Education

The Corner

Penn Law School Professors Sign Open Letter Condemning Amy Wax

Nearly half the professors at the University of Pennsylvania law school have published an open letter condemning their colleague Amy Wax for her by now (in)famous op-ed on bourgeois values. The result? The quality of reasoned debate at the University of Pennsylvania has dramatically worsened, even below the already abysmal standards set by the graduate student and alumni screeds which preceded this latest open letter.

The 33 signatories cut and paste the most offending phrases from Wax’s op-ed and subsequent interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian: “All cultures are not equal”; various social problems would be “significantly reduce[d]” if “the academics, media, and Hollywood” would stop the “preening pretense of defending the downtrodden”; “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans,” because “Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior.”

Do the authors rebut these arguments? Do they offer counterevidence? No. Apparently the thesis of Wax’s op-ed is so patently beyond the pale that it is enough for the signatories to assert: “We categorically reject Wax’s claims.” In the absence of any attempt at refutation, that is simply a case of virtue signaling.

In a bizarrely coy conclusion, the protesting faculty assert that the “ideal of equal opportunity to succeed in education is best achieved by . . .  a commitment by all participants to respect one another without bias or stereotype. To our students, we say the following: If your experience at Penn Law falls substantially short of this ideal, something has gone wrong, and we want to know about it.”

Translation: Please provide us with instances of Wax’s alleged “hate speech” against minorities so that we can build the case for removing her from teaching mandatory first-year courses. That effort is already underway. The law school’s chapter of the left-wing National Lawyers Guild released a statement last week saying that Wax’s endorsement of “white supremacy” should disqualify her from teaching first-year courses. Hilariously, the NLG students also cite her “lack of academic rigor, intellectual dishonesty, and failure to support her opinions with evidence.”

No thinker in the law or social sciences is more rigorous than Wax, a B.S. summa cum laude in molecular biophysics and biochemistry from Yale, a Marshall Scholar in Philosophy, Physiology, and Psychology at Oxford, an M.D. cum laude with distinction in neuroscience from Harvard, an editor at The Columbia Law Review, and a former assistant to the solicitor general of the United States. Wax can reason circles around her critics, certainly around the knee-jerk name-callers who have come out in droves against her.

The 33 Penn Law faculty members carefully affirm Wax’s right to assert her opinions. They note that tenure insulates her from fear for her job. (Query: If she did not have tenure, would they call for her dismissal?) And the signatories are certainly within their rights to disagree with her op-ed. But their failure to offer any reasons for that disagreement speaks volumes about the nature of political discourse on college campuses, where it can now be safely assumed that some positions are so self-evident — those that purport to be “anti-racist” — that they do not need any explanation.

Now the question is: Where is the rest of the faculty? Rather than taking the safe position of supporting free speech (which the dean has done), how about if someone actually rebuts the charge that to call for a restoration of bourgeois values is to endorse “white supremacy”?

Heather Mac Donald — Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a contributing editor of City Journal, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The War on Cops

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