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Law professor Amy Wax walks through Penn Carey Law School on April 17, 2023.

Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

A Faculty Senate hearing board recommended that Penn sanction controversial law professor Amy Wax, prompting Wax to appeal the ruling.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, sources close to Wax's case confirmed that, in June 2023, the hearing board comprised of tenured faculty members recommended sanctions against Wax, a tenured faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School. The ruling, if it is upheld after Wax's appeal, would be the first time in recent history that a tenured University professor was sanctioned through Faculty Senate procedures. 

The recommended sanctions against Wax included a one-year suspension at half pay, the removal of her named chair and summer pay, and a requirement for Wax to note in public appearances that she is not speaking on behalf or as a member of Penn Carey Law.

The hearing board decided that the University should issue a public reprimand of Wax, but did not suggest she should be fired or stripped of tenure, according to the Inquirer. Wax's appeal of the ruling prompted a full Faculty Senate process, the Inquirer reported.

Former Penn President Liz Magill signed off on the hearing board's recommendation of sanctions in August of last year, but Wax quickly appealed the decision, according to the Inquirer. The Daily Pennsylvanian was unable to confirm this timeline of events.

The board's June 2023 recommendation came after three days of disciplinary hearings in May 2023, which were held at the request of former Penn Carey Law Dean Ted Ruger. Ruger, who left the deanship in June 2023,  began an investigation of Wax in January 2022 after she had spent years drawing controversy for her inflammatory rhetoric.

"[A]s long as most Asians support Democrats and help to advance their positions, I think the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration," Wax said in a claim that drew national outcry and was cited by Ruger in a complaint to the Faculty Senate in 2022. 

At the time of publication, all contacted members of the hearing board declined to comment, and a University spokesperson also declined to comment. Wax did not respond to an inquiry, she previously declined to comment on her case when The Daily Pennsylvanian approached her outside her office on April 17, 2023.

The Inquirer reported that Wax's appeal cited improper procedure, meaning that Penn’s Senate Committee on Academic Freedom and Responsibility will now review the appeal. This further delays a conclusion to the case, which has already been ongoing for two years.  

SCAFR members told the DP that the committee's proceedings are “strictly confidential” in response to requests for comment. 

Wax spoke about the case with right-wing political commentator Richard Hanania in December of last year, saying that there would be a decision in the next few months, but that it was going through “layers of appeal at Penn.”

"I think that my guess is that they’re going to want to delay it, because the last thing they need is another dumpster fire, especially one that might involve a penalty for a conservative professor, which is precisely the sort of hypocrisy that, you know, will attract attention," she said. 

Wax also said at the time that Penn might face subpoenas related to the case.

“There’s a move afoot to get some subpoenas out to Penn of the records in my case.  And we're talking about thousands of pages now,” she said.

On Jan. 24 of this year, the United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce requested several documents from Penn, citing “grave concerns” about the University’s response to antisemitism on campus. The letter, which demanded that the University submit documents by Feb. 7, cited multiple examples as “cases of Penn canceling or sanctioning speech it disfavored” — including the action taken against Wax. 

It remains unclear which University behavioral standards the hearing board determined Wax to have violated. 

Credit: Jesse Zhang

Former Penn Carey Law Dean Ted Ruger, who sought sanctions against Amy Wax, at Convocation on Aug. 29, 2022.

Ruger's complaint, and the rarely used disciplinary procedure that ensued, brought Penn to the forefront of the heated debate regarding the boundaries of academic free speech, particularly for tenured professors. Wax has painted herself as the latest victim of what she has described as an attack against conservatives in higher education, while minority students and professors have said her conduct has threatened their sense of safety, inclusion, and belonging on campus.

"As much as [Wax] has the freedom of speech, there is also freedom for us to hold her accountable as a whole," Penn Carey Law third year and president of the Muslim Law Students Association Sarah Kawamleh said in April 2023.

Around 80 University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students protested outside of Professor Amy Wax’s classroom on Nov. 28, opposing her invitation of white nationalist Jared Taylor as a guest speaker. Taylor's appearance prompted a school-wide email from Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law of Penn Carey Law Sophia Lee on Nov. 21, in what appeared to be Lee's first public comments on Wax as dean.

While the DP has been unable to obtain the details of the hearing board's decisions, the closing argument made by Wax's lawyer suggested that the hearing board was examining whether Wax viewed her media commentary as an extension of her teaching at Penn and whether her statements were supported by facts and research.

How Penn's disciplinary proceedings against Wax have unfolded 

Wax's statements have included claiming that Black students never graduate at the top of the Penn Carey Law class and that “non-Western groups” are resentful towards "Western people." Among other allegations, Wax has also faced criticism for hosting white nationalist Jared Taylor for a guest lecture and allegedly telling a Penn Carey Law student that she was only accepted into the Ivy League "because of affirmative action."

In June 2022, Ruger filed a complaint to the Faculty Senate recommending a major sanction against Wax. He asked the Faculty Senate to appoint a hearing board of five professors from across the University to evaluate his complaint.

“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 2022 report to the Faculty Senate. “However, Wax’s conduct demonstrates a ‘flagrant disregard of the standards, rules, or mission of the University.'”

Fewer students have registered for Wax's classes since the proceedings began

Wax has previously said she would sue Penn if it punished her and filed a grievance complaint to stop the proceedings in January 2023.

"[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 complaint read.

It is unknown if Wax plans to take any action against Penn at this time.