Wednesday, March 14, 2018
"Academic Freedom and the Obligations of University Administrators" especially regarding faculty speech
MOVING TO FRONT FROM MARCH 12: UPDATED
A different wrinkle on this issue is presented by the new allegations that Prof. Amy Wax (Penn) has disparaged the academic performance of African-American students at her law school. Here academic freedom affords her no protection: any identifiable group of students at a school has a right not to be openly disparaged for its competence by faculty or administrators at their institution, and the Administration should both correct the record and would be within rights, in my view, to take disciplinary action against Prof. Wax (I do not think this is an offense justifying termination, but lesser disciplinary steps would be warranted). Think of it in Pickering terms: faculty disparagement of some identifiable portion of the student body interferes with the school's core functions, including helping members of the disparaged group find suitable employment upon completion of their education. (Contrary to the letter from the Penn alumni and students, it is not clear to me that Prof. Wax's statements violate the "anonymous grading policy," if the Penn one is like that at most schools: exams are marked without knowing the student's identity, but after the grades are turned in, the professor learns how each student performed. On the other hand, students have a reasonable expectation and entitlement, perhaps even protected by FERPA [I'm less sure about that], not to have their academic performance disclosed to third parties by the faculty member.)
UPDATE: Is Prof. Wax the Ann Coulter of the legal academy? Her colleague Tobias Wolff comments.
ANOTHER: Penn's Dean Ruger has removed Prof. Wax from teaching required 1L classes. As a punitive measure, that seems rather mild, given the breach of professional obligations involved, but perhaps he is taking other actions as well. A good line from Dean Ruger's statement:
Our first-year students are just that – students – not faceless data points or research subjects to be conscripted in the service of their professor’s musings about race in society.