A friend who works at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts told me that the atmosphere there regarding freedom of speech is so repressive that expressing her political opinions at work would be asking to be fired. The grip of Progressive Leftism at UArts is so strong she made me promise not to write anything about our conversations concerning the school.
For several years now students at UArts have been trying to remove tenured professor and renowned critic Camille Paglia from the University. Paglia, who has been teaching at UArts since 1989, came under fire in May 2019 when she delivered a lecture on sexual issues and western art despite threats and a petition from Leftist students not to do so. When Paglia refused to cancel the lecture, the leftist students demanded a post-lecture talk-back with themselves acting as Grand Inquistors.
Paglia’s refusal to agree to a talk-back caused the students to demand that UArts fire her and find “a queer person of color” as a replacement. The militant lefties also had another surprise. Forty minutes into Paglia’s lecture, they set off a fire alarm, in effect killing the remainder of the program and forcing the evacuation of the building. While UArts administrators refused student demands that Paglia be fired, since that incident Paglia has kept a low profile and has refrained from any further public talks on school property.
By now their names are legion: Candace Owens, Patrick Buchanan, Laura Ingraham, Michelle Malkin, David Horowitz, Anne Coulter, and a host of other conservative speakers have all been targets of leftist students whose only wish is to silence divergent voices. The worst part of this phenomenon, besides the obvious free speech violations, is the intimidation factor that may cause intellectually curious students to opt out of attending a talk by a conservative because of the ugly atmosphere generated by the progressive brown shirts.
David Bernstein in his 2004 book, You Can’t Say That, describes how leftist activists begin the vivisection of their victim: first come the social-media call-outs, after which they strong arm authority figures [university administrators] to impose an outcome—censorship—in their favor.
While Camille Paglia seems to be enjoying a peaceful sabbatical from her persecutors, things are not so good over at the academic metropolis known as the University of Pennsylvania, the school that owns half of West Philadelphia and never seems to stop growing. UPenn is a giant in the City of Philadelphia, powerful enough to influence City Council and make Mayor James Kenney bow in obeisance as if venerating a golden calf.
Penn was all over the news recently when it’s most controversial and well-known law professor, Amy Wax, was castigated by Penn faculty and some students for promoting “hate” against Asians. Wax, a tenured professor who’s been teaching at the school since 2001, has had a number of bumpy collisions with her employer going back to 2006, when the faculty of Penn Law rebuked her for her stand against same-sex marriage. The latest brouhaha concerned Wax’s contention that the United States is better off with less Asian immigration.
During a Dec. 20 interview with Brown Professor Glenn Loury on his web show, Bloggingheads.tv, Wax criticized Asian immigration to the United States, warning of the “danger of the dominance of an Asian elite in this country.”
Wax, who happens to be Jewish, stated: “If you go into medical schools, you’ll see that Indians, South Asians are now rising stars. In medicine, they’re sort of the new Jews, I guess, but these diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives are poisoning the scientific establishment and the medical establishment now.”
In explaining her comments on Loury’s show, Wax stated that Asians tend “to conform to whatever the dominant ethos is,” and since “Wokeness is now the luxury belief of the upper class [in institutions and academia], this is what Asians now feel they have to ape.” Wax also stated that that the immigration of “Asian elites” to the United States is a problem because they tend to support the Democratic Party.
Whether you agree with Wax about “Asian elites” is beside the point. The essential thing to remember here is that Wax has a right to hold such beliefs and still be permitted to teach at Penn if one is going to honor the principles of academic freedom. But with the dominance of wokeness in nearly every segment of American society, but most especially in academe, after Wax’s comments to Glenn Loury, a black man, went viral, there were calls at UPenn for her removal despite her tenured status. These calls came from faculty and student activists who have been monitoring Wax since 2006.
So great was the backlash this time that the Philadelphia City Council condemned Wax and called for UPenn to put its foot down (meaning, of course, expel her from the University). A bipartisan letter signed by 16 out of 17 City Council members and Mayor Jim Kenney was sent to Penn president Amy Gutmann. Among the signers were two Asian Council members: Helen Gym, a progressive leftist who has aspirations to become the city’s next mayor, and David Oh, a milquetoast Republican with RINO tendencies.
