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

The campus of the University of Pennsyvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Students walk between classes in front of College Hall on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., September 25, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
  • Tenured professor Amy Wax has also come under fire for statements about Black law students
  • Sanctioning Wax would violate academic freedom principles, some say

(Reuters) - The dean of the University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law said Tuesday that he will pursue sanctions against law professor Amy Wax following her latest inflammatory public statements on race and immigration.

Following a podcast she recorded with Brown University social sciences professor Glenn Loury, Wax wrote on Loury's website this month: “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.”

In a message to the school, law dean Ted Ruger said that he has received complaints since 2017 that Wax’s comments are harming students' educational experience. He said he is initiating a university procedure to sanction Wax, which could involve a hearing board appointed by the chair of the faculty senate.

"Professor Amy Wax has repeatedly made derogatory public statements about the characteristics, attitudes, and abilities of a majority of those who study, teach, and work here," Ruger wrote.

Wax did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.

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. However, Ruger has consistently said Wax cannot be fired because she is tenured.

Penn law students have circulated a petition calling for the school to take action against Wax, citing her "offensive and obviously racist" statements, and a number of Philadelphia council members this month asked university president Amy Gutmann to launch a "comprehensive review" of her position.

Ruger's message did not say what sanctions Wax may face, and a law school spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The university's faculty governance rules say major sanctions can include termination, suspension, a reduction in base salary, or zero salary increases.

Some campus free speech groups have said sanctioning Wax would violate the principles of academic freedom.

“The only appropriate action that the University of Pennsylvania should take in this situation is to publicly reaffirm the free speech rights of the members of its faculty,” the Academic Freedom Alliance, a national group of university and college faculty, wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to Gutmann.

The nonprofit Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has also come to Wax’ defense.

"Predictions that a faculty member’s views mean they will treat a student differently are not sufficient to justify eroding expressive rights," FIRE attorney Adam Steinbaugh said in a statement Tuesday.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at