A professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School has been removed from her primary teaching duties after making observations about the academic disparity black and white students on campus.
The controversy for Prof. Amy Wax began last August when she co-wrote an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer titled, “Paying the price for the breakdown in the country’s bourgeois culture.”
“That culture laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness,” she wrote.
Wax continued, “Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”
The professor contended these values reigned supreme among people from different backgrounds and abilities in America until the mid-1960s. Wax conceded that the country of course was not perfect, but there was a nod to these values being good among the vast majority. However, by the late 1960s, this culture began to wane with the growth of the welfare state and the breakdown of the pro-marriage norm. The pathologies of poverty, crime, and addiction followed as more and more grew up in broken homes.
“All cultures are not equal,” Wax wrote. “Or at least they are not equal in preparing people to be productive in an advanced economy.”
She concluded arguing for a return to bourgeois norms, which still exist in segments of society. To achieve this end, Wax wrote that will require the arbiters of culture in academia, the media and Hollywood “to relinquish multicultural grievance polemics and the preening pretense of defending the downtrodden” and re-embrace what was good in the American ethic.
A group of 54 Penn students and alumni responded to her piece with a column in the school’s newspaper — The Daily Pennsylvanian — describing her arguments as “steeped in anti-blackness” and called for school administrators to investigate Wax’s advocacy of “white supremacy.”
Weeks later, in Sept. 2017, Wax participated in a podcast with Brown University professor Glenn Loury titled, “The Downside of Social Uplift.” Among the topics they discussed was the “mismatch hypothesis” of affirmative action in relation to law schools, which is based on data published in a 2005 Stanford Law Review article. The hypothesis holds that affirmative action does more harm than good, by admitting students in schools for which they are not prepared.
During her interview, Wax said her own experience as a professor of first year civil procedure students at Ivy League Penn bore out the findings of the study.
“Here’s a very inconvenient fact, Glenn: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class, and rarely, rarely, in the top half,” Wax stated. “I can think of one or two students who scored in the top half of my required first-year course.”
“When Wax’s video surfaced earlier this month, it sparked outrage among student groups and faculty members, many of whom called her statements racist,” The Washington Post reported. A petition was circulated calling on law school Dean Ted Ruger to discipline her.
“Amy Wax insinuated demonstrably false and deeply offensive claims about black law students and alumni,” Nick Hall, a third-year law student and president of the school’s Black Law Students Association, told Philadelphia Magazine.
Ruger acquiesced to those demanding discipline of the tenured faculty member announcing Wax had been removed from teaching the mandatory civil procedure course, but would still teach electives.
The dean stated Wax spoke “disparagingly and inaccurately” about the performance of black students.
“Black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law,” Ruger told the Daily Pennsylvanian. “And contrary to any suggestion otherwise, black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market, and in their careers.”
Wax stood her ground amid the controversy commenting to the paper in an email, “I would emphasize that student performance is a matter of fact, not opinion. It is what it is.”
Loury came to Wax’s defense in a lengthy Facebook post, noting that no data from Penn contradicting his colleague’s claim has been forthcoming.