Ivy League law school no longer claims professor made up stats on black student performance

University of Pennsylvania law dean still wants "major sanction" against veteran professor Amy Wax for purportedly offensive statements, allegedly breaching confidentiality.

Published: July 20, 2022 5:49pm

Updated: July 21, 2022 10:59am

The University of Pennsylvania's law school appears to have quietly distanced itself from a claim that a tenured professor of 20 years falsely described the academic performance of black students as a group, after four years of claiming she was lying but refusing to provide purportedly correct figures.

Amy Wax floated the idea of filing a defamation suit against Penn in 2018 for claiming she made up the stats and said she had discussed it with former Penn Law trustee and major donor Paul Levy, who has emerged as a vocal critic of the law school.

Dean Ted Ruger asked Faculty Senate Chair Vivian Gadsden to convene a hearing board to "consider major sanctions" against Wax for "repeatedly subject[ing]" the community to "intentional and incessant racist, sexist, xenophobic, and homophobic actions and statements." 

The faculty handbook says those penalties range from "zero salary increases" for at least four years, up to termination. Her comments have "led students to conclude that they cannot take Wax's classes and faculty to call her presence demoralizing and disruptive," Ruger claimed.

He telegraphed his intentions in January, days after state and Philadelphia lawmakers visited campus to demand Wax be stripped of tenure and tried following her comments on Asian-American immigration and voting patterns. Ruger had previously denounced her views while defending her academic freedom.

The leak of Ruger's June 23 letter, which identifies many students by name relaying negative anecdotes about Wax, violated the confidentiality policy around her proceeding, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. It credited the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression with first publishing the letter July 13. 

FIRE told Just the News it couldn't say how it got the document, or whether it also had a March 3 letter described in Ruger's June 23 letter as "a written description of these charges" and "a summary of the negative impact her harmful comments have on our community." Gadsden similarly told Just the News it was "not possible" to share the March 3 letter.

Penn can't punish Wax "without weakening free speech and tenure protections for all Penn faculty," FIRE said last week, claiming that "much of" the speech flagged by Ruger "concerns her views on issues of political importance."

The Ivy League university is "creating a chilling precedent bound to haunt other faculty members," including Wax's political opposites, "by muddying the waters to the point where Penn's future sanctions against Wax inextricably tie to her protected expression," the civil liberties group said.

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Wax declined to comment. This week she set up a legal defense fund, which had raised nearly $60,000 as of the morning of July 21.

"As one of the only openly conservative tenured professors in the Ivy League, I am now threatened with losing my job," she wrote. Ruger's letter is "littered with indignant invective and unsubstantiated and distorted claims," she said, pointing supporters to the Daily report.

The yearslong campaign against her is "further evidence of the 'woke' takeover of our university system, which seeks to stifle and punish dissent and purge our campuses of any deviation from a narrow set of progressive dogmas," she wrote.

Ruger told Gadsden that Wax objected to the ongoing proceeding in a May 11 meeting to discuss an "informal resolution" to the complaint he filed against her. She cited "her health concerns" but has not requested medical leave since he laid out those options in a May 24 letter, he said. 

While he claims Wax has "disseminated false information about segments" of the community in her "public discussions" of students' academic performance, Ruger's 12-page document does not describe any regarding black student performance as false.

He apparently put such comments, from recorded discussions with Brown University economist Glenn Loury to Harvard's Program on Constitutional Government, in a section on how Wax has "violated the confidential relationship with her students" by sharing their documented performance.

Ruger only says she "incorrectly" claimed the student-run law review has "a diversity mandate in its confidential selection process" in the Loury interview. In that interview, Wax said she didn't know whether that meant black students on the law review were in the bottom half of the class.

The dean does not rate the accuracy of Wax's claims on black student performance during her tenure, including a claim that she didn't think she'd "ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the [law school] class, and rarely, rarely in the top half." Ruger stripped her of teaching required first-year classes following a student petition demanding her firing based on those comments.

Ruger said Wax publicly discussed "specific grade distributions" in one of her classes, both with Loury in 2017 and again this year with Fox News host Tucker Carlson, where she cited her review of data from "a large first-year class" and the school's clerkship committee.

Because the number of black students in her classes is "limited and finite," any discussion of their performance "reveals impressions and facts about identifiable individuals" and gives students concerns that "they will be treated as de facto research subjects in support of her harmful bigotry," Ruger said.

The dean also said Wax's invitation to "renowned white supremacist" Jared Taylor to speak during one class and join her "as her guest at a lunch with her students who were expected to attend" violated its nondiscrimination principles and "caused profound harm to our students and faculty."

The cross-ideological Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), which counts Wax as a member, told Penn President M. Elizabeth Magill in a Monday letter that the university must give Wax a "complete exoneration ... for her multiple exercises of academic freedom" inside and out of the classroom, and make it public.

The Princeton-founded group said "none of her comments provide legitimate, non-pretextual grounds" for finding a "major infraction" of Penn behavioral standards as claimed, nor was inviting a "controversial speaker" to class grounds for sanction.

But the AFA didn't mention Ruger's June 23 request to the Faculty Senate, instead citing his March 3 letter to Wax. The group answered Just the News but didn't say if it had a copy of that letter.

Gadsden said on behalf of herself, her predecessor and her successor that they were following the faculty handbook's "Procedure Governing Sanctions Taken Against Members of the Faculty."

That section specifies that faculty can be charged for "major" violations of behavioral standards that are not made explicit in the handbook. But if the hearing board of Wax's tenured peers determines "the grounds stated, if true, would clearly not constitute just cause for imposition of a major sanction," Penn cannot use the "substance of the complaint" as the basis for further proceedings.

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