Penn law professor feels heat over bigoted comments

March 16, 2018

False statements about African-American law students at the University of Pennsylvania by Professor Amy Wax have brought swift rebuke from the Penn law community at odds with her suggestion that African-American performance at Penn is sub-par.

In a letter to the Penn Law community, Law School Dean Theodore Ruger said the statements made by Wax during an interview with Brown University economics professor Glenn Loury last September about the “downside of affirmative action” were false. He also announced that Wax would no longer teach first-year courses.

“Black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law, and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate. Rather, its editors are selected based on a competitive process,” Ruger said. “And contrary to any suggestion otherwise, Black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market and in their careers.”

During an interview with Loury, who is Black, Wax made these controversial statements during an interview that touched on affirmative action. The title of the video is “The downside of social uplift.”

“Here’s a very inconvenient fact, Glenn. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Black student graduate in the top quarter of the class. Rarely, rarely in the top half. I can think of one or two students that have scored in the top half of my required first-year course,” Wax said. “What are we supposed to do about that? You’re putting in front of this person a real uphill battle. And if they were better matched it might be better environment for them.”

Asked if Penn had a racial diversity mandate for its law review, Wax quickly replied, “Yes, yes.”

Wax spoke far less authoritatively, however, when Loury asked her if Black Penn Law students that placed in the bottom half of a class had served on the Penn Law Review.

“I haven’t done a survey; I haven’t done a systematic study,” she said. “I’m talking about who gets the honors. I see a big chunk of students every year so I’m going on that because a lot of this data, of course, is a closely guarded secret as you can imagine.”

The Penn Law alumni, labeling Wax’s statements as “false and deeply offensive,” responded by circulating a petition that at a minimum sought to have Wax permanently removed from teaching first-year law students as well as removing her from the Clerkship Committee, and any other committees that involve leading and directing the law school.

Ayana Lewis, Partnerships Manager in the Office of Strategic Partnerships for the School District of Philadelphia, graduated from Penn Law in 2012. She was a student of Wax’s in 2009. One of the key authors of the petition, this latest revelation comes as no surprise.

“This is nothing new; this has been going on for years and it is infuriating.” Lewis said, adding that she was appreciative of Ruger’s swift actions. “She has been making racist statements for years devaluing people of color and the LGBTQ community. It was a call to action. Enough is enough.”

Last August, Wax incurred the anger of the Penn Law Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) when she penned an op-ed titled, “Paying the price for the breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”

The BLSA contended that Wax and co-writer Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego Law School penned a piece that used no supporting data to suggest that American culture has become, putting it mildly, debased as it has become less homogenized and more inclusive of minorities and other non-whites.

The BLSA said of the piece, “When the carefully coded words of the piece are peeled away, we know she is talking about us, the communities we come from, and the homes we still go back [to]. Those same communities and families make unimaginable sacrifices so that each of us can walk through the doors of this school for three years. We do them a disservice if we remain silent.”