‘Incredible air of unreality’ on campus
WASHINGTON – Amy Wax wants to defund Ivy League schools, including her own. She’ll tell you about it later.
The University of Pennsylvania law professor has spent the past year under fire from students and colleagues for her comments on race and culture, starting with an op-ed that praised bourgeois values.
A new round of demands for her firing arose after Wax said she didn’t know of any black law students who graduated in the top quarter of the class. She has stayed silent through most of the controversy.
But Wax is ready to talk now. Throughout her speech at the Heritage Foundation Thursday night, Wax kept the audience laughing with observations about the “incredible air of unreality” at Penn and “happy talk” the school feeds donors and alumni.
‘Fairly easy’ to sue Penn, but process is a pain
A host introduced Wax as “one of the heretics in the cross hairs” of progressive “identitarians” who have given up their 1980s relativism in favor of identity politics.
While Wax’s dean pulled her from teaching mandatory first-year classes in retaliation for her comments on black students, “I am not going to be fired” even though some colleagues think she’s the “first cousin to Satan,” she said.
Wax has discussed suing the school for defamation with one of her biggest boosters, former Penn Law trustee and major donor Paul Levy, she said.
“I think it would be fairly easy” because Dean Ted Ruger (left) accused her of inventing statistics on black student performance that she can factually back up. The problem is she would have to sue by March to meet the statute of limitations and go through state court, which is a pain, Wax said.
Penn Law administrators are so eager to avoid any further tussles with Wax, she said, that she was let out of even more teaching at her request, with no dock in pay.
Her colleagues are generally eager to avoid her altogether, Wax told The College Fix: “I have been completely ostracized.” And yet she’s in an unusual situation because she’s a tenured conservative in the first place.
Administrators don’t have to devise ways to harass professors like her into leaving because “you have to jump through a gazillion hoops” to get where she is, Wax said – getting into top graduate schools, getting hired and then getting promoted.
Wax received one round of applause, for previewing her new project to “defund the Ivies.” She’s writing an article on the subject with Manhattan Institute scholar Heather Mac Donald, author of “The Diversity Delusion.”
While her own children went to Ivy League schools, Wax says more parents should consider unconventional schools such as Hillsdale College, whose Washington office is across the street from Heritage.
More colleges should also set up centers to promote intellectual diversity, such as Yale University’s Buckley Program and Princeton’s Madison Program, she said.
An audience member prompted Wax to apologize for not addressing root problems in K-12, which she agreed should be a bigger part of her critique. Wax shared that she learned recently about a Maryland school district that asks kindergartners what gender they want to choose.
‘There was no effort to measure it because facts are beside the point’
Wax challenged her critics to take on her arguments with data and self-reflection, rather than reflexively dismiss her as a racist.
“I have paid the price of praising bourgeois culture” and saying not all cultures are equal, which is evident by the throngs of refugees seeking entry into Europe instead of Zimbabwe and Venezuela, she said.
One of her critical colleagues refused to even answer her hypothetical question, Wax said – whether he’d prefer to live in a neighborhood where bourgeois values are mostly followed or mostly ignored.
She defended her claims about black student underperformance at Penn Law (video below), citing her years of service on the clerkship committee, where she saw class rank. Wax was speaking in the context of mismatch theory, which argues that underperformance is better explained by unpreparedness for elite academic standards rather than racism.
The professor mocked her dean’s claims that her statements were false and violated confidentiality rules, noting Ruger never cited specific evidence or legal authority.
Despite Ruger’s fear that her black students may perform worse because of Wax’s comments, “there was no effort to measure it because facts are beside the point” for the dean, she said: “What matters are perceptions and feelings.” According to Wax, Ruger told her “you’re a liar” after she told The Wall Street Journal he had asked her to take a leave of absence.
The key rules of academic discourse, such as civil and reasoned debate free of slurs, are “routinely violated by my institution as they increasingly are” at other elite colleges, Wax said. The progressive left is using power and politics to determine who can speak, and its hostility to dissent is “growing by leaps and bounds.”
Offense is the new standard for ejecting a professor from teaching, Wax said, and it’s “immune from challenge. It’s in the mind of the beholder, and the beholder’s mind reigns supreme.” Student discomfort is a “weapon of mass destruction” against unorthodox professors: “A professor supports [Donald] Trump. That will do it!”
The ‘tenacious myth’ of affirmative action: ‘They will instantly catch up’
She denounced the academy for its “aggressive, dogmatic pursuit of equality” of group outcomes rather than its historic “disinterested search for truth.”
The academic gaps that make affirmative action necessary either “may not be mentioned in polite society” or are proof of racism in this view, Wax said. It’s propped up by a “tenacious myth”: that once beneficiaries arrive, “they will instantly catch up” with others, and if they don’t, it’s because of racism.
This view ends up backfiring because it creates social distrust in the competence of the supposed beneficiaries, Wax said. She has relatives in medical schools who acknowledge the “open secret” that the public has less trust in black doctors because of affirmative action.
Removing affirmative action “initially” would be disturbing because fewer black students would get into competitive universities, but in the long run it would be beneficial, she said. An audience member in a wheelchair shared her concern that people with disabilities are often given unnecessary accommodations as well, making society see them as weak.
Yet Wax is skeptical that the Asian-American plaintiffs suing Harvard University for admissions discrimination will win their case, she told the audience.
The 2003 Grutter ruling by the Supreme Court gives colleges a “blank check,” and courts haven’t enforced former Justice Anthony Kennedy’s requirement that colleges demonstrate the benefits of a diverse admissions class, she said.
Law students increasingly can’t handle the facts of cases
When the promised equal outcomes don’t arrive in college, resentment and recriminations follow, Wax said: “Someone must be blamed,” and “we are required to tell untruths on pain of social death and ostracism.” This is one reason why students are so afraid to openly dissent from campus orthodoxy or even be associated with those who do.
College administrators play a large role in this, given the “burgeoning” number of diversity bureaucrats who police vocabulary such as pronoun usage, Wax said. “I’m told I have to learn this whole litany of pronouns,” avoid praising the 1950s and even ignore the performance of her own classes.
She said she once asked her librarian to count the “edicts and fatwas” from the administration about President Donald Trump’s policies. They came out about once a week.
Wax marveled at the “virtually absolute veto power” that self-identified victims groups are given over both speech and teaching on campus: “Truculent bullying and sensitivity and fragility … it is really a sight to be seen.”
Her own field is going downhill as students don’t develop the resilience they’ll need to practice law. Wax said fellow law professors are getting more complaints from students about the horrible facts in the cases they study.
It’s “cringeworthy” especially to see women reinforcing gender stereotypes that they are too weak to handle vigorous debate, she said. Her recent experience at Penn has convinced Wax that her own students “are not fit” to lead.
This situation can only be corrected if the government and private donors rethink their “lavish financial support” for higher education, and especially elite institutions, which have become an “anti-Western and anti-American liability” in many cases, Wax said.
There needs to be a list of alternative causes and institutions for rich people to fund that help average people, from vocational education to K-12 arts and music programs and even dental care, she said: “Where are the scions of Silicon Valley?”
The old conception of liberalism – equality of rights – “is on life support” in academia, Wax said: “I invite you all to join the resistance” to save it. As a law professor, she has come to realize that “law is not availing when it comes to these profound cultural shifts.”
IMAGES: Greg Piper, University of Pennsylvania