A tale of two professors
In two cases, administrators and academics are trying to silence high profile professors.
Recently, the University of Pennsylvania Law School’s dean, Ted Ruger, announced that he will try to sanction law professor Amy Wax. In a 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer, Wax and University of San Diego law professor Larry Alexander said that the country is paying a price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture. They argued that since the 1950s, the decline of bourgeois values — such as hard work, marriage, respect for authority, and self-discipline — contributed to societal problems such as opioid abuse, half of all children being born to single mothers, male labor force participation rates down to Great-Depression-era levels, and many college students lacking basic skills.
In a 2017 interview with The Daily Pennsylvanian, Wax argued not all cultures equally prepare people to be productive in an advanced economy. She said, “everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans” because of their superior norms. Wax added that she did not believe in the superiority of one race over another but was describing the situation in various countries and cultures.
Again, with the exception of a few East Asian nations, no adult seriously doubts this claim. By the millions, people vote with their feet in favor of Wax’s claims.
In 2021 on Glenn Loury’s website, Wax wrote “As long as most Asians support Democrats and help to advance their positions, I think the United States is better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration.” Wax argued that Asians are ungrateful for the advantages of living in the U.S. This can be seen, she claimed, because they vote disproportionately for the “pernicious” Democratic Party. She further noted that this voting pattern is “mystifying” because the Democratic Party pushes equal outcomes despite well-known group differences. Regardless of whether one agrees, the claims are plausible.
In a 2017 interview with Loury, Wax said regarding affirmative action: “Take Penn Law School, or some top 10 law school … Here’s a very inconvenient fact … 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 top half in my required first year course.” This claim surprises no one who is familiar with elite law schools. Penn is ranked sixth.
In 2017, a petition to fire Amy Wax was started. Today it has 76,000 signatures. Thirty-three of her Penn Law colleagues denounced her Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily Pennsylvanian statements. Ruger later banned her from teaching required first-year courses.
In England, Kathleen Stock, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex recently resigned. She argued that people cannot change their sex. She also argued that many trans women are males – consider, for example, ones with penises who are sexually attracted to females – and, as a result, they should not be in places where females undress or sleep in an unrestricted way. She said ad nauseum that she thinks trans people should live free from fear of violence, harassment, or discrimination, but that her claims about identity are distinct from the need to protect these rights.
When Stock was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, philosophers from the most elite universities – for example, Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Oxford, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale – and others denounced Stock. The professors said, “We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.”
Stock’s resignation followed her having been told by police to stay away from her campus for safety reasons. Students at her university, put up posters and graffiti demanding that she be fired. The Sussex branch of the University and College Union called for an investigation into transphobia.
An ironic fact is that Stock is a left-wing lesbian and sex-nonconforming woman. Some of the elite philosophers who denounced her used to be her friends and allies. The revolution always eats its own.
Were Wax or Stock to teach at a public American university, the Constitution would make it illegal for the schools to sanction them. Their speech and writing were not pursuant to their official duties. See Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410 (2006). Even if their speech and writings were pursuant to their official duties, and it was not, their speech is still protected because it would easily pass the Pickering test. Pickering v. Board of Education, 391 U.S. 563 (1968). Specifically, their speech is a matter of public concern and their interest in commenting on matters of public concern outweigh the state’s interest of the State regarding the public services it provides.
Note two things. First, regarding Wax, no one seriously doubts that the country would be better off with bourgeois values or that – with the exception of a few East Asian countries – Western culture is better.
Second, regarding Stock, it is hard to dispute that biologically, trans women are not women. Whether trans women are gender-women – that is, women according to cultural norms – depends on what we do and should think a woman is. At the very least, it is worth discussing Stock’s careful-and-technical arguments. There are additional reasons to be wary of radically revising our view of gender. Consider athletics, gender-transition contagion, and the percentage of people who change their minds about transitioning.
The mean-spirited bullying of Wax and Stock is not unique. Professors from Colorado, Cornell, Oxford, Princeton, Rutgers, etc. have been blackballed, publicly denounced, or pressured to retract articles. The elite schools matter because they have an enormous influence on the country’s commanding heights. Consider, for example, Big Tech, government, Hollywood, mainstream media, and Wall Street. What the elites believe will flow down to culture, law, and the rest of academia. This abuse will continue until alumni cut off donations, boards of trustee fire disgraceful administrators (for example, Penn’s Ruger), and federal and state governments defund these institutions.
Stephen Kershnar is a State University of New York at Fredonia philosophy professor. His views do not represent those of the university. Send comments to email@example.com