by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
On September 16, 2019, students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School hosted a town hall with law school dean Theodore Ruger to discuss the “issues” surrounding Amy Wax.
A tenured professor at the law school, Wax had sparked outrage earlier that year when she argued, in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference, that the United States should favor immigrants from countries with similar values to its own. Since those nations “remain mostly white for now,” Wax said, her approach implied that “our country will be better off with more whites and fewer non-whites”—even though, she stipulated, the policy “doesn’t rely on race at all.”
In audio of the town hall obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, Ruger told students that Wax’s comments were “racist” and had caused “harm.” He also suggested they could be grounds to fire her: It “sucks” that Wax “still works here,” Ruger said, adding that the “only way to get rid of a tenured professor” is a “process” that is “gonna take months.”
The town hall set the stage for a protracted battle over academic freedom. Since January 2022, Penn has been trying to sanction Wax—potentially by revoking her tenure and dismissing her—for statements the law school alleges violate its anti-discrimination policies. The case is testing the argument, aired by one of Wax’s colleagues, that a professor’s academic views can be so “offensive” that they “undercut” her ability to teach students and provide a “good case for termination.”
Wax’s views are undeniably controversial. She said in a 2017 interview that black law students “rarely” finish in the top half of their class. She has argued that black poverty is self-inflicted and, in the context of immigration policy, expressed a preference for “fewer Asians,” citing their “indifference to liberty” and “overwhelming” support for Democrats. …
… But tenure is intended to protect provocative speech.