Readers may recall how Amy Wax, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, incurred the wrath of the left, including black law students at Penn, by saying that which must not be said — the social practices at the heart of middle class America from the late 1940’s through the 1960’s are a recipe for success, personal and societal, and their rejection is a recipe for dysfunction and decline.
Wax and her co-author Larry Alexander found themselves under fire for “normalizing” white supremacy. For Wax’s critics on the left, that’s what pointing out the positive effects of stable families, obtaining a good education, working hard, and eschewing substance abuse and crime amounts to.
I don’t know whether Wax ever got out of hot water for her common sense statements, but if she did it wasn’t for long. The law school has just barred her from teaching a first year course required of first year students. It did so because she commented on the the poor performance of African-American law students in her classroom.
At a forum, Wax said “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.” Wax made it clear that she was speaking of a class she teaches to around 90 first-year students each year. How African-American students fare in the student body as a whole is a “closely guarded secret,” Wax explained.
Wax’s comment resulted in a petition demanding that the law school take action against her “false and deeply offensive claims.” (Emphasis added) The petition demanded that the law school reject Wax’s claims and take action against her, ideally including her removal from teaching first year courses and from committees involving the direction of the law school.
The administration complied with the demand that Wax not be allowed to teach a mandatory first year course. Law school dean Ted Ruger said:
As a scholar [Wax] is free to advocate her views, no matter how dramatically those views diverge from our institutional ethos and our considered practices. As a teacher, however, she is not free to transgress the policy that student grades are confidential, or to use her access to those Penn Law students who are required to be in her class to further her scholarly ends without students’ permission.
So black law students won’t ever have to take a course from Wax. But in the absence of “affirmative action” grading, black grades in the mandatory first year course presumably will remain the same.
What about those grades? Did Wax lie about them, as the petition alleges?
Dean Ruger said this: “[B]lack students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law.” He added, “contrary to any suggestion otherwise, black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market, and in their careers.”
This isn’t a declaration that Wax’s statement is wrong. Nor does it dispute the burden of what she said — that black academic performance lags significant behind that of other law students at Penn.
The fact that “black students,” i.e. more than one, have finished “in the top of the class” isn’t inconsistent with Wax’s statement that she hasn’t had a black student in the top quarter of her classes (or doesn’t recall having one). The claim that “black students are extremely successful both inside and outside the classroom. . .” is too vague to carry meaning.
The issue is how the performance of Penn Law’s black students stacks up against the performance of its other students. Despite being pressured by the anti-Wax petition, the administration apparently is unable to deny that it doesn’t stack up well.