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College Hall on Aug. 16, 2022. Credit: Jesse Zhang

The University’s disciplinary proceedings against Penn Carey Law School professor Amy Wax, which began in January 2022, have involved complex faculty procedures. The procedures, which have been invoked by both Wax and Penn Carey Law Dean Theodore Ruger, are uncommonly used. However, they serve as the main way for the University to punish — and potentially fire — tenured faculty, whose employment is strongly protected. 

In light of documents obtained by The Daily Pennsylvanian which reveal that Wax has filed a grievance against Ruger, the DP examined the Faculty Handbook to break down how these complex procedures work.

Read about the leaked documents and the faculty members deciding Wax's future at Penn.

Sanctions: The rare procedure used to punish tenured faculty

Sanctions are a rarely invoked procedure where some charging party believes that a faculty member has committed either a major or minor infraction of University behavioral standards. The process must “[protect] the rights of faculty members and [address] the legitimate concerns of the University,” according to the Faculty Handbook. 

A range of groups is involved in the sanctions procedure. The charging party in Wax’s proceedings is Ruger, who initiated the sanctions process against Wax after repeated inflammatory remarks sparked national scrutiny. In the sanctions procedure, Wax is known as the respondent whom Ruger has charged. 

The charging party can choose to pursue major or minor sanctions depending on how severe they perceive the infraction to be. Ruger is pursuing a major infraction, which “[involves] flagrant disregard of the standards, rules, or mission of the University or the customs of scholarly communities.” Penalties for a major infraction may include terminating, suspending, or reducing the salary of the faculty member being sanctioned. 

When an infraction emerges, the dean — Ruger — can give the respondent the chance to resolve the dispute informally. If the charging party and respondent cannot reach a resolution for a complaint involving a major infraction, the dean can decide to invoke a “just cause procedure” to continue pursuing sanctions. If the charging party identifies a major infraction, they will ask the chair of Penn’s Faculty Senate to form a Hearing Board. In Wax's proceedings, a Hearing Board has been formed per Ruger's request.

The Hearing Board is composed of five tenured faculty and makes the formal judgment on the matter, serving “both an investigative and deliberative function.” After the Hearing Board is approved, the charging party sends a written statement detailing the grounds of the investigation and a recommendation of a major sanction. 

According to the leaked documents, the Hearing Board has not yet conducted any hearings. However, if they conclude that there is just cause for a major sanction, a hearing will be held where the charging party has to provide “clear and convincing evidence that there is just cause for imposition of a major sanction against the respondent.” 

Both the respondent — Wax — and charging party — Ruger — have the right to provide relevant evidence and witnesses. 

Once the hearings are over, the Hearing Board deliberates whether the charging party presented sufficient evidence to impose a major sanction. If so, the Board must provide recommendations about the sanctions to the president. Penn President Liz Magill would make the final decision taking into consideration the Hearing Board’s findings but would normally accept the conclusion.

In the case that the Hearing Board recommends termination, they must also provide a date for termination, which cannot be more than one year after the president’s final action. 

Grievances: The procedure where faculty can allege mistreatment

Wax’s grievance against Ruger, filed on Jan. 16, is on the grounds of academic freedom and alleges that Ruger has been biased when conducting the proceedings. 

According to the handbook, a grievance is “a claim that action has been taken that involves a faculty member's personnel status or the terms or conditions of employment” that is arbitrary, discriminatory, or not in compliance with University regulations. 

The Faculty Grievance Commission, which has three members, serves as the deliberative body for grievances. 

Before a grievant like Wax can file a complaint, they must review it with the dean or, in the case of Wax, the Vice Provost for Faculty, since the grievance is against a dean’s actions.

If the Chair of the Commission concludes that the grievance contains issues of academic freedom — like Wax’s grievance asserts — then it is sent to the Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility, which must resolve questions of academic freedom before the Commission can proceed. 

SCAFR’s policy states that faculty members are free from censorship or discipline, as long as they acknowledge their obligations and that the public may judge their remarks. The professor should indicate if the remarks that SCAFR is evaluating were not made on behalf of the institution and show respect for the public opinion. 

Since Wax’s grievance is filed against a dean, SCAFR has full responsibility and jurisdiction on the matter.