Posted on July 28, 2022

Latest on UPenn Law’s Effort to Purge Amy Wax

Alexander Riley, Substack, July 27, 2022

The UPenn Law School campaign to purge Professor Amy Wax from their ranks for making public statements that challenge the emerging woke left orthodoxy in higher education is now reaching a fever pitch.  Just last month, that School’s Dean Ted Ruger made a formal charge to the faculty senate to bring “major sanctions” which could include stripping of tenure and removal from her position.  His bold assertion is that Wax has failed to adhere to the standards of her profession and therefore should potentially be removed from its ranks.

FIRE managed to obtain the letter Ruger sent to the faculty senate chair and posted it online.  It demonstrates, with stunning and depressing clarity, just how low the level of argument and analysis is at present at the highest levels of American academia.  {snip}


Let’s look a bit at this substance, to see precisely how little substance there is to be found there.

The Student/Classroom Complaints

The claims presented in Ruger’s letter about what she’s said in class are unverified by any objective evidence.  For this reason, those knowledgeable about such things must conclude that they cannot alone serve as the basis for any formal action against Wax.  Putting these comments into the general context of Wax’s teaching record raises real questions.  In 2015, she received a prestigious UPenn-wide Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching, which involved a detailed examination of her record in the classroom and a broad solicitation of student comments.  So, just a few years ago, UPenn publicly recognized that Wax was not only not an incompetent teacher; she was an exemplar among her peers of excellent teaching.  What’s different now?  It seems clear that it is not Wax or her teaching style that have changed in the intervening years.

Anyone who teaches in higher education knows that students these days not infrequently have ideological axes to grind (which they have not uncommonly been provided by DEI institutions on their campuses), and they often mishear or misremember what was said in such a way as to be offended by things imagined that were in fact not uttered.  {snip}


Ruger complains mightily that Wax’s invitation of the race realist conservative Jared Taylor to her class and her assignment in the same class of an interview with British cultural nationalist politician Enoch Powell constitute monstrous offenses against legitimate academic discourse and a deliberate attack on minority students.  In one of the interviews to which he links, Wax makes clear that the course at issue is on conservative political and legal thought and the ideas of both Taylor and Powell were introduced, without any hint of Wax’s own agreement or disagreement with them, to students as aspects of that body of thought.  She made it clear that this was an elective course that no student was required to take.  What is going on here then is scarcely debatable.  As Wax notes in one of the interviews, Ruger is essentially telling her that she has broken with the basic professorial code by introducing students to varieties of conservative thought…in a course on conservative thought.

This point merits more exploration.  In a course on Nazism or fascism, for example, students might well and reasonably be asked to read material written by Nazis or fascists to be exposed to the ideas of the philosophies and movements as expressed by those inside them.  This needn’t imply any justification of the views; presenting them is in this scenario wholly educational in purpose. These ideas exist in some political circles on the right, and in a course with the topic that organizes Wax’s, it is not unreasonable to have a look at them, whether one finds them convincing or not, since the purpose of the course is to inform students of the length and breadth of the content of conservative thought, not to convert them to anything. The same is true in a course on revolutionary Marxian communism, in which students might be legitimately asked to read Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and other unsavory characters in the murderous history of global communism.  A good case can be made on educational grounds that going to original sources is a superior pedagogical strategy to the alternative of giving students only secondary sources that may or may not effectively control their own biases in the interest of undistorted depiction of the ideas.

What Ruger is attempting here is as dangerous a thing as a college administrator can do.  “I don’t like an idea or the person who expresses that idea, and so no student ever, in any course, should be exposed to that idea or person,” this is what he is communicating.  Ruger tellingly gives no specifics of what in Powell’s or Taylor’s expression of political ideas cannot be presented to law school students.  To attack Taylor, he cites only the Southern Poverty Law Center, the contemporary go-to source for impugning anyone on the right who says anything about human population genetics, mass immigration post-’65, or a number of other increasingly taboo topics in the woke vision.  But the SPLC citation offers no substantive bits of Taylor’s speech or thought, nor any refutation of those ideas.  It simply calls him names.  We are told that he  hosts the American Renaissance conference, where “racist intellectuals…Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists” meet.  Who are we talking about here, specifically, and what have they argued, in detail?  Nothing is provided.  Taylor is impugned simply because some “racists” have come to his conference, and Wax too is equally blackened because she invited the convener of the conference that gave a platform to “racists” to appear in her class as a representative of a variety of conservative thought.

