How A Weak Penn Law Dean Weaponized Student Hurt Feelings Against Dissident Prof. Amy Wax
Wax: Dean Ted Ruger “has the power to shut it all down in a second…. That means just explaining to students that academic freedom protects professors’ expressions of opinion, even opinions they don’t like or agree with.”
The first semester had just begun for the students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School in September of 2019 and Professor Amy Wax was still there at her desk. It galled them. For two years they had tried to get her fired for openly defying the woke campus orthodoxy, and the more they tried, the harder she fought back.
Wax would be at the top of the student council agenda that September.
To address the “Amy Wax situation,” the group called a special “town hall” meeting. Only students were invited, no faculty, to speak openly amongst themselves about her sins against them.
As Wax later learned from students who recorded it, that meeting was a 90-minute whining session:
It was students complaining for an hour and a half about how ‘traumatized’ they were, how ‘damaged,’ how ‘psychologically hurt and harmed’ and ‘destroyed’ … by the mere fact that I was a professor at their law school, that I was sitting down the hall in my office. … This was something that just completely disabled them from functioning as law students and lawyers.
One of the participants was reported to be particularly outraged:
“Her presence here…makes me angry, it makes me pissed off,” he said, adding that it “sucks” that she was still there. And when students talked about wanting to fire her, he said that “the only way to get rid of a tenured professor is this process…that’s gonna take months.”
He would know, because he’s Penn Law’s Dean Ted Ruger, attending by special invitation.
By saying those words in the students’ presence, the administration’s highest-ranking authority ceded that authority, signaling to them in their own coarse language that their wish was his command. He felt their pain. And they now had his assurance that as far as he was concerned, her firing was a foregone conclusion; it was just “gonna” take some time.
The 2019 town hall meeting was neither the first nor the last time the dean would indulge the students’ hurt feelings and let them tell him how to do his job. But it shows how when the adult in the room abandons his role, feelings can quickly become weapons.
And it’s not only academia’s finest scholars who are in their crosshairs. The institution itself—and the students’ own futures as lawyers—are in danger when rational argument and open debate are forbidden because they cause hurt feelings.
The Call to Cancel Wax
The call to cancel Wax, who I spoke to earlier this month, began in earnest in August 2017, after Wax and a co-author published an op-ed urging Americans to “re-embrace” the traditional Western “bourgeois” values that once made society great: hard work, family, civility, patriotism.
What really triggered the multiculturalists was their declaration that “all cultures are not equal … in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy.” This defiance of the we-are-all-exactly-equal dogma had to be punished. Students and faculty soon after began to rain holy hell on the once-esteemed professor in the Penn newspaper, denouncing her for “hate speech” and “white supremacy.”
Despite the attacks (or perhaps because of them) Wax persisted in publicly commenting on hot-button topics such as the negative consequences of affirmative action and immigration restrictions. Her remarks escalated student protest and a petition for her removal.
More recently, her comments that America would be better off “with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration”—because Asian immigrants support the Democrat party responsible for ruining the country—prompted swift condemnation from the dean—and the pretext to terminate her.
The students were not alone in their battle against Wax. Well before the 2019 student town hall meeting, Dean Ruger took up arms with them. By March 2018, he demoted her, stripping her of her mandatory first-year Civil Procedure course.
Wax is understandably exasperated at how, over the years, Dean Ruger has prostrated himself before “untutored young people who are now calling the shots.” She says “he has the power to shut it all down in a second”:
“That means just explaining to students that academic freedom protects professors’ expressions of opinion, even opinions they don’t like or agree with. A pretty simple concept, [but] one that most students don’t even get exposed to, let alone told they are obliged to honor as members of the university.”
But there is no room for disagreement in today’s woke academia, where emotions replace reason and critical thinking. “No one can confront uncomfortable truths,” Wax says. “Everyone has to be praised and feel good at all times.”
So, it’s not surprising that Dean Ruger isn’t explaining these basic academic values to the students. He’s not there to do that; he’s there to make them feel good about themselves.
And now, for the “racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic” statements she’s made in favor of the American way of life, Wax must pay. This past June, Dean Ruger wrote a letter to the Faculty Senate calling for a review of Wax’s conduct for violation of university policy under the Faculty Handbook and a “major sanction” including possible termination.
The dean’s letter has been criticized as a deeply flawed document, which Wax says relies on predictably out-of-context, mischaracterized interpretations of her comments. Soon after its release, the most established and trusted commentators condemned the letter, as a “grave violation of her academic freedom”:
We regard this as a threat to Professor Wax’s tenure and her employment as a professor at the Law School, and a grave violation of her academic freedom.
for its “outright dishonesty”:
Ruger occasionally stoops to outright dishonesty about the contour of Wax’s statements on how policy might be applied in light of these group differences.
for its vague allegations that Wax “violated the spirit of Penn’s ‘mission’, which includes a commitment to a ‘diverse and inclusive community’”:
This objective assessment appears to have left no impression on Ruger. For him, it is enough that Wax has allegedly violated the spirit of Penn’s “mission,” which includes a commitment to “a diverse and inclusive community”—apparently except for views dissenting from woke orthodoxy.
