by Jack Kerwick
Professor told to “cease the heresy.”
It seems that it’s impossible to pass through a single week without hearing about multiple outrages in academia. And it seems just as obvious that the most obscene of these outrages tend to unfold at the most prestigious institutions of higher learning.
Take, for instance, the University of Pennsylvania. Penn is an Ivy-league school located in the city of Philadelphia. It has recently been in the news because of “controversial” comments made by one of Penn’s veteran faculty members, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law, Amy Wax.
Back in September of last year, Wax appeared on The Glenn Show, the on-line podcast of Brown University professor, Glenn Loury. During their exchange over some of the deleterious consequences of those race-based preferential treatment policies favoring black student applicants, Wax shared with her host—who is black—some of the observations that she’s made over the duration of her career at Penn.
“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, and rarely, rarely, in the top half. I can think of one or two students who scored in the first half of my required first-year Civil Procedure course.”
Wax and Loury were discussing what’s come to be known as the “mismatch” effect of so-called affirmative action: In their eagerness to satisfy their quotas for black students, colleges and universities wind up mismatching students with institutions. So, Penn, say, recruits black students that, while they would’ve performed excellently at a second-tier school, lack competitiveness at an Ivy-league school. This move on the part of the first-tier schools in turn has ramifications that affect the whole available pool of black students, mismatching them with institutions throughout the entire system.
Black students, in other words, are not benefitted and, in fact, are actually harmed, by the very policy from which they ostensibly benefit.
Wax continued in her conversation with Loury: “Well, what are we supposed to do about that? You’re putting in front of this person [a black student admitted via “affirmative action”] a real uphill battle. And if they were better matched, it might be a better environment for them. That’s the mismatch hypothesis, of course.”
She added: “We’re not saying they shouldn’t go to college—we’re not saying that. Some of them shouldn’t.”
Wax, in noting that the Penn Law Review has a “diversity mandate,” strongly implied that those black law students who contributed enjoyed this distinction because of their race.
Once these remarks of Wax’s became known, a petition calling for her removal from teaching her first-year Civil Procedure course was circulated, and Pennsylvania’s branch of Black Lives Matter went so far as to demand her immediate termination from the university.
Asa Khalif, the head of BLM Pennsylvania, threatened to “begin disrupting classes and other campus activities with a wave of protests” unless Wax was fired. Wax posed a “danger” to “Black and brown students,” he remarked. Khalif also styles himself a voice for the voiceless, or something like this, when he says that other Penn students have told him that “they are afraid to say anything about Wax due to potential reprisal.”
Thus, BLM must “speak for the students who can’t speak for themselves.”
Unsurprisingly, the Dean of Penn’s Law School, Theodore Ruger, caved to the PC pressure and rebuked Wax. “Black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law,” Ruger insisted, “and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate.”
Of course, Professor Wax had already come within the crosshairs of leftist militants for an op-ed that she co-authored in August of last year. Wax lamented the disintegration of America’s “bourgeois culture,” identifying this breakdown as among the principal causes of our nation’s many maladies.
From the late 1940’ to the mid-60s, bourgeois culture “laid out the script we all were supposed to follow: Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”
Wax even boldly declared: “All cultures are not created equal.”
Her fate was sealed. Penn’s National Lawyers Guild issued a statement in which it refers to Professor Wax’s remarks as a “textbook example of [the] white supremacy and cultural elitism” that have been “used to denigrate the poor and sustain and justify the gross wealth inequality that defines American capitalism.” The statement condemns “Professor Wax’s racism and classism, as well as the ‘moral toxicity and…intellectual bankruptcy’ of her opinion.” Wax, the authors of the statement continue, is “bigoted,” “white supremacist,” and a “segregationist.”
The black Brown University academic, Glenn Loury, to whom Wax made some of the remarks that landed her further in hot water with the left, as well as the Manhattan Institute’s Heather MacDonald are among those who have leapt to Wax’s defense. Both have noted that his protestations to the contrary aside, neither Dean Ruger nor anyone else at Penn have supplied a scintilla of evidence to contradict a single syllable that Wax uttered regarding the general performance of black law students at Penn, and MacDonald specifically cited statistical data that dovetails seamlessly with the anecdotal account that Wax shared with Loury on his podcast.
However, while their efforts are commendable, ultimately they are to no avail, for facts, like reason, are suspect from the vantage of today’s militant left. Wax above all people must know this.
In a recent essay of hers, she implores her colleagues in the academy to resist the impulse to substitute coercion for persuasion, ad hominem attacks for reasoned, civil discourse. But one can’t escape the impression that she knows her pleading is an exercise in futility, for she bluntly states that after her August op-ed appeared, many of her colleagues at Penn, including administrators, conveyed their message to Wax loudly and clearly:
“Cease the heresy.”
Exactly right: There will be no reasoning with the self-styled guardians of an orthodoxy that broaches no competitors.
And the leftist ideology that prevails in the contemporary academic world is nothing if not an orthodoxy.
Wax assailed the reigning Politically Correct orthodoxy of academia. For that she is to be treated as a heretic.
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