Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

'Academic Freedom Has To Protect The Amy Waxes So It Can Be There To Protect The Galileos'

Following up on last week's post, New York Times, UPenn Accuses A Law Professor Of Racist Statements. Should She Be Fired?:  Chicago Sun-Times Op-Ed:  When a Professor Makes Obnoxious Remarks on Race and Culture, Is It a Matter of Academic Freedom?, by Mona Charen:

Amy WaxUniversity of Pennsylvania professor Amy Wax has no patience for victimhood complaints. Asked whether she considers mid-20th century British politician Enoch Powell (whose writing she assigned and who gained fame for his “rivers of blood” anti-immigration speech) was a racist, Wax was indignant.

“Can you define racism for me? Is so-and-so a racist? Where are we getting with that? Define racist. I have no idea what you mean. It is a bludgeon that is a promiscuous term. You define what a racist is, and I will spend two seconds addressing that question because it is sterile.”

And yet, Wax herself is competing for victim status by upping the ante on obnoxious public remarks and almost daring the law school at which she teaches to punish her. ...

In 2017, Wax offended progressives with an op-ed praising bourgeois virtues. “All cultures are not equal,” she proclaimed. At the time, I observed that her aghast critics, who objected to talk of cultural superiority and inferiority, must agree with her at least somewhat: “They obviously believe that Alabama’s culture, circa 1952, was inferior to that of Philadelphia in 2017.”

But I’m getting the impression that Wax is not so much interested in persuasion as in pugnacity. ...

Leading with her chin, Wax seems to welcome martyrdom, but that’s not the only reason to withhold it. The University of Pennsylvania law school dean is requesting that the faculty senate consider a “major sanction,” which many have interpreted as firing her, despite tenure. The last time the University of Pennsylvania fired a tenured faculty member, it was because he had murdered his wife.

The best reason to refrain from the punitive impulse is that the sword cuts both ways. If Wax is fired for repellent sentiments alone, the protections of tenure will be badly weakened. As Alex Morey of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression put it, “Academic freedom has to protect the Amy Waxes of the academic world, so that it can be there for the Galileos of the academic world.”

Don’t punish her speech — refute it. 

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