Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Penn Law to move forward with faculty process for sanction of a tenured faculty member in Amy Wax case

Ted Ruger, the Penn Dean, sent out this letter today (and several readers shared it with me):

From: Dean's Office <[email protected]>
Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2022 12:10 PM
Subject: A Message from Dean Ruger

Dear Law School students, faculty, and staff,

Since at least 2017, and most recently again two weeks ago, Professor Amy Wax has repeatedly made derogatory public statements about the characteristics, attitudes, and abilities of a majority of those who study, teach, and work here. In some of those instances, she has exploited her faculty access to confidential information about students in ostensible support of her inaccurate statements.


Her conduct has generated multiple complaints from members of our community citing the impact of pervasive and recurring vitriol and promotion of white supremacy as cumulative and increasing. The complaints assert that it is impossible for students to take classes from her without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animus. These complaints clearly call for a process that can fairly consider claims, for example, that her conduct is having an adverse and discernable impact on her teaching and classroom activities.


Taking her public behavior, prior complaints, and more recent complaints together, I have decided it is my responsibility as Dean to initiate the University procedure governing sanctions taken against a faculty member.  As I have already discussed with Faculty Senate leadership, I am aggregating the complaints received to date, together with other information available to me, and will serve as the named complainant for these matters.  This process is necessarily thorough and deliberate, but using it allows consideration of the range of minor and major sanctions permissible under the University‚Äôs rules.


As this process takes place, my colleagues and I will continue the daily work of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School in training and supporting brilliant attorneys from the broadest possible range of backgrounds, ensuring equitable treatment in the classroom and throughout our institution.


Ted Ruger

A few thoughts below the fold.

If the process vindicates the claim that "it is impossible for students to take classes from her without a reasonable belief that they are being treated with discriminatory animus," that might suffice to satisfy something like an analogue of the Pickering standard in the First Amendment context (Wax has no First Amendment claims against Penn, of courses, but she does have a contractual right to "extramural" speech on matters of public concern without fear of sanction) (see my earlier discussion).  Note that the Dean's letter says there are a "range of minor and major sanctions permissible under the University's rules"; termination is not a foregone conclusion here.  If Wax sues for breach of her contractual entitlement to academic freedom under the AAUP definition, she will certainly argue that the process is merely prextetual, a case of the university succumbing to external political pressure (as we noted the other day).

Ironically, the Academic Freedom Alliance just sent this letter to Penn today.


Faculty News, Of Academic Interest | Permalink