A Professor’s ‘Repugnant’ Views

Penn Law condemns Amy Wax's recent comments on race and immigration as others call for her ouster.

July 24, 2019
 
University of Pennsylvania
Amy Wax

Amy Wax is in trouble again, this time for her comments on race and immigration. The Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania reportedly argued at a conference last week for “taking the position that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”

More than 1,000 student groups and individuals affiliated with Penn have signed a petition calling for Wax to be relieved of all teaching duties. Wax’s dean, Ted Ruger, the Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law, on Tuesday condemned her remarks.

“At best, the reported remarks espouse a bigoted theory of white cultural and ethnic supremacy; at worst, they are racist,” Ruger said in a statement. “Under any framing, such views are repugnant to the core values and institutional practices of both Penn Law” and Penn.

Wax’s recent comments, first reported by Vox, came at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference. The event was hosted by the Edmund Burke Foundation and headlined by National Security Adviser John Bolton, Fox News host Tucker Carlson and tech billionaire Peter Thiel, among others.

The foundation hasn’t released a transcript of the event yet. But according to Vox, Wax called for a “cultural distance” approach to immigration, giving applicants preference based on their ethnonational background. (Some present at the conference have challenged Vox's reporting. But writer Zack Beauchamp has said he double-checked his recording to make sure and provided his own partial transcript for context. Other journalists in attendance have since confirmed Beauchamp's account.)

“Conservatives need a realistic approach to immigration that … preserves the United States as a Western and first-world nation,” Wax reportedly said during a panel. “We are better off if we are dominated numerically … by people from the first world, from the West, than by people who are from less advanced countries.”

These are "toxic topics that lie outside the Overton window in polite society -- as evidenced by outraged reaction to [President] Trump’s profane and grating ‘why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?’ That needs to be regarded as a serious question and not just a rhetorical one," she also said.

Wax has previously attracted criticism with related statements. She wrote in a 2017 op-ed that “all cultures are not equal,” despite the modern “obsession with race,” for instance. At the time, the university defended her, citing academic freedom. In 2018, however, after Wax questioned the aptitude of black law students, Ruger said that no student would be required to take any of Wax’s courses.

In his new statement, Ruger alluded to those previous comments, saying that “past episodes have made clear that when Professor Wax speaks about race and culture, she does not speak for this institution or those who work and study here.” Broadening access to Penn Law remains a top priority, and that's demonstrated in new hires and the “most diverse and accomplished” incoming student classes yet, he said. 

“I know these statements by Professor Wax have caused pain and outrage to many in the Penn community. My colleagues and I pledge to work with you so that together we can heal and learn from this experience and each other,” Ruger said. “We are training lawyers to shape the legal profession and the law of the future, which we are committed to making more just and inclusive than what has come before.”

Ruger did not mention academic freedom, free expression or otherwise defend Wax this time.

Wax declined immediate comment but said a transcript from Burke would be released later this week. The foundation did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wax is taking a sabbatical next year. Steven Barnes, a spokesperson for the law school, said via email that it was preplanned.

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