(added) for its misuse of historical material to achieve ideological ends:
However, here, in regard to John Enoch Powell, a Black Country member of the U.K. Parliament (1950–February 1974iv), you are
making concrete claims about a now deceased third party—akin to what would be called legislative facts in ordinary litigation. If you have any sources for these claims, it is quite unclear what they are.
and, importantly, for its utter failure to address her statements on the merits, such as her assertion that “All cultures are not equal,” the one that first galvanized the mob against her:
Dean Ruger’s list of Wax’s violations is funny because it consists largely of truisms, laced here and there with evidence of guilt by association. … It would take a very long column to address all of Dean Ruger’s accusations, so let me focus on the one that seemed to cause the greatest offense: the idea that not all cultures are equal. “All cultures are not equal,” she wrote. … [I]t is for stating such obvious truths that Wax is being dragged into the Star Chamber at Penn.
In fact, underlying the charges in the letter is something that can never be proved—or disputed—in the #MeToo era: feelings. Truth and logic are beside the point in these 12 pages of accusations, of which so many are based on reported hurt feelings supposedly caused by Wax’s statements. To recite a few:
- One black student reported that “she wanted to, but did not let herself, cry.” And “everything about that really hurt.”
- A second student reported feeling “extremely vulnerable and afraid” working on a student law journal with Wax.
- Another black student “felt devastated at being made to feel ‘not good enough’ and like she ‘had to prove herself.’ She explained that in that moment she felt ‘powerless’ to respond to Wax [and] … forced to ‘box in’ her feelings and let the moment go ‘unchecked.’”
In other words, Amy Wax must go because she makes adult law school students feel bad.
But what place do reports of hurt feelings have in a law school which presumably upholds basic principles of rationality and truth? No matter how many times the dean repackages the students’ emotions in the language of tort law—e.g., “the harm … is real”; “Wax’s conduct inflicts harm”; “escalating damage”—these harms elude objective measurement or even definition. And now, because students are “offended,” one of the nation’s most highly accomplished academics—a tenured professor with Ivy League degrees in both law and medicine, who won Penn Law’s 2015 Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, and who occupies a named chair—is condemned to having that position taken away.
Wax is preparing to fight, with a GoFundMe page to raise money for legal expenses.
Serious Doubt About Becoming a Lawyer
The real question, though, goes beyond Amy Wax. It is about the students who want to remove her and the institution they are prepared to destroy in order to do so.
What happens after law school, when these “vulnerable” elites enter the workforce and have to perform in top-level law firms and courtrooms?
Wax says they are not welcome there. She knows, because partners and judges have told her so:
Students with “woke social justice mentality,” they tell her, “can’t deal with opposing arguments that don’t represent approved opinion. They can’t think of opposing arguments. They’re not very good at making opposing arguments.” Even worse, they “[monitor] the environment for … political correctness.”
Woke social justice mentality—the type on display at the 2019 town hall meeting—says Wax, is simply “incompatible with good lawyering.” And ultimately, it is incompatible with the mission of any law school, let alone a top-tier institution like Penn Law.
That is the message Dean Ruger should have driven home to them at that meeting. As future lawyers, she says, they are going to have to “be able to handle different arguments pro and con, all sorts of points of view … without wilting and taking to [their] bed.” That is what lawyers do, “making those arguments, getting inside them.” If they can’t, they are “ill-equipped” to become a lawyer.
And that is why the “vulnerable” students should probably, as Wax says, echoing the fictional Professor Kingsfield, “rethink their career choice and seek employment elsewhere,” because there is serious doubt about their becoming lawyers.
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Picture of the student group at their special “town hall” meeting being addressed by Dean Ruger,
Call the vile Dumb-o-crats what they plainly are — Maoist thugs and goose-stepping brownshirts. They are the very evil that they sanctimoniously and myopically claim to oppose.
Will they be kept out of the litigation sectors of the law profession?
It’d be nice if some poetic justice were served to social justice mob runners, but I don’t hold such an optimistic view. They will instead infect these realms and use their taint to destroy any semblance of just and fair trials. They want this country to become subject to the kangaroo courts of the totalitarian regimes created by their idols like Castro and Maduro, maybe throw in some Saddam Hussein as well.
