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Credit: Lilian Liu

Tenured Penn Carey Law School professor Amy Wax filed a grievance against Dean Theodore Ruger, initiating a counter-complaint to the University’s disciplinary proceedings against her.

In documents obtained exclusively by The Daily Pennsylvanian, Wax accused Ruger of abusing his power as dean to punish her for her speech. Wax also asked Penn's Faculty Grievance Commission and the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility to review whether Ruger has made claims related to Wax's free expression. 

In the 43-page grievance filing from Jan. 16, Wax’s lawyer wrote that the grievance complaint was intended to stop Ruger from using the formal sanctions process to “crush” Wax's academic freedom, which is strongly protected by Wax's tenured status. 

"[B]y bringing formal charges and taking other actions against her, Dean Ruger has grievously harmed Prof. Wax by seeking to punish her for deviating from a narrow set of acceptable opinions, thus effectively imposing a rigid orthodoxy of permissible speech and expression at the Law School," the grievance read.

In the documents, which the DP verified are authentic, Wax's lawyer alleged that Ruger is personally biased against Wax. Her lawyer said that this is because of Ruger's "kowtowing to the demands of a small number of politically disgruntled minority students and alumni" and because of his opposition to Wax's conservative politics. Ruger started a faculty investigation of Wax in January 2022 and since then has functionally served as the University's prosecutor in the proceedings that are taking place. 

Ruger began the faculty investigation after years of inflammatory remarks made by Wax, such as claiming that Black students never graduate at the top of the law school class and that the United States is "better off" with fewer Asians.

Read about the faculty members deciding Wax's future at Penn and why Wax cannot be fired easily.

Wax and a spokesperson for Penn Carey Law did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the grievance filing. Penn Carey Law wrote to the DP in September that the University's disciplinary process was still underway. The school has generally not commented because of the University policy that all groups involved with formal disciplinary proceedings maintain confidentiality.

Over a year into these proceedings, the DP broke down the 43-page grievance that Wax filed, the implications of this decision, and where the process stands today.

Wax's grievance may delay University's disciplinary proceedings

In her formal grievance, Wax framed her case as an attack on her academic freedom, contrasting with Ruger's portrayal of the University’s pursuit of a major sanction against her. After Wax’s repeated inflammatory statements reached a new level of controversy in January 2022, Ruger charged Wax with violating multiple behavioral standards for University faculty, citing student and faculty accounts of the conduct that he believes warrants disciplinary action. 

Ruger has alleged that the student and faculty accounts demonstrated that Wax's promotion of white supremacy and discriminatory beliefs is "cumulative and increasing." 

“Academic freedom for a tenured scholar is, and always has been, premised on a faculty member remaining fit to perform the minimal requirements of the job,” Ruger wrote in a June report to the Faculty Senate. “However, Wax’s conduct demonstrates a ‘flagrant disregard of the standards, rules, or mission of the University.'”

In the report, Ruger requested that the Faculty Senate convene a hearing board to review Wax’s conduct and impose a major sanction, a penalty for tenured faculty that could include Wax being fired. The leaked documents show that the hearing board has now been appointed

Wax’s grievance filing against Ruger may delay the hearing board’s progress toward voting on whether to impose a sanction. When a grievance is filed, it is evaluated by the Faculty Grievance Commission and SCAFR, two arms of Penn’s Faculty Senate, which serves as the representative body for full-time faculty. The Faculty Senate can approve University policy changes under its purview and direct focus toward issues raised by members of its Senate Executive Committee.

Wax alleges Penn officials have misrepresented her conduct

In addition to the grievance filing, the DP also obtained a 52-page memorandum that alleges that Ruger declined Wax's request to postpone the disciplinary proceedings while she was treated for cancer during the fall. It also claims that Ruger declined to provide data or information to substantiate his charges against Wax. Finally, the memo asks that the charges against Wax be “dismissed outright."

In the memo, Wax’s lawyer asks for a hearing to deliberate Wax’s requests and Ruger’s response. Wax’s lawyer wrote in the memo that the hearing must occur before Wax can decide whether to participate in further hearings related to the charges — which, the memo argues, are flawed and based on a misrepresentation of the facts.

On the whole, the memo repeated many of Wax’s previous counterarguments to Ruger's charges. For instance, the memo alleges that Penn Carey Law consented to Wax’s request for permission for white supremacist Jared Taylor to speak in her conservative law class, and that the school reimbursed the lunch at White Dog Café where Taylor spoke with students. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.

How Wax got here

Wax has a history of stirring national controversy by making racist, xenophobic, and homophobic remarks on podcasts and national television. In one instance, Wax allegedly told 2012 Penn Carey Law graduate Lauren O’Garro-Moore, who is Black, that she had only become a double Ivy “because of affirmative action," O'Garro-Moore told the DP in September. She was named as a witness of Wax's conduct in Ruger's June report to the Faculty Senate.

As the disciplinary proceedings have continued, Wax has attacked the process while promising that she will fight the University as it pursues sanctions. In a variety of appearances on conservative talk shows and podcasts, Wax has also attacked Penn Carey Law students.

"The students are basically little tyrants," Wax told podcast host Alex Kaschuta in a Nov. 23 episode of her podcast "Subversive." "They have learned to be big bullies because the system empowers them, they have a megaphone on the internet and in the media, they can gin up any sort of condemnation you can imagine, and those events and labels and gestures stick, they really do stick.”

Later in the conversation, Wax went on to say that "being racist is an honorific," describing people who are called racists as people who "notice reality." She said she encourages her students to adopt this behavior. 

"That’s an occasion for praise and admiration," Wax said. "Being called a reactionary, I tell my students if you’re called a reactionary, you should be proud. There are ways in which we would do well to react and go back to the way things used to be done."