Days after Penn Law professor Amy Wax made inflammatory statements on immigration at a conference, students have created multiple petitions urging the University to take action.
Wax argued for an immigration policy favoring immigrants from Western countries over non-Western countries at the inaugural National Conservatism Conference last week. In her speech, she favored a position that the country is “better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites,” according to reports from Vox, The New York Times, and Buzzfeed.
The Latinx Law Students Association released a statement on July 18 calling on Penn Law to denounce Wax’s statements and relieve her of all teaching duties, “as they serve to further her platform and lend her legitimacy.” 2019 College graduate Luis Bravo started another petition on change.org titled, “Fire Racist Penn Law Professor, Amy Wax” on July 18.
The LALSA petition condemns Wax's statements as "racist" and also calls on the University to hire more persons of color as tenured professors.
"We have come to expect these sentiments from the President of the United States and now, unfortunately, we have come to expect the same from members of the Penn Law community," the petition reads.
Bravo's petition argues for Penn to hold Wax "accountable" for her remarks.
"While Penn touts itself as a beacon of diversity and inclusion with black and brown students showcased on its admission materials, the administration continues to turn a blind eye to the racism prevalent in its faculty," his petition reads.
LALSA's statement is supported by five other Penn Law student associations including the Muslim Law Students Association, South Asian Law Students Association, Black Law Students Association, Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and Penn Law Lambda.
"I don’t know of a single student who attended the conference or heard my presentation," Wax wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. A full transcript of Wax's remarks was published on July 26 by The Federalist.
Vice President of LALSA and rising second-year Penn Law student Yericca Morales said LALSA emailed the statement to Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger, Penn President Amy Gutmann, and Provost Wendell Pritchett on July 19. Within two days, the LALSA statement garnered over 1,390 signatures from Penn students, alumni, and other supporters. Bravo's petition gained over 800 signatures as of July 23.
Ruger has since released a statement on Wax's conference remarks. Ruger described Wax's comments as "repugnant" and said that they were at odds with Penn's institutional values.
"At best, the reported remarks espouse a bigoted theory of white cultural and ethnic supremacy; at worst, they are racist," he wrote.
Rising first-year Penn Law student Randy Kim, who also signed LALSA's statement, said, “It’s outrageous that this person’s employment at a private institution is being protected under the guise of protecting scholarly disagreement and free speech."
Penn Graduate School of Education professor and author of “Free Speech on Campus” Sigal Ben-Porath said while she strongly disagrees with Wax’s remarks and finds them “offensive” as an immigrant herself, the first amendment and academic freedom given to all university professors protect Wax’s freedom to express her own views. Given this, Ben-Porath said administrative action such as relieving Wax of all teaching duties is not “necessarily warranted here.”
Ben-Porath added, however, that the University also has a responsibility to protect students’ ability to learn in an environment that “protects their dignity,” and professors have a responsibility to uphold a “professional expectation.”
“When people talk in a professional setting such as a conference, there are further expectations from them beyond any other speech in any other democratically protected context,” Ben-Porath said.
Kim and 2019 Penn Law graduate Bill Fedullo acknowledged the University’s “difficult position” given Wax's status as a tenured professor. Both students, however, said the University should end Wax's teaching duties if she cannot be fired.
“It seems very reasonable to say that she should not be able to teach or interact with any students whatsoever,” Kim said.
Co-president of APALSA and rising third-year Penn Law student JiLon Li said Wax's comments were "unacceptable," and in particular noted Wax's comment in a Vox report explaining her remarks were not racist, since she said she opposed nonwhite immigrants for their culture rather than their biology. Li described her explanation as a “flimsy shield, something to distract from the fact that it is just evidently racist.”
Fedullo, who also signed LALSA’s statement, echoed Li's comments and said he felt a “lack of surprise” after reading Wax’s remarks.
“I think Amy Wax has been engaged in a campaign of deeply offensive comments every couple months to maintain some kind of relevance,” Fedullo said.
Wax has scheduled to take her sabbatical for the upcoming school year, Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy confirmed. In a February 2018 op-ed, Wax wrote that Ruger asked her to take a leave for the next school year after her controversial publications. The discussion of the sabbatical, a form of leave of absence for professors, is routine for tenured faculty, Penn Law spokesperson Steven Barnes said at the time.
Editor's Note: The article has been updated to reflect that a complete transcript of Wax's remarks has been published by The Federalist.