The free speech wars are about to take a dangerous turn at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.
In the past, even the most egregious instances of campus censorship at least had an apolitical pretext. Princeton claimed Joshua Katz’s firing was based on his “procedural misconduct” during a disciplinary hearing and unrelated to his viral critiques of the Black Lives Matter orthodoxy. Harvard claimed Roland Fryer’s exile was for creating a “hostile work environment” and unrelated to his debunking of progressive pieties about race and the police.
The pretext in these instances was suspect, but at least it existed.
We’ve yet to see a professor at an elite school with unimpeachable workplace conduct get fired simply for voicing opinions. That’s a new frontier, the land of pure, unapologetic censorship—and, as we detail in our new documentary, the University of Pennsylvania is about to cross into it.
Penn has formally launched disciplinary procedures against Amy Wax, a tenured law professor. This process could end in the termination of her job. Wax’s sole offense is daring to publicly—and sometimes acidly—criticize progressive shibboleths.
She co-authored a column calling for a reclamation of 1950s “bourgeois” norms and flatly stated that all cultures are “not equal” in helping people thrive in advanced economies.
She went on Tucker Carlson and called out South Asian women for leading the “diversity, equity, and inclusion” crusade now swamping academic medicine.
In a viral podcast appearance, she substantiated concerns about the “mismatch” effects of affirmative action by recounting that in her classes, black students tend to congregate at the bottom half of the curve.
And she’s openly worried that Asian immigrants are prone to excessive conformity. Or, as she put the point in a rhetorical question that rocketed around Twitter, “Does the spirit of liberty beat in their breast?”
Wax’s provocations have the express purpose of disrupting the staid far-Left political consensus that now dominates Ivy League campuses. She wants to force people to confront politically inconvenient facts. This is what tenured academics are supposed to do: take intellectual risks and make the incumbents check their priors.
And Penn has no problem with provocation if it comes from the Left. Wax’s fellow Penn law professor Regina Austin once speculated that antisemitic conspiracy theories may have positive effects in black communities by fueling a sense of racial solidarity. That comment didn’t prevent Penn from hosting a lush celebration of Austin when she retired last year.
Wax’s wrong-think has prompted widespread outrage. A majority of the Penn law faculty signed an open letter denouncing her. She’s been described as “racist” on prime-time cable news. Thousands of alums have signed another open letter calling for her firing. The Philadelphia City Council even hosted a press conference on the steps of the law school to demand that she stop “hiding behind tenure.”
None of her critics have even pretended to engage with the substance of her arguments, and that includes the man now running the law school.
Dean Theodore Ruger first publicly criticized Wax in the wake of her comments about black student achievement, describing them as “racist” and “inaccurate,” while steadily refusing to release the grading data that would actually prove she’s wrong.
He’s done nothing but name-calling since—and now he’s trying to silence her by force.
Ruger launched a formal disciplinary proceeding in March, which he warned could result in “a major sanction,” including breaking her tenure protections and firing her. Ruger’s indicting document traffics in the incoherent “words equal violence” formulation now common on campus, citing the “lasting trauma” of Wax’s public statements.
This is emotional blackmail deployed not by some sophomore social justice activist who’s read half a chapter of Foucault or some random TikTok influencer with a comparative literature degree but by the head of one of the most prestigious law schools in the country.
Ruger also sprinkles in rumors of Wax’s anti-black bias and some horrifying instances of Wax voicing—brace yourselves—standard-issue conservative politics, such as her email to a fellow professor that “[i]f blacks really and sincerely wanted to be equal, they would make a lot of changes in their own conduct and communities.”
What goes entirely unmentioned is that Penn administrators secretly commissioned an outside investigation into Wax’s decades of teaching and mentoring, and it found “no evidence” of racist bias.
And still, the investigation grinds along. Penn just announced the composition of the faculty senate board that will adjudicate the case. As to the consequences, if this case ends in her termination, Wax herself put it best: “This is truly unprecedented . . . They want to eviscerate tenure and turn it into an empty piece of paper . . .”