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Penn law dean begins process that could lead to sanctions against Professor Amy Wax

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The dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School announced on Tuesday that he would initiate a process that could lead to sanctions against longtime law professor Amy Wax for her racist comments.

In a noon email to the law school community. Dean Ted Ruger said he would invoke a faculty review process, which must take place before any action, major or minor, can be taken. The process outlined in Penn’s faculty handbook covers the issuance of minor sanctions such as a letter of reprimand or the convening of a faculty hearing panel to review the charges to major sanctions such as suspension or dismissal.

Ruger said he would act as a plaintiff in the case and draw on the criticism he has received over the years about Wax.

“His conduct has generated multiple complaints from members of our community citing the impact of pervasive and recurring vitriol and the promotion of white supremacy as cumulative and growing,” Ruger said. “The complaints claim that it is impossible for students to attend his classes without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animosity. These complaints clearly call for a process that can fairly consider allegations, for example, that his conduct has a noticeable negative impact on his teaching and classroom activities.

Ruger said that in some instances, Wax “exploited his faculty’s access to confidential student information to ostensibly support his inaccurate statements.”

READ MORE: Penn law professor Amy Wax enraged people with her comments about Asians. Now she is in danger of being punished.

For years, the 68-year-old tenured professor who worked at Penn for two decades has repeatedly infuriated students with her comments, first questioning the academic ability of black students and more recently saying the country would be better off. with fewer Asians. and less Asian immigration. Penn condemned her statements and in 2018 removed her from teaching required classes, but invoked academic freedom in refusing to fire her.

But Ruger said last week he was considering invoking the review process because Wax’s “racist rhetoric is growing in intensity and in its harmful nature” and the effect of his comments on the academic community has been cumulative. It’s unclear how long the process will take, but the faculty handbook says a hearing usually takes place within three months of notification.

The case promises to raise many discussions inside and outside Penn. Even before the law school released its announcement, the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA) released a statement to Penn President Amy Gutmann urging Penn not to discipline Wax. The alliance defines itself as “a coalition of faculty from across the country and across the ideological spectrum who are committed to upholding the principles of academic freedom and faculty freedom of expression.”

“Regardless of what one thinks of Professor Wax’s personal political views, the only appropriate action the University of Pennsylvania should take in this situation is to publicly reaffirm the free speech rights of its faculty members.” , said Keith Whittington, chair of the AFA Academic Committee. “It is abundantly clear that his public comments as a private person on matters of public interest cannot be construed as constituting a ‘blatant disregard for the standards, rules or mission of the University or the customs of the scholarly communities” that could give rise to disciplinary action under the faculty handbook.

Wax – an attorney and neurologist trained at Harvard, Yale and Columbia universities – did not respond to an interview request, but she shared the letter from the alliance. On last month’s podcast where she commented on Asians, she acknowledged there was a move to oust her and said, “I’m not terribly worried about it.”

READ MORE: Lawmaker asks Penn to revoke professor’s tenure after racist comments: ‘We don’t stand for hate speech’

Earlier this month, a group of law students presented a petition to Penn with about 2,500 signatures, asking the university to launch an investigation into Wax, who they say is unfit to teach and has violated academic standards of behavior. The group is also calling on Penn to suspend Wax pending the investigation and undertake a broader review of its tenure process so that such egregious conduct can be dealt with much sooner.

“It overtly or explicitly discriminates against students and that is not part of academic freedom. … In fact, it actively interferes with the legal education of others and makes them feel uncomfortable, unwanted and unwanted or ignored,” Apratim Vidyarthi, 28, a third-year Penn Law student from the San Jose area.

READ MORE: Inside the campaign to take out Penn law professor Amy Wax

A group of state lawmakers and Philadelphia City Council members also this month called on Penn to revoke Wax’s term. In a letter to Penn, city council members called on the university to begin a review of Wax’s position and role, saying his comments “are not only academically dishonest, but fuel the dangerous tendencies of ‘growing animosity and scapegoating of Asian Americans’.

The Philadelphia Bar Association also condemned Wax’s latest statements this month, and U.S. attorneys for the OCA-Asia-Pacific on Wednesday called for his suspension or firing.

A native of Troy, NY, Wax received his bachelor’s degree in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, with summa cum laude honors. She then studied philosophy, physiology and psychology at Oxford. She graduated from Harvard Medical School, trained as a neurologist and later earned her law degree from Columbia, according to her resume listed on the Penn Law website. She started at Penn in 2001.

In 2017, Wax wrote an op-ed in which she said, “Not all cultures are equal. Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy. Then she said in an interview that she didn’t think she’d ever seen a black grad student in the top quarter of the class at Penn Law and “rarely, rarely in the top half,” a claim Ruger later refuted. .

In 2019, she again came under fire after commenting at a conference on immigration.

Then last month, during a podcast with Brown University economist Glenn Loury, she said immigration policies should focus on “cultural compatibility” and called “the influx of elites Asians…problematic”. She later wrote on Loury’s site that “as long as most Asians support the Democrats and help advance their positions, I think the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less immigration. Asian”.

She currently teaches two small electives.

This is a developing story.