The Penn Law chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (Penn NLG) strongly condemns Professor Amy Wax’s recent Philly.com column and subsequent comments in the Daily Pennsylvanian. In these articles, Professor Wax blames a host of societal ills on the decline of the “bourgeois values” that supposedly were dominant in the 1950s and declares the superiority of “Anglo-Protestant” culture. Professor Wax’s statements amount to an explicit and implicit endorsement of white supremacy. Silence in the face of such dangerous ideas is unacceptable–particularly when they come from someone with Professor Wax’s academic credentials.
Professor Wax’s rants are also a textbook example of how white supremacy and cultural elitism are used to denigrate the poor and sustain and justify the gross wealth inequality that defines American capitalism. This script dates back to before the founding of our country and has long served the interests of the wealthy and powerful. As Penn Law’s implicit mission is to train attorneys who will defend those same interests, we would be deluded if we expected the administration to issue any more forceful response than the tepid one issued by Dean Theodore Ruger.
We are grateful to Penn Law Professors Dorothy E. Roberts, Sarah Barringer Gordon, Serena Mayeri, Sophia Z. Lee, and Tobias Barrington Wolff for their response to Professor Wax, which eloquently demonstrates that Professor Wax’s commentary was not only offensive, but also facile and historically inaccurate. We are also grateful to the eighteen law professors, most from other universities in the Philadelphia area, who denounced Professor Wax’s racism and classism, as well as the “moral toxicity and . . . intellectual bankruptcy” of her opinions.
Professor Wax has a long track record of making ill-informed, inflammatory, and white supremacist statements. On July 29th, less than two weeks before her Philly.com column, she made a television appearance that has received less (if any) attention, in which she openly endorsed socioeconomically and racially segregated public education, arguing that segregating poor and minority students in admittedly paternalistic schools designed to inculcate them with “bourgeois values” is preferable to integration or increases in school funding. In short, Professor Wax is a segregationist. As students familiar with her work, we are not surprised to discover that Professor Wax’s nostalgia for the 1950s extends beyond the “values” she identified in her Philly.com column.
While we do not challenge Professor Wax’s right to express her views, we question whether it is appropriate for her to continue to teach a required first-year course. The Penn Law administration has long been aware that her bigoted views inevitably seep into her words and actions in the classroom and in private conversations with students. We call on the administration to consider more deeply the toll that this takes on students, particularly students of color and members of the LGBTQIA community, and to consider whether it is in the best interests of the school and its students for Professor Wax to continue to teach a required first-year class. Exposure to a diversity of viewpoints is an essential and valuable part of any educational experience, but no student should have to be exposed to bigotry or abuse in the classroom.
Since Professor Wax is, as usual, scheduled to teach Civil Procedure this fall, and we know that is unlikely to change, we offer ourselves as a resource for first-year students in Professor Wax’s class. 1Ls in Professor Wax’s class: whether you need someone just to listen, to help you figure out how to get through the semester, or to advocate on your behalf, Penn NLG has your back.