Gym, who has a tendency to outshine and outdo her fellow Council members when it comes to radical chic views, took a swipe at UPenn when she said, “Penn’s lack of public attention demonstrates tolerance and complicity.” Gym also vowed that if Penn does not respond to the letter that City Council would continue to pressure the school to do something about Wax.
The Daily Pennsylvanian (DP), UPenn’s campus newspaper that has been waging war against Wax since 2006, stated that her latest comments amount to a “cumulation and increasing promotion of white supremacy.”
Wax was also vilified on the city’s local news stations where her “Asian elite” comment was reported as if were breaking news on the same level as updates on the Russia-Ukraine situation.
Conversely, Princeton University professor Keith Whittington of the Academic Freedom Alliance addressed a letter to Gutmann stating that Wax should not face formal consequences for her comments. Whittington wrote that he found it “disturbing” that Penn folded to pressure from students and Philadelphia lawmakers by invoking a formal sanctions process against Wax.
While the current sanctions process is being worked out, Wax’s enemies are busy compiling lists of the Law Professor’s “sins” going back to 2016. These transgressions include a 2017 claim by leftist students that Wax made racist comments about Black students at Penn Law in a video she made with Loury. Wax stated in that video that, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the [Penn Law School] class and rarely, rarely in the top half.” Wax explained that she was commenting on the downside of affirmative action in academe, when the purpose is just to fill a quota, and when underqualified students are being paired with students who outperform. “I can think of one or two students who’ve graduated in the top half of my required first-year course,” she told Loury.
That comment had her officially labeled a racist by UPenn’s Left Guard. There were also calls for the Dean of the Law School, Theodore Ruger, to discipline her in some way. The discipline came in the form of her removal by Ruger from teaching first-year curriculum courses.
The incident put Wax high up on the Progressive Left’s “watch list” even though she was speaking about her personal experiences at Penn and not surmising what happens—or would happen—at other law schools. In 2019, Wax earned the triple tiara-label of racist-xenophobe-hater when she co-authored an op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer arguing for a U.S. immigration policy favoring people from Western countries over non-Western countries. “On Bourgeois Values” posited that all cultures are not created equal and that some are superior to others.
The DP, which tracks Wax’s public statements with Stalinesque scrutiny, made special note of the op-ed but offered Wax an opportunity to defend herself.
“I noted that global migrants flock to European countries. They don’t risk their lives in rickety boats to go to Venezuela or Zimbabwe,” Wax said, sounding much like Ann Coulter in her immigration classic, Adios America.
Wax further explained that migrants from non-Western countries have a harder time assimilating and emphasized that this thought has always been a tenet of the Right. She added that an immigration policy like this would undoubtedly result in
a shift in the racial profile of people coming in…obviously you’d have fewer people from Africa, from people from some parts of Asia…it will be more white…not that white people want to come to the U.S.
These comments gave birth to the news headline, “Amy Wax Advocates for Excluding People of Color from Immigration.”
“But that’s not what I said at all,” she says. “I said, this might be the result and therefore conservatives might be nervous about it.”
“That Wax’s speech may be protected does not permit this Law School to ignore the real harms such speech causes,” Dean Ruger stated in a January 3rd statement. “As we have previously emphasized, Wax’s views are diametrically opposed to the policies and ethos of this institution.”
UPenn’s sanctions process may spell trouble for Wax and for the cause of academic freedom, but Wax says she is in for the fight.
I have seen my students change over even 10 to 15 to 20 to 30 years … They have become these cowed, benighted sheeples. It’s just unbelievable. So not only are they thoroughly intimidated as they should be, but they are ignorant . . . My case is on some level not about me. I’m just roadkill, I’m a casualty in the culture wars.
But that’s not all. “Defund the Ivy League,” she says. “People just keep pouring money into it. They have enough money. They have more than enough.”
Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He is the author of fifteen books, including Literary Philadelphia and From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia. Death at Dawn: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest will be published in 2022.