‘Major sanction’ would harm tenure protections

University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax has no patience for victimhood complaints. Asked whether she considers mid-20th century British politician Enoch Powell (whose writing she assigned and who gained fame for his “rivers of blood” anti-immigration speech) was a racist, Wax was indignant:

“Can you define racism for me? Is so-and-so a racist? Where are we getting with that? Define racist. I have no idea what you mean. It is a bludgeon that is a promiscuous term. You define what a racist is, and I will spend two seconds addressing that question because it is sterile.”

And yet, Wax herself is competing for victim status by upping the ante on obnoxious public remarks and almost daring the law school at which she teaches to punish her.

In 2017, Wax offended progressives with an op-ed praising bourgeois virtues. “All cultures are not equal,” she proclaimed. At the time, I observed that her aghast critics, who objected to talk of cultural superiority and inferiority, must agree with her at least somewhat: “They obviously believe that Alabama’s culture, circa 1952, was inferior to that of Philadelphia in 2017.”

Wax rhapsodizes about the accomplishments and virtues of the West, particularly its reliance on empiricism.

For someone so supposedly dedicated to empiricism, Wax shows little rigor herself on matters of ethnicity, race and culture. She asserts that people from Europe are less likely to litter than others. The evidence? Her own travel experiences.

Addressing the National Conservatism Conference in 2019, Wax branched out from her hostility to Third World immigrants to include Asians as well: “We are better off if our country is dominated numerically, demographically, politically, at least in fact if not formally, by people from the First World, from the West, than by people from countries that had failed to advance. … Let us be candid. Europe and the First World, to which the United States belongs, remain mostly white, for now.”

Wax has apparently failed to notice that support for the greatest threat to constitutional government in the United States today comes almost exclusively from the ranks of European Americans. The people who sacked the Capitol and attempted to thwart the peaceful transfer of power were not immigrants or African Americans or “obsequious” Asians. They were the people whose cultural heritage should have, according to Wax, immunized them against authoritarianism.

The University of Pennsylvania law school dean is requesting that the faculty senate consider a “major sanction,” which many have interpreted as firing her, despite tenure.

The best reason to refrain from the punitive impulse is that the sword cuts both ways. If Wax is fired for repellent sentiments alone, the protections of tenure will be badly weakened. As Alex Morey of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression put it, “Academic freedom has to protect the Amy Waxes of the academic world, so that it can be there for the Galileos of the academic world.”

Don’t punish her speech — refute it.


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