amywax
Credit: Julio Sosa

An online petition has surfaced calling on Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger to take action against Professor Amy Wax for making derogatory comments about black students in a video lecture that has surfaced in recent weeks.

In the video from last fall, Wax, who has been known to make controversial remarks on race in the past, said that she had never seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the Penn Law class. 

"Here's a very inconvenient fact Glenn," Wax said in the lecture titled 'The Downside to Social Uplift,' which was part of the series hosted by Brown professor Glenn Loury. "I don't think I've ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the [Penn Law School] class and rarely, rarely in the top half," Wax said of her belief of the downside of affirmative action in universities. "I can think of one or two students who've graduated in the top half of my required first year course."

Wax added that she teaches a course of "89 to 95 students" each year, "so I'm going on that because a lot of this data is a closely guarded secret."

Created by Penn Law students and alumni, the petition demands that Ruger take action against Wax's "false and deeply offensive claims." 

It calls for Ruger to dismiss Wax's claims, state a course of action, ideally including the removal of Wax from teaching first year courses and from committees involving the direction of the Law school. 

The Black Law Student Association declined to comment on the petition until they have "achieved victory."

"I do not wish to paint a victim narrative of black students anymore than Amy Wax has already done," BLSA President and third-year Law student Nick Hall wrote in an email to the Daily Pennsylvanian. "We'll talk to you once we've achieved victory."

The petition also states that Wax's comments "compromise" the Law school's assurance that students' grades are kept private by the Registrar's office. The students also call for Ruger to answer whether the school collects race-based data and to reveal the data Wax is basing her statements on.

Wax continues to stand by the statements she made in the video.

“I would emphasize that student performance is a matter of fact, not opinion. It is what it is,” Wax wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

Ruger and Penn Law Associate Dean and Registrar Claire Wallace were not immediately available for comment.

Haley Pilgrim, co-president of the Black Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and third-year Ph.D. student in Sociology, signed the petition. Pilgrim said she was “extremely disappointed” when she heard about Wax’s comments. 

“We know Wax is liable to behave in racist ways and say racist things and the University didn't do anything about it before,” Pilgrim said.

Wax is no stranger to controversy. 

In August 2017, Wax co-authored an op-ed arguing for the return to 1950s American cultural norms. In a subsequent interview with the DP, she said Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior. 

After receiving wide spread backlash from students and faculty, Wax spoke at an event sponsored by Penn's Federalist Society in October to criticize much of the reaction to her editorial. Last month, Wax published another op-ed bashing the lack of "civil discourse" on campus and claiming that Ruger asked her to step aside from her position.

A Penn spokesperson said Wax is still a member of Penn Law faculty.

“Penn Law desperately needs to convince its students that [they are] taking this seriously,” Pilgrim added. “I hope they explicitly speak against the lies and show that there is no proof to them.”

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