Dr. Amy Wax is a conservative flamethrower at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is a tenured professor who is now facing sanctions for her perceived racist comments both in and outside the classroom.
Does she use freedom of speech as a coaxer or a cudgel?
To this Penn undergraduate alum, her comments are alarming, if not abhorrent.
I have spent weeks thinking about this column. I have sought the opinions of friends who are attorneys whose intellectual depth I respect. Still, I sit alone on a writer’s island awaiting clarity from my ephemeral muse. It can be a lonely perch.
Dr. Wax, a neurologist as well as a lawyer and professor, undeniably opposes affirmative action. Her chronically inflammatory comments reflect disdain for Blacks who eschew bourgeois values, question the cognitive aptitude of African- American students and criticize Asian students who strive for conformity and vote Democratic.
She aligns herself with White Nationalists. Her public statements bluntly condemn wokeness and a culture that cancels conservative speakers and critics such as this determined Ivy League lightning rod. She virtually dares my alma mater to remove her tenured status. She’s a relentless warrior of free speech, unfettered by condemnation by students and colleagues.
Readers would be unsurprised to learn of my disgust for what strikes me as a pattern of bigoted remarks by a brilliant teacher who exhibits little or no reluctance or contrition to voice hurtful and hostile remarks. While her perspectives mostly happen outside the classroom, she has insulted students inside her academic realm. She decries their sensitivity; I despair of her damning asides.
She seems oblivious to the impact of her comments. In fact, she displays an attitude contemptuous of criticism from students and colleagues.
As I contemplate my position on this columnist’s weekly pedestal, I find myself defending Professor Wax’s right to utter free, though outrageous speech. I cringe more than a little bit at this conclusion. The discomfort experienced by her students is bothersome, if not outright despicable.
But she has the right to claim her niche as a conservative speaker at a university considered liberal. Her tenured status provides unassailable academic freedom. That freedom underscores the basic tenets of an educational institution unaffected by political concerns and constraints.
Amy Wax seeks no pulpit but the one offered at Penn Law. She has no political ambitions. She rejects implicit or explicit censorship. Unfortunately, she and the law school are engaged in a battle royale that produces headlines injurious to a brilliant professor and esteemed law school. The media is providing a public venue for litigation.
The dispute has been roiling the campus since 2017. Regrettably, it has attracted considerable media and academic attention. I suspect that a legal settlement is out of question since freedom of speech has become a national cause celebre. The sides are intractable.
Among friends, classmates and readers, my stance will be unpopular. I will understand their consternation. I still support Dr. Wax’s right to be appalling.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.