The Lead

Penn law professor faces evaluation by peers for ‘racist speech’

By: - July 19, 2022 2:01 pm
Penn Law professor Amy Wax (University of Pennsylvania photo)

Penn Law professor Amy Wax (University of Pennsylvania photo)

By Chanel Hill

PHILADELPHIA — New accusations of “inappropriate conduct” against University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax were outlined recently in a 12-page letter to the school’s Faculty Senate by law school Dean Ted Ruger. He is requesting that the Senate levy a “major sanction” against Wax.

In the June 23 letter, Ruger said “Wax has repeatedly used the platform she was granted when she became a professor … to disparage immigrants, people of color, and women, including law students, alumni, and faculty.”

The letter states that “although imposing sanctions on a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania is a ‘rare event,’” Wax’s conduct deserves a “major sanction against her.” The major sanction means that Wax could be suspended or fired.

Ruger, who is also the University of Pennsylvania’s Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law, wrote to the university’s Faculty Senate chairperson Vivian L. Gadsden, who is also the William T. Carter Professor of Child Development and Education.

“I am initiating this disciplinary action because for several years and in multiple instances Wax has shown a callous and flagrant disregard for our University community — including students, faculty, and staff — who have been repeatedly subjected to Wax’s intentional and incessant racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic actions and statements,” Ruger wrote.

“Wax’s conduct inflicts harm on them and the institution and undermines the University’s core values. Wax has made these statements in the classroom and on campus, in other academic settings, and in public forums in which she was identified as a University of Pennsylvania professor,” Ruger continued. “Her statements are antithetical to the University’s mission to foster a diverse and inclusive community and have led students and faculty to reasonably believe they will be subjected to discriminatory animus if they come into contact with her. That eminently reasonable concern has led students to conclude that they cannot take Wax’s classes and faculty to call her presence demoralizing and disruptive.

“Wax has disseminated false information about segments of the University community. She has exploited access to students’ confidential grade information and mischaracterized Law School policies in ostensible support of derogatory and inaccurate statements made about the characteristics, attitudes, and abilities of her students,” Ruger alleged.

Ruger said that the derogatory statements could cause Wax’s students to feel unfairly judged against their white peers.

“Her conduct is antithetical to the University’s core mission to attract a diverse student body to an inclusive educational environment,” the letter stated.

In a statement to The Philadelphia Tribune, Penn Law spokesperson Meredith Rovine said that Wax will now be evaluated by “a group of her peers” among the University’s tenured faculty.

“In January 2022, Dean Ruger announced that he would move forward with a University Faculty Senate process to address Professor Wax’s escalating conduct,” Rovine said.

“That process called for, and continues to involve, careful investigation and deliberation in order to protect the students, faculty, and staff who comprise this institution, and to provide fairness and due process to all involved including Professor Wax,” she said.

“Such a process takes time, and thought, and involves multiple decision-makers. Under the University of Pennsylvania’s rules, with the charges filed the propriety of Professor Wax’s conduct will now be assessed by a group of her peers on the University’s tenured faculty. Under the University Faculty Handbook, and to preserve the integrity of the process, no additional comment on the substance of the charges against Professor Wax is permitted at this time,” she added.

Since Wax joined the law school’s faculty, with tenure, on July 1, 2001, the letter said that her conduct has “created an environment where students, faculty, and staff believe they would be subjected to Wax’s discriminatory animus. The Law School has issued multiple and increasingly forceful statements condemning her behavior. In 2018, after publicly commenting on the academic performance and grade distributions of the Black students in her required first-year courses, Wax’s conduct necessitated a prophylactic policy removing her from teaching required courses.”

Then in January, Wax made several inflammatory and derogatory public comments, including proclaiming the United States would be “better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.”

According to the letter, Wax also told a Black faculty colleague that it is “rational to be afraid of Black men in elevators.” Other instances of Wax’s racist comments were also detailed in Ruger’s letter.

Ruger said in his letter, that he provided Wax with “a written description of charges, which included a summary of the negative impact her harmful comments have on our community.”

Then he said that on May 11 he met with Wax to see if there could be an “informal resolution” of the matter. But, he said, “Wax objected to the continuation of this process given her health concerns, and in a May 24, 2022 letter to Wax, I outlined the medical leave options available to all Law faculty, but noted that absent her request for medical leave, I would invoke the just cause procedures outlined in the Faculty Handbook. To my knowledge, Wax has not requested a leave.” The health concerns were not specified.

Chanel Hill is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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