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Law professor Amy Wax and dean Ted Ruger

Credit: Julia Schorr

For the first time since Penn Law professor Amy Wax made headlines last year for controversial comments on race and free speech, the University that employs her has responded with action. 

Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger announced on Mar. 13 that Amy Wax would no longer be allowed to teach a mandatory first-year course. This comes days after students and alumni responded with outrage to a video of Wax saying she's never seen a black Penn Law student graduate in the top quarter of their class. Earlier this week, an online petition was launched calling on Ruger to take action against Wax for her comments. 

Ruger responded publicly for the first time in an email where he defended Wax's right to free speech but stated that she had violated policy by mentioning students' grades.

"As a scholar she is free to advocate her views, no matter how dramatically those views diverge from our institutional ethos and our considered practices," Ruger wrote. "As a teacher, however, she is not free to transgress the policy that student grades are confidential, or to use her access to those Penn Law students who are required to be in her class to further her scholarly ends without students’ permission."

Wax has made controversial remarks on race in the past.

"Here's a very inconvenient fact, Glenn," Wax said in the discussion titled 'The Downside to Social Uplift,' which was part of a 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 in 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."

In the email, Ruger explicitly stated that her claims are false. 

"[B]lack students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law, and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate. Rather, its editors are selected based on a competitive process," the email read. "And contrary to any suggestion otherwise, black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market, and in their careers."

In his expression of support for Wax's right to free speech, Ruger maintained that Wax's status and course-load at the University will remain the same for the upcoming academic year. 

Because of these statements, however, Wax would no longer be allowed to teach mandatory first-year courses. Ruger added that he made the decision after consulting with "faculty, alumni/ae, Overseers, and University officials."

"Our first-year students are just that – students – not faceless data points or research subjects to be conscripted in the service of their professor’s musings about race in society," he continued. 

Various members of the Penn community have been calling for Wax's removal from the mandatory first-year course since she co-wrote a provocative op-ed in August 2017 arguing for a return to 1950s American cultural norms. In a subsequent interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, she said Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior.

In a more recent op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal, Wax alleged that Ruger asked her "to take a leave of absence next year and to cease teaching a mandatory first-year course."

At the time, Penn Law spokesperson Steven Barnes said that nothing had changed in her status with the University. 

This is a developing story last updated at 6:47 p.m. Please check back here for updates.