Penn Tries to Punish and Purge Thought Criminal Amy Wax

Every day, American higher education becomes more of an embarrassing intellectual wasteland. Exhibit A is the University of Pennsylvania’s supposed disciplinary action against distinguished faculty member, law professor Amy Wax.  Professor Wax is an alumna of Yale College, Columbia University, and both Harvard’s Law School and Medical School.  Her scholarship is widely cited, and she’s won numerous teaching awards.  Whatever one thinks of her cultural critiques, she is an obvious intellectual powerhouse. So why is Penn disciplining her?

Since at least 2017, Wax has been viewed as controversial. That’s when she and San Diego law professor Larry Alexander published an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer advocating for middle-class, or “bourgeois” values. They noted that the American upper middle class still lives these values: they complete high school before marrying, they marry before having children, and they work full-time and respect authority. Others now call this the “success sequence.” 

But in our politically charged times (that is, times when the political left runs everything from education to entertainment, from government to business), such common-sense views from prestigious professors are verboten. “Racist!” was the predictable denunciation, and Wax probably made Penn’s hitlist at that moment.

But unlike most faculty who conform to political correctness to get hired, to get tenure, and then to get their kids admitted, Wax continued to speak her mind.  After all, her research interests are primarily societal trends such as welfare, immigration, and work and family issues. In these areas, therefore, her need for and claim to academic freedom—the right to follow where research leads—is strongest.

She proceeded to do an interview with Brown University Professor Glenn Loury where she noted that minority students were not well prepared for law school and therefore did not have high class rankings, stating she had “never seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of a class and rarely, rarely in the top half.”  The response was more outrage. She then spoke on immigration at the 2019 National Conservatism conference, where she said that Western countries, including America, should favor immigrants from other Western nations to maintain cultural cohesion.  But in the anti-Western West, only people in places like Japan and China can say such things: Asia can be for Asians, but the West cannot be for Westerners.

All this candid talk dismayed Penn Law. Like almost every other American law school, Penn is run by left-of-center ideologues. So Dean Theodore W. Ruger began an investigation—read an inquisition—to see if Wax had breached “university standards” with “racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic statements.” But how can a university claim to honor free thought and speech if it investigates and disciplines those who think and speak freely?  It can’t. So Penn Law is scrambling for pretexts to discipline Wax—when her real crime is wrong think.  That means Penn Law enforcing thought control, not “university standards.”

So the pretexts for disciplining Wax include an on-campus statement from 10 years ago when she expressed relief at a name she could easily pronounce, allegedly saying it was “a nice American name.” This is apparently Count One against her, though Wax does not remember the incident (though she admits she has mispronounced student names). Count Two is also some 10 years ago and again unremembered by Wax: A minority student claims that Wax told her she had benefited from affirmative action; the student took offense.  Given the absence of any record in the intervening years, Wax has apparently never uttered this sentiment since. She also denies having said it. She points out, however, that supporters of affirmative action say it brings benefits. If so, can’t people say that someone benefits?  And if such a statement is offensive—violating “university standards”—is a affirmative action itself offensive?

So what is really going on here?

The real story is that with a few limited exceptions, such as Hillsdale or Patrick Henry College, American higher education has been hijacked by Stalinist ideologues who see college as more time for student mind control (and soul control … while student debt is social control).  For decades, Democrats have outnumbered Republicans on faculty by ratios of more than 50 to one, with many departments having zero Republicans. To illustrate the climate, College Republicans at the University of Iowa announced a “Coming Out Day” in 2011, to which Anthropology Professor Ellen Lewin emailed a response with the subject line: “F*** YOU REPUBLICANS.”

So college is more about promoting left-wing politics (including sexual degeneracy) than imparting knowledge.

As a result, graduates are mostly ignoramuses who know little about their country except that they’re supposed to hate it (left-wing orders!) They also hate people who want to save America—like Professor Wax.

Administrators and academics have additional reasons to target Wax: She is the real doctor in a room of charlatans. Her very presence exposes other professors as conformist political operatives—not thinkers, much less critical thinkers like Wax. For this reason, Wax must be punished.

If college were about cultivating a life of the mind or an appetite for knowledge and understanding, it would welcome people of different perspectives—dissenters—so everyone could learn from one another. But the opposite is true: universities have purged independent minds from campus, and they are most dogmatic and anti-Western on matters of race and culture. Any hint that Western culture and peoples should be preserved is heresy.  In fact, the professoriate wonders: How did Amy Wax get this far?  And last this long? We got rid of her kind forever ago!

Wax’s crime is precisely in keeping her mind free—in having and speaking her thoughts born of observations, research, and reasoning, regardless of the political correctness police.  In short, to the wasteland that is now academia, she is a thought criminal.

And she is about to become yet one more of academia’s hundreds of victims—students as well as faculty—of cancel culture if Penn Law succeeds in purging her.

When casualties for thought crimes mount this way, one knows that the barbarians have been inside the gate for a long, long time, even as the public is only just now waking up.

In truth, the only corrective now for American higher education is probably a moratorium on public funding for all colleges and universities—say, five years—until an audit of these bad actor institutions can be done. Was their political purge lawful? Why are graduates ignorant and in debt? Why are taxpayers bailing everyone out? Why are real teachers and scholars like Amy Wax threats?

Penn’s attempt to punish and purge Amy Wax is just the latest reminder of how overdue a correction like this is.

Teresa R. Manning is Policy Director at the National Association of Scholars, President of the Virginia Association of Scholars and a former law professor at Virginia’s Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

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About Teresa R. Manning

Teresa R. Manning is the policy director at the National Association of Scholars and a former law professor at Scalia Law School, George Mason University.

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