Learn more about Amy Wax and Penn Law School

I have an editorial in the Philadelphia plaintiff on the controversy surrounding Professor Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. You can read more about the current controversy here.

My focus on the editorial is whether there is or should be a hate speech exception to academic freedom and tenure protections. Many of those who called on Penn to fire Wax for his comments on the Glenn Loury podcast argued that hate speech is not protected. This assertion seems as erroneous in this context as it does in the broader context of the First Amendment. As I note here:

It is not difficult to weaponize an academic freedom exception for hate speech to hunt professors with unpopular views. A student has complained that Professor Wax should be disciplined for making students ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘unheard of’, and a student petition has called for tenure rules to be changed to ensure tenured professors must follow the “principles of social equity”. But such claims can be multiplied endlessly. In 2020, College Republicans announced they felt unwelcome on campus due to a history professor’s anti-MAGA social media posts. Proponents of measures that oppose critical race theory justify them, in part, by claiming that professors who teach critical race theory create a hostile educational environment for white students. If the principles of academic freedom are changed to escort Professor Wax out the door, she won’t be the only one left on the streets.

Read it all here.

As a bonus, the publishers of Applicant wanted a contrasting position to partner with mine, and they used a piece by third-year Penn law student Apratim Vidyarthi. This piece, arguing that Wax can no longer perform his duties at the faculty, can also be found here. Vidyarthi is ready to bite the bullet and argue that ‘we are already drawing a line on what speech is acceptable’, although it is worth noting that the examples offered when the speech clearly oversteps the line and would lead to dismissal of a professor are in fact examples that are clearly protected by traditional principles of academic freedom. Professors who deny the Holocaust have protected by these principles, as long as they express these views privately in the form of extramural speech and do not teach, for example, 20th century European history or hold themselves out as Holocaust scholars.

Always on the front of Amy Wax, the Business Intern has a report on allegations relating to Wax’s behavior on campus involving students in and out of the classroom. These allegations are quite another matter. If true, Wax would be in a much more vulnerable position and could not easily seek refuge under the protections of academic freedom. Penn would do well to make it very clear that his announced investigation will not focus on his protected extramural speech but rather on his conduct at work. Penn should investigate these allegations carefully and in good faith, and Wax should be given ample opportunity to defend itself against such charges.

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