A little investigation of specifics proves of interest.  This man who Ruger insinuates cannot reasonably be invited to a college class, with no insinuation even that Wax defended or supported whatever ideas he expressed about which Ruger could not be troubled to tell us anything at all, has been on many other college campuses.  He has also appeared frequently on numerous mainstream media programs and widely-viewed podcasts.  Phil Donahue had him on his former program a few times in the early 2000s, and he and Taylor cordially went back and forth in debate.  The leftist Huffington Post Live, hosted by black scholar Marc Lamont Hill, much more recently had him on to debate antiracist activists Tim Wise and Michael Eric Dyson.  Taylor has been invited to public stages to debate and discuss with black interlocutors on both the right and the left on many occasions.  Here he is telling a nearly all black audience that he identifies as a kind of “Marcus Garvey-ite” who wants blacks to be free and independent in their own state within the American nation, a position that is taken up by many black nationalists.  Here is another civil discussion with a black interlocutor.  And here he is as the invitee and debate opponent of black scholar Wilfred Reilly at the campus of Kentucky State University, a Historically Black University.

I say nothing whatever here about the content of Taylor’s ideas, in echoing Ruger’s complete silence about that substance, though, unlike Ruger, I will refrain from calling the man names in the absence of any presentation of what he has said or written.  If you want to hear what he thinks and have a bit more intellectual seriousness about you than Dean Ruger does, you can simply listen to any of those linked appearances on other college campuses and at mainstream media sites.  But doesn’t it say something remarkable that a man who has been invited to present his views at many mainstream institutions, and who therefore is likely considered by at least some of those who invited him as within the reasonable range of intellectual debate, and who has a record of doing so cordially and respectfully, is presented by Ruger—again, without any evidence of the content of his views—as evidently beyond the pale, endeavoring in doing so to paint a professor at his university who invited him to class as likewise morally monstrous?

If university administrators can so frivolously and anti-intellectually restrict the range of presentable ideas and the freedom of their faculty to expose their students to such controversial ideas, we have reason to fear what will become of modern higher education.  Indeed, it is already happening.

The only “evidence” Ruger gives that Taylor is beyond the pale is that the Southern Poverty Law Center considers him an “extremist.”  And since the content of ideas can be determined, in Ruger’s view, without any reference to the ideas but merely by referencing the SPLC’s disdain for them, we might justifiably inquire about the evidence of the moral character of that institution doing the evaluation.

SPLC was co-founded by attorney Morris Dees, whom the organization fired in 2019 after multiple allegations over many years that he had sexually harassed young women in the organization and generally and systematically mistreated women and non-whites working there.  Former employees of the SPLC have noted how racially segregated its staff was for the entire life of the organization, with almost all professional staff white and blacks in the organization relegated to the administrative staff.  The organization had an endowment in excess of $120 million, and Dees and other top executives lived lavishly, with numerous expensive homes in many states.  Some employees referred to the SPLC as a “highly profitable scam.”  Many claimed Dees’ firing was insufficient, as the racial and gender discrimination in the organization was spread throughout leadership.

As Ruger blackens the reputations of Taylor for associating with unnamed “racists” and Wax for inviting Taylor to her course, we might well wonder about the legitimacy of the SPLC as an organization founded by such an individual and operating according to such practices, and about the moral standing of someone who claims that very imperfect organization as a legitimate moral arbiter of others.

Ruger makes it clear that the determining factor as to who can and who cannot be given to students to read, who can and who cannot be invited to give a guest lecture or talk to students over dinner, is not the objective content of their ideas, about which he shows no real interest, preferring invective and insinuation.  The real determining factor for him as to whether students can be given ideas to consider is whether reading or listening to those who present the ideas “le[a]d minority students to report feeling “marginalized, isolated, unsupported, and unprioritized.””  No other evidence is necessary, and no evidence is required of such students to demonstrate that their feelings about this work are justified.  This is, to say the least, a complete shift away from the university as a truth-seeking institution to one centered on making sure that no one ever—at least, no one in an officially recognized marginalized group–feels at all challenged in any way by anything they encounter on campus.


Let us be clear about what is happening in Amy Wax’s case.  This is not just an attack on her, though it is also that.  She is being attacked as the representative of a whole set of heterodox intellectual frameworks and bodies of research.  It is that set of ideas that Ruger and his ilk—indeed, all the academic purveyors of woke morality–want to destroy.  They will do it one individual at a time, as this is the most feasible and practical way to advance their agenda, but the goal is not just to remove the individuals.  It’s to make it impossible even to think those ideas in the contemporary university.

This is an effort to shape the basic contours of intellectual life in America, and in a way hostile to intellectual freedom and curiosity and subservient to moral totalitarianism and childish emotionalism.

Amy Wax’s case is not just about Amy Wax.  It is about all of us in higher education, and everyone else with an interest in free intellectual inquiry and expression.  We had better all be paying close attention.

(Editor’s note: Amy Wax is in the fight of her life and needs your help. Please contribute to her defense fund here.)