A petition calling on Penn to suspend law professor Amy Wax and reform the University's tenure policy has garnered more than 800 signatures, ignited by Wax's scrutinized claims that "the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration."
Wax, who joined Penn Law in 2001, said in a recent interview with Brown University professor Glenn Loury that the immigration of "Asian elites" to the United States is problematic because of their support of the Democratic Party. Nearly two weeks after the Dec. 20 interview, Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger released a statement criticizing Wax's comments as "thoroughly anti-intellectual and racist."
"That Wax’s speech may be protected does not permit this Law School to ignore the real harms such speech causes," Ruger's Jan. 3 statement reads. "As we have previously emphasized, Wax’s views are diametrically opposed to the policies and ethos of this institution."
An online petition created by Penn Law third year Apratim Vidyarthi and other law students following Wax’s comments has called on Ruger and the Faculty Senate Executive Board to suspend her while the University investigates her "bigoted statements." The petition also demands the reform of tenure policy in order to address this type of conduct and be "consistent with principles of social equity.”
As of Jan. 5, the letter had been signed by over 800 people — Penn Law students and alumni, students from other schools in the University, and law students outside of Penn.
“It’s distressing that Wax’s latest outburst is no surprise to the student body. The right time to fire Amy Wax was in September 2017 when she made racist comments about Black students at Penn Law. The next best time to fire her is now,” Penn Law second year Nithya Pathalam, who signed and helped edit the petition, wrote in a comment to The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Vidyarthi said that even if firing Wax might not be possible, further steps can be taken, adding that Yale Law School punished professor Amy Chua after students alleged misconduct.
He added that the goal was to send the letter on Jan. 10 and start a University-wide conversation about tenure. He said that the letter would be followed by efforts among affinity groups to pressure the University to suspend Wax and take long-term steps to make marginalized students more comfortable.
While Ruger's statement called Wax's remarks “racist” and “anti-intellectual," it did not mention any specific steps or sanctions Penn Law was planning to take against Wax.
“Like all racist generalizations, Wax’s recent comments inflict harm by perpetuating stereotypes and placing differential burdens on Asian students, faculty, and staff to carry the weight of this vitriol and bias,” Ruger wrote.
However, Ruger wrote that Wax's status as a tenured faculty member at Penn Law allowed her to make such comments.
“The same academic freedom principles that permit current scholars to engage in critical and overdue analysis of this nation’s historical and structural discrimination — despite zealous efforts to censor such speech by some — also apply to faculty like Wax who voice xenophobic and white supremacist views,” Ruger wrote.
In the past, Wax made similar remarks that have drawn criticism from the Penn community and national attention.
Ruger barred Wax from teaching mandatory first-year law courses in 2018 after she received criticism for saying she has never seen a Black Penn Law student graduate in the top quarter of their class. Ruger said that Wax’s claim was false.
In 2019, Wax argued for an immigration policy favoring those from Western countries over non-Western countries at the Edmund Burke Foundation’s National Conservatism conference, saying that America would be “better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites.”
After her 2019 comments, Vidyarthi said that Penn Law students held a town hall attended by Ruger where students of color and women said they felt demeaned by Wax when they took her first-year class on civil procedure.
According to the Penn Law website, Wax is teaching two courses — LAW 672: "Remedies" and LAW 956: "Conservative Political and Legal Thought" — during the spring 2022 semester.
Vidyarthi said the University had not upheld the promise it made to offer all of Wax’s courses by other professors, adding that Wax’s LAW 956 is the only course Penn Law currently offers on conservative legal thought.
Penn Law second year and co-president of the Penn Law Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA) Soojin Jeong wrote in an email to the DP that Wax has demonstrated an inability to apologize for her remarks.
“In this latest interview, Wax attacks the individuality, ability, and existence of Asian and South Asian people in America,” Jeong said.
Penn Law second year and APALSA External Vice President Jamie Suk — who signed the petition — wrote in an emailed statement that Penn Law risked exposing minority students to racism if it continued to protect Wax.
“At this point, for a lot of students, I think the feeling is, she shouldn't have the University of Pennsylvania name attached to her, our tuition dollars shouldn't be going towards her. And, you know, if someone did want to take those classes, they'd feel uncomfortable taking them by virtue of their race, or gender, and so she shouldn't be teaching those classes in the first place,” Vidyarthi said.