Around 500 Penn faculty were invited to a free speech group's event with Amy Wax — but a much smaller number are signed up to attend.
On April 13 at 3 p.m., the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression will host a Zoom webinar titled "Amy Wax and the Limits of Academic Freedom." The event will be moderated by FIRE Director of Faculty Outreach Komi Frey and feature Wax, a tenured University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School professor who is currently the subject of ongoing University disciplinary proceedings regarding her controversial conduct and scrutinized claims.
The webinar is part of a fight by Wax to persuade Penn to end its proceedings, Frey wrote to The Daily Pennsylvanian — similar to the memorandum submitted in August and counter-complaint against Penn that Wax filed in January. If Penn decides to sanction Wax, she could face a maximum disciplinary action of termination.
"Many faculty will not find her case compelling, and I also want to give them the opportunity to question her in real time," Frey wrote, adding that Wax is hoping to gain faculty support.
Frey invited FIRE's Faculty Network — consisting of 3,000 faculty nationwide — to the webinar, in addition to approximately 500 Penn faculty. She wrote that, as of Wednesday at 5 p.m., 188 faculty nationwide had registered to attend, including 15 faculty using Penn emails. The event is not open to the public.
"I'm not sure how many other Penn faculty there are because the vast majority of registrants gave us their Gmails, presumably because they do not want their universities to see their activity," Frey wrote.
At the webinar, Wax will discuss allegations made regarding her controversial comments to students, including when she told a Black Penn Carey Law student that she was only a double Ivy student "because of affirmative action." Frey wrote that Wax will either deny ever making such statements or if she did, that they "did not rise to the level of illegal discriminatory harassment."
"I want to focus on these allegations because they are the most controversial, and have led many faculty to withhold or withdraw their support," Frey went on to write.
The Daily Pennsylvanian emailed interview requests to 59 Penn Carey Law professors asking whether they would attend. Of the 59, 56 did not respond by the time of publication. One declined to comment, one said they were out of town or they would go, and one said they would not attend.
Penn Carey Law second-year and Council of Student Representatives President Michael Krone said that although FIRE does some other important work, the event with Wax feels like it is giving someone a platform when they do not necessarily need one.
"What I think will probably come out of this webinar are just a fresh barrage of despicable quotes from her," Krone said. "I obviously don't know that to be true, but if someone with controversial things to say gets a microphone, they're going to use it."
In a statement, the Black Law Student Association at Penn Carey Law reiterated its past calls for Penn to fire Wax and said it would continue to make such calls until the school takes an "affirmative, final stance." BLSA's executive board called the webinar "a strategy for Professor Amy Wax to garner the sympathy of Penn faculty while downplaying her egregious, racist conduct."
"It is quite telling that neither the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression nor Professor Wax have invited students to this webinar," BLSA wrote. "Missing from the prospective audience of this webinar will be Penn Carey students of color (many of whom belong to populations Professor Wax has publicly demeaned) who can speak to the harm that Professor Wax’s conduct has caused throughout her tenure."
Penn Carey Law second-year and president of the Muslim Law Students Association Sarah Kawamleh said that MLSA cannot judge professors and their reasons for joining the webinar, but that she appreciates those who have been outspoken about the harm of Wax's beliefs.
"As much as she has the freedom of speech, there is also freedom for us to hold her accountable as a whole," Kawamleh said in regard to the efforts of MLSA and other student groups.
FIRE has previously called Wax's case a "threat for all Penn faculty," saying that if she is sanctioned, free speech and tenure protections would be weakened.