Ed Note: When conducting research for his column, "What Amy Wax's critics get wrong," Opinion Columnist Mateen Tabatabaei reached out to Brown University professor Glenn Loury. It was in an interview with Loury during an episode of his online talk show, "The Glenn Show," that Wax made a series of controversial remarks on black Penn Law students, leading eventually to backlash from the University. The following guest column is the emailed response Loury sent to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Since it was at my video blog where Prof. Wax made the offending remarks last fall, I'd like to offer my reactions to the fallout for the benefit of your readers.
Perhaps she ought to have been more circumspect during our interview, so as to avoid speaking publicly and in loose terms about the relative academic performance of her students by race. Doing so was not very politic, I acknowledge; not very wise either, it would appear; and perhaps, even a bit unprofessional — though I'm not so sure about this last …
Nonetheless, I'm aware of no ethical mandate barring such talk as the following: "My Asian students, over the years and on the whole, have been really terrific! They're hard workers, quick on their feet, and invariably cluster near the top of the class … " The foregoing happens to be an expression of my genuine sentiments — based upon my experience over more than four decades as a college professor. It is the equivalent, formally, of what Prof. Wax said about her black students. Hypothetically speaking, it well may be unwise, impolite and impolitic for me to say this in certain venues. But my doing so would NOT — so far as I can see — be a violation of any ethical norm or rule of professional conduct warranting that I be reprimanded. (Am I really supposed not to notice such performance patterns — if they, in fact, exist — in my classrooms? Or, am I only meant not to speak of them?)
Moreover, even were I to openly say something of this sort, doing so ought NOT to result in my teaching responsibilities being amended in response to a public outcry. It is prejudicial in the extreme to presume that teachers (like me) who think such thoughts as expressed above, and who speak openly about those observations, cannot be trusted to deal fairly and on an individual basis with any non-Asian students who might take one of our classes. Wouldn't the person who charges me with pro-Asian bias for simply noticing such a pattern be, indirectly, admitting to a kind of anti-Asian bias by insisting that I remain mute about it …? (Likewise, isn't someone who charges Amy Wax with anti-black bias indirectly admitting to a certain kind of pro-black bias by insisting that she be silent in public about her classroom experiences?)
So, here's my bottom line: I believe that Dean Ruger's actions against Amy Wax at Penn Law — responding to public pressure no less — were reprehensible, and deserve to be condemned.
Note well: there is an Orwellian aspect to this whole brouhaha — namely, that Wax's generalizations are said not only to be offensive, but to be dead wrong, slanderous and ignorant. Yet, by Dean Ruger's own backhanded admission ("this response is restrained out of respect for student privacy … ", or words to that effect) the data (e.g., administrative records of the classroom performances at Penn Law broken down by race) are said either to be impossible to obtain, or to be unavailable for public review due to privacy concerns. "Trust us: she's dead wrong. Unfortunately, we can't show you just how wrong … "
This is completely unconvincing! For, Penn Law surely knows the race of its applicants at the time of admission — otherwise they would not be able to maintain the numbers of black students at current levels since — given what we do, in fact, know about the racial disparities in LSAT scores and college GPA's among applicants to elite law schools — a race-blind admissions policy could never produce such numbers. So, Penn Law knows its students' racial identities at the point of admission, but somehow quickly "forgets" this information when taking note of their grades? Such a cross-tabulation would appear to be easy to produce. Yet, according to Dean Ruger, it's never been done at Penn Law (even, one must now suppose, for the internal purpose of assessing the effectiveness of the School's race-conscious admissions policies?) Now why, I must ask, is that? Were such data to clearly prove Wax wrong, one suspects that Dean Ruger wouldn't be so circumspect about revealing them. Moreover, since when would releasing aggregate statistics on racial groups' academic performance violate the personal privacy rights of any individual student? Since when, for that matter, is a professor's willingness to speak publicly, and in general terms, about her classroom experiences with varied groups of students, as I just did above — however imprudent — the equivalent, as Dean Ruger alleges concerning Prof. Wax, of inappropriately using her students for her research purposes without their approval?
This entire argument coming from the Dean of Penn Law School to justify Amy Wax's removal from teaching a required course with which she has long been involved is transparently dishonest, in my view. What is actually happening here is that a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Law School — one of the leading such institutions in this country — is being removed from some classrooms for having unpopular opinions. Period.
Moreover, this punishment has been enacted before all of the world in direct response to vocal and insistent demands from students and alumni. It therefore amounts to a great institution of legal education formally acquiescing in a "mob"-inspired act of thought-policing. That is not hyperbole; it is a statement of fact. "We shouldn't be required to study with someone who thinks like Amy Wax, because anyone who has those opinions is, ipso facto, a 'racist,' a 'white supremacist,' a 'segregationist' — someone who cannot be trusted to treat us fairly or to view us objectively … " This is what has been said, almost literally, by those who've been insisting that Wax be removed from teaching required classes. And, his earnest protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, this line of reasoning is precisely what Dean Ruger has now formally endorsed!
How long, then, before being an open Trump supporter leads, via response to student/alumni protests or boycotts, to similar consequences for some faculty member in the humanities at Penn? How long before publicly voicing dissent from some popular climate change policy ends up getting an earth scientist removed from her classroom?
I will not state here whether I agree or disagree with Amy Wax's controversial opinions about affirmative action, about bourgeois culture, or about what are the appropriate remedies for past racial wrongs. I won't say, because it's completely irrelevant to the points I'm making here; and, because to state that "I certainly don't agree with Wax on A, B, or C, but … " would be to concede far too much to the thought police. It would be a transparent attempt to gain credibility with them before criticizing their reactions to Wax, and I refuse to acknowledge their authority over me in that way. So, regardless of my views about affirmative action, or of the validity of her views, I see what's happening to her as being indicative of a reflexive witch-hunt mentality that, sadly, has been embraced by too many students, faculty, administrators and alumni in this day and age — and not only at Penn. What is more, I believe that this mentality, if left unopposed, will significantly erode our ability to cultivate the life of the mind in the American academy.
Finally, for my money, here's the most tragic part of it, and mark my words: those, like the Penn chapter of the National Lawyers Guild — who have demanded Wax's removal on the grounds that what she said was a racist slander — are going to lose this argument over the longer run. They're playing an incredibly weak hand, it seems to me. No one who is concerned about the well-being of black students, in the legal academy or elsewhere, should welcome public scrutiny of the relative academic performance of those black students who are benefiting from the practice of affirmative action at elite universities! And yet, this is what the pillorying of Amy Wax will surely lead to. I promise you, as someone who knows a thing or two about what's going on at the most selective academic institutions in this country, no good can come of that.
In other words, I think that, in the end, the folk demanding Amy Wax's head on a platter are bluffing! And they're daring anybody to call their bluff. While I don't know her at all well, something tells me that Prof. Wax is up to that challenge!
GLENN LOURY is the Merton P. Stoltz professor of the Social Science and professor of Economics at Brown University.