Facing sanctions, Penn law prof Amy Wax files grievance against dean

The campus of the University of Pennsyvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A university logo adorns a railroad bridge on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
  • Wax has for years angered students and alumni with public comments they deemed racist
  • Law dean Theodore Ruger is seeking "major sanctions" that could lead to her firing

(Reuters) - Conservative law professor Amy Wax has filed a formal grievance against the dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Carey School of Law, the school confirmed on Thursday, escalating a clash over comments by Wax that have been criticized as racist.

The filing by Wax and her lawyer, submitted to the university on Jan. 16 and published Wednesday by the campus newspaper, says the dean, Theodore Ruger, trampled on her academic freedoms. It requests Penn end Ruger's bid for sanctions that could result in Wax's suspension or firing.

“Dean Ruger has grievously harmed Prof. Wax by seeking to punish her for deviating from a narrow set of acceptable opinions, thus effectively imposing a rigid orthodoxy of permissible speech and expression at the Law School,” Wax wrote.

Ruger in June asked the university’s faculty senate to impose a “major sanction” against the longtime professor. That decision followed years of controversial statements by Wax, including a January 2022 blog post saying the United States is “better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration” as long as most Asians vote for Democrats.

An investigation conducted last year by law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan identified nearly a dozen previously undisclosed instances in which students said Wax made racist, sexist or homophobic comments in class.

Wax did not respond to a request for comment Thursday. She has previously defended her right to hold unpopular opinions and referred to herself as a "casualty in the culture wars."

In a statement Thursday, the law school said confidentiality rules meant to protect parties and witnesses prohibit it from commenting on Wax’s latest allegations.

“We regret that the respondent has chosen to litigate the matter—asserting only her views of the facts—in the public press,” it said.

Wax is asking the university to halt the faculty senate inquiry into her teaching and public comments, to restore her ability to teach a first-year class, and to bar Ruger from publicly condemning her opinions, among other measures.

She also argued that Ruger’s allegations should be heard by university panels devoted to faculty grievances and academic freedom, not the faculty sanctions process devoted to misconduct. Wax is not accused of an inappropriate relationship with a student, financial improprieties, a physical attack, plagiarism or using racial slurs, her lawyer wrote.

Penn law students have been complaining to administrators about Wax since at least 2017. The law school in 2018 banned Wax from teaching required first-year courses after she said on a podcast that she had never seen a Black law student graduate in the top quarter of the class, and rarely in the top half.

Read more:

Penn Law seeks to sanction professor who said U.S. 'better off' with fewer Asians

Penn Law dean wants 'major sanctions' against lightning rod professor

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com