal justice, apparently lower measured IQs on many tests, problems with family structure, etc. - may sound and be characterized by some as "racist," apparently even when made by persons of color and/or those who have made major contribution to fighting racial discrimination.

But if scholars are not allowed to make and debate the claims, it may hinder effectively addressing major problems in our society.

Indeed, many accomplished and well educated African Americans oppose affirmative action, many women contend that the #metoo movement has gone too far and is counterproductive, that many Jews condemn the overuse of the claim "antisemitic," etc.

In other words, not every statement that many would characterize as "sexist," "racist," etc. is necessarily factually incorrect, even though scholars may - and probably should - discuss and debate any inferences which might be drawn from such statements.

Whether or not our country would "be better off" if our immigration policy favored Caucasians over other races or ethnic groups - as an empirical or at least empirical-sounding assertion - should be capable of rational analysis based upon statistical and other reliable evidence, not name calling ("racist") or isolated anecdotal examples of non-Caucasian immigrants who have been successful.

For example, the "big data" type of analysis popularized by Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard has identified factors which have contributed to economic success and advancement - including some which were not previously recognized, and debunking some which were thought by many to be good indicators.

Using these same types of "long" data such as census information, tax returns, etc., it should be possible to determine if there are any significant differences in certain metrics generally recognized as markers of success (e.g., salary, social status, family structure, low crime rates, etc.) between lawful immigrants (which is what Wax is discussing) based upon their race and/or ethnicity.

Moreover, because of the types of statistical analysis he uses, it is probably possible to infer if not prove not only correlation but - more importantly - causation.

If there are no statistically significant differences between how well Caucasian and non-Caucasian groups of lawful immigrants do, especially in terms of our country being "better off" (e.g., amount of taxes paid, number of workers hired or employed, patented inventions, etc.), Wax's hypothesis would be weakened if not disproved.

However, if tax records, crime statistics, businesses started, workers hired, patents issued, etc, seem to show that Caucasian legal immigrants do perform somewhat better (making the U.S. "better off"), it would tend to support her empirical suggestion, although it would obviously not address related issues such as whether providing some preference for Caucasian immigrants would be fair, politically acceptable, workable, etc.

History shows that some views which were once regarded as unassailable have been proven to be untrue. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court once said that "the natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it" for the practice of law, without the need for any citation.

An empirical prediction, as compared to an assertion of already established fact, is especially difficult to disprove, so those who advance them should be given additional leeway.

Even if, as her law school claimed, her theory is "repugnant" to the "core values . . . of Penn," that doesn't mean that it's necessarily so incorrect that it should never be uttered, even away from Penn.

This is especially true since the so-called core values of many universities for years permitted them to discriminate in admission and hiring against Jews, Blacks, and women.

If Penn disagrees with a professor, they should prove her wrong, not simply label what she said as "racist," and assume that should end all argument and provide the basis for punishment.

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Dec 6, 2019 4:17:05 AM

We are undergoing our own "cultural revolution," particularly on college campuses. It's a shame we weren't able to avoid our own (so far) mini-version of what Mao inflicted on China. But it has yet to run its course and isn't over yet. I often wonder how suicidal this will be to our university systems, which are already losing credibility with the public.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 6, 2019 3:43:25 AM

Penn's disgraceful treatment of Amy Wax, together with its open sale of its name, have pretty much destroyed whatever reputation it previously had. In fairness, it never had a reputation of much more than a first-tier wannabe: I can't remember much published there that had national influence, and its better people pretty regularly leave to go somewhere else. But this is a new low.

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Dec 5, 2019 8:27:01 PM

These words will fall on deaf ears. Penn Law (and nearly all institutions) are nowadays businesses and political operations parading around as nonprofits, and are reliant on historical goodwill and nostalgia. Once you understand this, almost everything else will make sense.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 5, 2019 4:37:38 PM

"I now look upon a once-beloved campus and see oppression the likes of which I did not think possible."

LOL. Catastrophize much?

Posted by: Anon | Dec 5, 2019 12:18:30 PM