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Credit: Tyler Kliem

Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger has initiated the University sanctions process against Amy Wax, according to a statement released Jan. 18

In the statement, Ruger wrote that complaints from Penn community members about Wax — a tenured University professor — motivated his decision to initiate the sanctions process. According to the complaints,  Wax’s “cumulative and increasing” promotion of white supremacy and discriminatory beliefs made it difficult to take classes from her. 

Ruger's statement noted that these complaints call for a process that will be able to evaluate claims that Wax's behavior is having "an adverse and discernable" impact on her teaching. 

“Taking her public behavior, prior complaints, and more recent complaints together, I have decided it is my responsibility as Dean to initiate the University procedure governing sanctions taken against a faculty member,” Ruger wrote. “As I have already discussed with Faculty Senate leadership, I am aggregating the complaints received to date, together with other information available to me, and will serve as the named complainant for these matters.” 

In an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian on Tuesday afternoon, University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote that the sanctions process would determine whether Wax had violated behavioral standards which threaten the University’s mission.

“The process must include creating a factual predicate for any action and must respect the principles of academic freedom and the need for accountability, as the faculty so determines,” MacCarthy wrote. “These are challenging issues, but we have confidence in the fairness and rigor of the process as it moves forward.”

MacCarthy added that the University would not have further comment until the review concludes, citing how the review will be conducted by faculty.  

Wax did not respond to a request for comment.

The Faculty Senate is responsible for collectively hearing and reviewing sanctions against University professors. The stated sanctions policy in the Faculty Handbook is divided into major and minor sanctions. Major sanction penalties include termination, suspension, and suspension of pay increase or reduction of pay, while minor sanctions range from a letter of reprimand to ongoing monitoring of the faculty member.  

According to the policy, Ruger, who initiated the charges, will play a principal role in communicating the charges against Wax. The Faculty Senate will create a board of five people who will both hear the charges and the defense and vote on the implementation of sanctions.

Wax, who joined Penn Law in 2001, has a history of controversial remarks. Her most recent comments sparked national scrutiny and have been widely denounced as anti-Asian and xenophobic. Since then, over 2,000 people have signed a student-created petition calling on Penn to suspend Wax and reform the University's tenure policy. Ruger previously wrote in a statement on Jan. 3 that Wax's status as a tenured faculty member at Penn Law provides her the academic freedom to voice her views.

Penn Law third-year Apratim Vidyarthi, who created the petition with other law students, told the DP that they want to make sure that the sanctions imposed are major rather than minor. He added that Ruger had discussed his intent to initiate the sanctions process with students involved in creating the petition. 

“This is a good first step, but we are going to continue to pressure the University and not just the law school, for transparency, including informing students of what parties are involved, what the timeline is, and what the actual sanctions that are being proposed,” Vidyarthi said on behalf of himself and Penn Law second-years Simone Hunter-Hobson, the president of the Black Law Students Association; Alexa Salas, the co-president of the Latinx Law Students Association; Soojin Jeong, co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association; and Virinchi Sindhwani, 2L president of the South Asian Law Students Association.

Vidyarthi added that he and other students still plan to work towards the other goals outlined in the petition, including the formation of a committee to discuss the tenure process and the expansion of financial support to students of color and immigrant students. 

In addition to the petition, the Philadelphia City Council sent a bipartisan letter to Penn administrators on Jan. 10 calling for Wax’s role to be reviewed. Penn faculty, AAPI affinity groups, and local Pennsylvania state senators also condemned Wax. 

Wax previously faced consequences for her statements in 2018, when Ruger barred the professor from teaching mandatory first-year law classes after she claimed that she had never seen Black students graduate at the top of the Penn Law class. 

Vidyarthi said that Penn President Amy Gutmann, the Faculty Senate, and other senior administrators had not yet responded to the petition, which was sent to them on Jan. 11.

“That's what's frustrating us right now, because we know that ultimately, the Law School can only do so much and the University can do a lot more,” Vidyarthi said.