The Anti-Intellectual Attempt to Fire Professor Amy Wax: Evidence of the Fraudulence and Professional Incompetence of UPenn Law Administration
The UPenn Law School campaign to purge Professor Amy Wax from their ranks for making public statements that challenge the emerging woke left orthodoxy in higher education is now reaching a fever pitch. Just last month, that School’s Dean Ted Ruger made a formal charge to the faculty senate to bring “major sanctions” which could include stripping of tenure and removal from her position. His bold assertion is that Wax has failed to adhere to the standards of her profession and therefore should potentially be removed from its ranks.
FIRE managed to obtain the letter Ruger sent to the faculty senate chair and posted it online. It demonstrates, with stunning and depressing clarity, just how low the level of argument and analysis is at present at the highest levels of American academia. Wokeism is destroying higher education, and it is nowhere clearer than in the astoundingly anti-intellectual rhetoric being emitted from high-level administrators such as Ruger when they are faced with perspectives with which they disagree and about which they patently know almost nothing.
People outside academia only occasionally have an opportunity to peer inside the walls of the university to see at the nuts and bolts level just what kind of foolishness is now being perpetrated there in the name of the woke revolution sweeping through American culture. Ruger’s letter is a depressing document of this phenomenon. A short tour through its contents gives insight into what higher education is becoming.
Ruger’s language is denunciatory at the most elevated level, accusing Wax of having failed utterly as an intellectual: “Much of her public persona has become anti-intellectual: she relies on outdated science [and] makes statements grounded in insufficiently supported generalizations.” But somehow, no examples of this outdated science or insufficiently supported generalizations are indicated in his letter.
The letter’s charge against Wax consists of two parts: a list of student complaints against Wax, and a collection of brief excerpts from Wax’s public speech that purportedly show how unscholarly and bigoted she is.1
Let’s look a bit at this substance, to see precisely how little substance there is to be found there.
The Student/Classroom Complaints
The claims presented in Ruger’s letter about what she’s said in class are unverified by any objective evidence. For this reason, those knowledgeable about such things must conclude that they cannot alone serve as the basis for any formal action against Wax. Putting these comments into the general context of Wax’s teaching record raises real questions. In 2015, she received a prestigious UPenn-wide Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, which involved a detailed examination of her record in the classroom and a broad solicitation of student comments. So, just a few years ago, UPenn publicly recognized that Wax was not only not an incompetent teacher; she was an exemplar among her peers of excellent teaching. What’s different now? It seems clear that it is not Wax or her teaching style that have changed in the intervening years.
Anyone who teaches in higher education knows that students these days not infrequently have ideological axes to grind (which they have not uncommonly been provided by DEI institutions on their campuses), and they often mishear or misremember what was said in such a way as to be offended by things imagined that were in fact not uttered. I have had students make claims to my superiors about things they allege I’ve said in class during Zoom meetings that were recorded, so fortunately I had objective evidence of what was said. The difference between the claim and the reality was in every case remarkable. I shudder occasionally thinking what might happen in such situations when there is no objective record to which to compare the interpretive efforts of students with hostile motives or careless attitudes to accuracy.
But it turns out that even if you take Wax’s students’ highly doubtful claims on their face, they still constitute no case for major sanctions against her. A look at just the first three claims illustrates this.
The first example given by Ruger is a student claiming that in response to a question about whether Wax agreed that blacks are inherently inferior to whites, Wax responded: “You can have two plants that grow under the same conditions, and one will just grow higher than the other.” How this statement could be seen by any rational person as something objectively psychologically damaging to this or any other student is a mystery for the ages. This is obviously not an affirmation of inherent racial inferiority in humans, as it is not even a statement about humans. It is also a true statement.