Statement | Cancel Culture

ACTA’s Statement on Penn Law’s Decision to Formally Investigate and Impose A Major Sanction on Professor Amy Wax

July 22, 2022 by ACTA

The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School (Penn Law) is following in the shameful footsteps of several other elite American universities, including Yale Law School, Georgetown Law, Harvard University, and Princeton University. It is now targeting a distinguished tenured faculty member for her protected speech.

After initially stating that Penn Law Professor Amy Wax’s statements qualified as protected speech under the university’s academic freedom rubric, Penn Law School Dean Ted Ruger reversed himself and on June 23, 2022, referred Professor Wax’s case to the faculty senate chair, requesting a formal investigation into her protected speech and calling for a “major sanction” against her, which could include termination.

In some ways, this latest campaign at Penn Law is of a piece with the previous high-profile repressive actions at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Georgetown. However, Dean Ruger’s actions constitute a new and even more dangerous step in the relentless campaign to purge American campuses of any and all unwelcome viewpoints.

In Professor Wax’s case, Penn Law’s administration does not bother to hide its contempt for academic freedom by trumping up a bogus charge (Princeton) or relying on phony technicalities (Georgetown Law) to justify this despicable next step. Dean Ruger is explicitly urging a frontal attack on a faculty member’s speech because it departs from the opinions held by others on campus. His statement also conflates offensive speech with overt “harm,” thus paving the way for an even more accelerated slide toward prosecuting speech under the absurd pretense that it can be equated with physical violence.

This action signals that Dean Ruger is willing to shred the tenure rubric meant to protect academic freedom, which he himself described on January 3, 2022, as a “status that has done, and continues to do, important work in protecting the voices of scholars on a range of controversial topics including those who are actively challenging racism, sexism, and other inequities in society.”

He now says that he was forced to reconsider his position after “the Law School received additional complaints from students and alumni that Wax’s conduct is having an adverse and discernable impact on her teaching and classroom activities.”

His statement demonstrates that he has forgotten the bedrock principles that should govern our university campuses, expressed succinctly in 1991 by Yale historian C. Vann Woodward:

“The purpose of the university is not to make its members feel secure, content, or good about themselves but to provide a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, the unorthodox, even the shocking—all of which can be profoundly offensive to many, inside as well as outside its walls.” He further elaborated, “I do not think the university is or should attempt to be a political or a philanthropic, or a paternalistic or a therapeutic institution. It is not a club or a fellowship to promote harmony   and civility, important as those values are. It is a place where the unthinkable can be thought, the unmentionable can be discussed, and the unchallengeable can be challenged. That means, in the words of Justice Holmes, ‘not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought we hate.’”

Instead, today we are witness to yet another example of our institutions subjecting themselves to a political orthodoxy and another administrator caving to the braying mob.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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