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.DONATE
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