These children are not being treated like the functioning adults they must be in order to attend q community college much less college graduates attending law school. ‘I feel, she makes me feel’. It’s a crock and employers are catching on. Too many examples of woke social justice warriors destroying productivity in the workplace. Some of these employers are quietly pushing out these people who are unmotivated about the job they were hired to perform and won’t replace them with another wokista.
Tell the students to be treated either like adults or like children. If they choose children who elevate their feelings then they can sit in corner and stay silent until spoken to, seen but not heard. If adults they can marshal an argument based upon facts and evidence and be listened to while they present it and have their argument rebutted and evaluated.
Pronouns and piercings are good first indicators.
They will be eaten alive in a real courtroom with real lawyers. Might be fun to watch….
“…without wilting and taking to their bed” would have been better worded as “…without wilting and making in their bed.”
It’s a safe bet that anything “student-led” is instigated, if not totally controlled, by faculty or administrators.
“Pissed off, sucks, gonna.” So, this is the language of U Penn law students that the Dean is employing. The problem is that this generation consists largely of narcissistic ignoramuses. They have no broad liberal education. They simply employ their almost totally ignorant natural intelligence to meet the narrow, mechanical requirements of being graduated with a law degree so that they may slop up material comfort and display meretricious social standing.
Prof. Wax can point out all she wants that partners and judges do not want these kinds of students, but unless they put their preferences into action, it is meaningless. It may be possible to detect, but probably impossible to measure, whether they are avoiding hiring these kinds of students from Penn. There may or may not be anecdotal evidence of it, but accuracy would be hard to come by, since it is almost impossible to imagine that anyone, would explicitly ask a student a question like “What do you think of Professor Wax?” and risk a lawsuit for harassment or discrimination if the candidate was not hired. Professor Wax had an observation about class standing. Does Penn actually publish class standing rankings, and is there any indication of whether anyone asks about this the way judges 40 or 50 years ago still used to ask, much to the consternation of law schools, whether clerkship candidates made law review on grades or on writing? Or is it too risky a question to ask if it turns out that Prof. Wax’s assertion, and not Dean Ruger’s answer, was correct? And, finally, complicating all of this is the possibilities that law firms may hire Penn graduates with the full understanding that they are incapable of allowing themselves the full range of analytic thinking as long as they can still assign them to some productive work or check a box during the multi-year period before most of them likely leave for failure to become partners, and that these graduates will still find employment with next-tier law firms.
Actually, this can be measured in certain ways.
One example: a certain percentage of Penn law grads will end up as clerks in federal courts. Those are coveted positions. One can compare that percentage this year and coming years from (say) five years ago. How many, and which courts, and which judges?
Ditto for the white shoe firms. How many Penn law grads end up as associates at those firms as opposed to working for the ham & eggers?
There are ways to measure this, and the grad placement office knows every one.
A far larger consequence is that some of these students will become judges and will use their ideology to make decisions.
You nailed it, Mr. V! It is already happening.
The dean did not abandon his role as an adult; instead, he is one of the children in the room.
As for the “adults” who are studying law at Penn, not only will they be unable to function in a highly competitive environment, they will be unable to function in the real world.
There is no penalty for being a left-winger in academia and few with the courage to dissent from the orthodoxy knowing that dissenters are branded bigots of one undesirable form or another. There are far too many who will go along with the flow, lest they be branded a racist.
Nice job, Ms. Coleman!
I have no fear for the future employability of these wannabe Bolsheviks masquerading as SJ Warriors. They will find lucrative employment among the horde of IRS agents and other Gestapo like agencies within the DOJ, including the FBI. BigTech, BigPharma, the MSM will be anxious to employ them as well. No, they have a great future until the revolution comes and they will all come to an end on the guillotine, although I’d prefer piano wire.
America would be better off “with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration”—because Asian immigrants support the Democrat party responsible for ruining the country…
If a gentile professor said this about Jews, would you:
1) try to rationalize firing her.
2) disagree but defend as free speech.
3) agree it’s sad but true.
It doesn’t square with my own personal experience with large influxes of Vietnamese refugees in the DC area. They were hard-working new-country patriots and fiscal conservatives, in the “rooftop Korean” mode, and the next generation entirely dominated the area’s school systems.
Maybe there is a political division between what comedienne Ally Wong refers to as “fancy Asians vs. jungle Asians,” but I haven’t explored that.
Asians voted for Biden over Trump 63% to 31%. Vietnamese are a small fraction of Asian-Americans.
Asians who directly experienced and fled from communism tend to reject progressive anti-Americanism. Same is true of Hispanics with similar background, like Cubans. Neither subset is at all representative of their broader ethnic groups.
Agreed, but I had to work with a large number of Chinese “students” in various universities, and they invariably work for the ChiComs in any capacity they could. The Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thais, Koreans etc., I worked with were marvelous people.
The Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thais, Koreans etc., I worked with were marvelous people.
A Jewish family lived next door to me when I was a kid. Dad was a fedgov attorney, mom was a teacher. They became so close to my extended family that they sometimes vacationed in Europe with my German relatives. I still visit the parents, who are in their declining years. They are marvelous people.
Politically, the entire family belongs to the Biden/Soros camp. This probably describes most Asians: Well-educated, law-abiding, good neighbors, but almost intrinsically hostile to GOP/conservatives because Asians perceive them as the white Christian team.
The biggest blind spot afflicting most conservatives is that, because they personally are neither racist nor particularly tribal, they assume most other good and smart people are also free of these prejudices. But that’s false. Politically, most people are driven more by tribal identification than by disinterested pursuit of good policy. Koreans, Japanese, Chinese and other high-IQ Asians are punished more than any other group by discriminatory admissions standards in higher ed, and yet they still reliably vote for the Democrats who imposed this. Think about how much you must resent living in a majority-white country that you’ll vote for Democrats just because you perceive them as the not-white party.
It’s good to like your neighbors and co-workers because they’re good people. It’s stupid to assume they have anything in common with you politically just because they’re individually admirable.
The Asian comment (if true and if taken in context) sounds terrible.
Regardless, Dean Ruger should be fired for overseeing a Marxist training camp. Make Alan Dershowitz or Sidney Powell the new dean.
The worst thing about political discussion today is that almost everyone first decides if something “sounds terrible” and only then bothers to evaluate whether it’s true. And most people never get around to the second part.
Make Wax the Dean, just to make a point.
Go check out her ratings on RateMyProfessor.com. You get a mix of the real students and the whiney little apparatchiks that have drunk the woke Kool Aid. The polarity is revealing. The critics appear to have failed her class or couldn’t keep up.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall if any of these wussies make it into a court room! Who will they cry to when they have their empty heads handed to them on a platter?
Of course, the ABA is going woke, so they will probably promote this mental disease.
Come on guys, cultures that brought about end of legal slavery and penicillin are no better than cultures that murder the men from the next village over and enslave their children! How dare you consider one better than the other.
Dean Wormer is a better dean than Dean Ruger–apparently neither he nor any of his whiny students will be able to hack it in a real court room
How interesting that UPenn is also the Ivy League school that allows male swimmers who can not successfully compete against other male swimmers to compete against female swimmers so successfully that they now hold school women’s swimming records. Amazing that people will pay over $85,000 in tuition, housing, dining, and other fees to have this garbage forced down their throats.
Penn Law should be ashamed of itself for groveling before the demands of students and not protecting academic freedom.
I suspect the Penn Law administration isn’t groveling, and that it despises Professor Wax as much as the prog students do. The Weather Underground generation captured elite academia decades ago.
There’s a political philosopher named Curtis Yarvin (used to write as “Mencius Moldbug”) who says this problem won’t get fixed “until someone drives a tank or two into Harvard Yard.” He may be right.
I am 53 and entered law school at 50 years old in 2019. What she’s going through is EXACTLY what I experienced.
I’m a 50 year old, ex-infantry dude, from red state Alaska, attending the white glove world of law school in cobalt blue Massachusetts – and in my first year, due to my “unacceptable” views, I had 2 attempts to get me kicked out. One was an outright (and provable) lie that I cheated on an exam – the other was a some vague reference to me being racist & sexist (the old stand-bys) where they would not give me ANY specifics of what I said or did.
I just graduated (yay me!) – and in the 3 years there, it was 5 attempts, and I think the # is so low because we did Zoom our 2L year.
She’s right – these kids (SOME – not all – but the some are VOCAL) – cannot formulate opposing arguments nor do they think they should have to compromise or see alternative outcomes from what they want.
During 2L year I mentored incoming veterans on getting through 1L year – and I heard over and over how veterans were treated badly – open comments about “toxic masculinity” and other comments I cannot repeat here.
What did the school DO about this open and naked harassment? NOTHING. The SJW types get as many shots as they like at you and they are bullet proof to any consequences even when it is PROVED they are LYING. Not “they took it this way” – no – they made up, out of whole cloth, whole conversation you never had and report you.
It’s bad folks. I loved my law school experience, and am going back to Alaska for my job I have waiting for me. That said – the SJW types (and it was BAD in 2020) are repeatedly shown they can act with impunity – and their actions reflect that belief.
I’ve always said infantrymen are the smartest guys on the battlefield. Congrats on successfully navigating the law school minefield.
One of my most valuable and enduring lessons learned as young law student 50 years ago was that no one gave a rat’s ass whether or not I was “offended,” only if I had facts on my side.