Paul L. Caron

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Penn Prof: Firing Amy Wax Could Open Door To Censorship Of Faculty Teaching Critical Race Theory

Following up on yesterday's post, Debate Intensifies Over Potential Discipline For Penn Law Prof Amy Wax:  Philadelphia Inquirer, Penn Law Professor Amy Wax Enraged People With Her Comments About Asians. Now, She May Face Sanction.:

Penn Logo (2022)But some academics who ardently despise Wax’s comments say they would rather she retains the right to say them than allow her to be fired. ...

University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax over the last five years has repeatedly enraged students with her racist comments, first calling into question the academic ability of Black students and most recently saying the country would be better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.

While Penn has condemned her speech and in 2018 removed her from teaching mandatory courses, she has kept her job and the prestige of working for an Ivy League university.

But that may be about to change.

Ted Ruger, dean of Penn’s law school, said Friday he is “actively considering” invoking a faculty senate review process that could lead to sanctions against the 68-year-old tenured professor, who has worked at Penn for two decades. ...

[S]ome academics who ardently despise Wax’s comments say they would rather she retains the right to say them than allow her to be fired. Removing her could open the door to censorship for professors who espouse views opposed by conservatives, such as critical race theory.

“How in the same breath do you oppose those measures but also say you should fire Amy Wax,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, a Penn professor of the history of education, who has ardently defended free speech. “I don’t think we can have it both ways.”

Adam Steinbaugh, a lawyer for the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), said Wax’s most recent comments about Asian Americans came on a radio show and a written post she made after the show and are not within her primary area of academic expertise or connected to campus.

“Because of that, it is very difficult for an institution to take action or sanction a faculty member, tenured or not, for that speech,” he said. “Penn has walked right up to the line of what they are allowed to do here. They can condemn her, but they can’t punish her.”

But others argue that Wax’s comments rise to another level, harming students of color on Penn’s campus and calling into question her fitness as a professor. ... Earlier this week a group of state lawmakers and Philadelphia City Council members called on Penn to revoke Wax’s tenure. ...

Complaints against Wax, who is teaching two small elective courses this semester, have been increasing in intensity and volume, locally and nationally, Ruger said.

“There can be a point where a colleague’s hate speech is so threatening and pervasive that it does create a problematic atmosphere for working and learning,” Ruger said. “That’s one of the dynamics that I am considering as I consider whether Wax’s conduct has violated university norms.” ...

Brian Leiter (Chicago), Political Pressure Is Mounting on Penn to Fire Amy Wax . . .:

. . . despite the fact that she can't legally be fired for her offensive speech, as we noted previously ...

Unfortunately, the extraordinary political pressure being brought to bear to fire Wax would make any such move by Penn now seem merely pretextual:  it would be clear she was being punished for her offensive speech.

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