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Amy Wax is the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she specializes in social welfare law and policy as well as the relationship of the family, the workplace, and labor markets. She is the author of Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century.
Professor Wax has become a controversial figure because of her politically incorrect comments advocating in favor of bourgeois values and the WASP culture from which they stem, and in her claims that black students had generally performed at significantly lower levels than other students in her classes in context of a conversation about the downsides of affirmative action — comments that got her ousted from teaching the first year civil procedure class for which she had previously won an award for “teaching excellence.”
During our conversation, Professor Wax and I touched on her beliefs regarding bourgeois values, the comments on race and academic performance that got her ousted from teaching her first-year class, the ramifications of her case, Professor Wax’s criticism of affirmative action and diversity, the state of free speech on college campuses, grappling with uncomfortable truths, the anti-Western nature of the modern academy and much more.
What We Discussed
- Wax’s transition from apolitical science student to conservative law professor
- The merits of bourgeois values and the primacy of culture
- What those who attribute societal outcomes almost purely to economics get wrong
- Wax’s observations on the relatively poor performance of black students in her classes, which triggered a series of events that would leave her removed from teaching her mandatory first-year class
- Affirmative action and discrimination
- Why Wax believes diversity is not an “unalloyed good”
- Wax’s response to critics who would argue her classroom is an “unsafe space” for minority students
- The dangerous paradigm on college campuses of “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” “disinvitations” and “de-platforming,” whereby offensive speech has been deemed an act of violence, justifying a physically violent response
- The broader ramifications for society of anti-free speech college campuses
- How Wax would like to see her case at Penn Law remedied
- The anti-Western state of the academy in the West
Wax’s Recommended Reads
- American Affairs
- American Greatness
- The American Interest
- The American Prospect
- Suicide of the West by James Burnham
- City Journal
- Claremont Review of Books
- The Federalist
- First Things
- The Fatal Conceit by F. A. Hayek
- The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek
- The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch
- The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy by Christopher Lasch
- After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre
- Marginal Revolution (Tyler Cowen)
- National Affairs
- The National Interest
- The New Republic
- The New Yorker
- The New York Review of Books
- Slate Star Codex
- spotted toad
- The Times Literary Supplement
- Weekly Standard
- Wax’s op-ed lauding bourgeois values
- Critical response to Wax’s op-ed lauding bourgeois values
- Wax WSJ op-ed on lack of free speech on college campuses based on her own experience
- Reaction to Wax’s WSJ op-ed in The Daily Pennsylvanian student newspaper
- Wax’s Bloggingheads video interview with Brown Professor Glenn Loury leading to further controversy
- Backlash against Wax’s comments in Bloggingheads video interview
- Loury’s response to controversy
- Dean Ruger’s letter justifying Wax’s removal from her first-year course
- Wax follow-up Bloggingheads conversation with Loury
- The Left’s criticism of Wax
- Support for Wax
- See more from Jonathan Haidt, Jonah Gelbach and Jonathan Klick at Heterodox Academy
- Charles Murray
- Coming Apart
- James Damore
- Brendan Eich
Thanks for Listening!
Check out other episodes at benweingarten.com/bigideas.
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The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ben Weingarten: Generally, I conduct these interviews from the Upper West side, and we may be sitting today, down in the West Village, in the only place more hostile to thought criminals like yourself than the Upper West Side. But I thank you for speaking with me today.
Amy Wax: My pleasure.
Ben Weingarten: First, how did you end up a conservative in academia and in particular in a part of academia which is generally not very fond of those that hold your views.
Amy Wax: Well, I think there was a process of co-evolution. I gradually became a conservative. I’ve moved to the right for the past many years. I started out principally apolitical as a science major and a science person in college. I was very studious. I guess you would call me a grind. And I didn’t have very much to do with politics. I was interested in it, and I read about it, but I didn’t have any strong views one way or the other. And I came from a family that was mixed. My mother was… Your sort of typical liberal Jewish mom. My dad though, was a Reagan democrat, a person who thought for himself and always encouraged me to do that. So he definitely had an influence on me. But as the years went by, and I was initially in the medical profession, I definitely started to think about some of the issues. Liberal politics became more aggressive, more prominent. And I decided that a lot of the precepts on the left were implausible. And I didn’t agree with them. Nonetheless, I switched to law. I worked for the Reagan and Bush justice departments. I got hired at the University of Virginia, which is one of the more centrist law schools, and one of the more old fashioned liberal law schools, and so that was a great stroke of luck. And then I moved to Penn just about the time when academia become more aggressively progressive. I think that there has definitely been a shift in the 22-plus years that I have been in academia, of the academy to the sharp left… Away from the old Liberal ideals of reasoned discourse, and civic and civil discussion, towards an ideology that is intolerant, die-hard and distinctly tilted. So I became… I moved to the right and academia moved to the left, and that’s where I find myself today at odds with much of what is going on.
Ben Weingarten: And of course, in recent months, you became a notorious law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and the controversy first arose in 2017 over an article, which on its face might seem relatively innocuous. And that article was in defense of bourgeois values. First, define what bourgeois values represent.
Amy Wax: Well, that’s a bit of a protean term, but in my mind it represents a list of behavioral ideals, of habits, of precepts that are conventionally middle class, such as thrift, diligence, orderliness, honesty, continence, prudence, cleanliness, sobriety, respect for law — I guess you would call that rectitude, not a word that’s used much these days — and just general respectability as a kind of adult script that enables people who are of limited capacity — I guess that applies to all of us — to make their way through complicated existence, life dilemmas… Helps guide us and keeps us on the straight and narrow towards a more or less successful life. It’s an adult script that used to be pretty well accepted and embraced, to simplify, before the ’60s, the 1960s, and was called into question in many respects during that period. So we have sort of fallen from our adherence to that script in the United States in large part, or certainly many populations or many sectors of our society to fail both to exemplify these qualities, but even to pay fealty to them, to believe in them.
Ben Weingarten: One of the things that made this article controversial for some who attacked you in the student newspaper and elsewhere was the assertion that these values embraced by American culture through, as you mentioned, the ’60s, and then declining in the decades subsequent, that this culture and these values were superior to other values held by, adhered to and fostered in other cultures? So what made those values and the cultures that fostered them superior?
Amy Wax: Well, they’re of long historic provenance and evolution, but they work. And I think the proof of the pudding here is in the eating. We have an Anglo-Protestant culture, for lack of a better term, because that, of course, is our heritage in setting up our system and creating our government and our nation. Those precepts come from a particular place, and that has been wildly successful in bringing peace and prosperity and stability, and in fostering the pursuit of happiness to the extent that our country is or until recently was the envy of the world. And I think more broadly, European culture of which there are numerous variants, of course, has worked better for human happiness, human prosperity than some of the others, which may have had their day in the sun in the past, but have not delivered the goods.
Ben Weingarten: And you wrote in that article, and I quote here, “the loss of bourgeois habits seriously impeded the progress of disadvantaged groups.” How did it impede the progress of those disadvantaged groups, and to whom are you referring?
Amy Wax: Well, I think there are a number of fronts in which so-called under-representative minorities, and here I’m speaking specifically about African-Americans and to some extent Hispanics in this country, who lag behind other groups. There are a number of fronts in which their behaviors, or cultural outlook, their habits and life choices have not been conducive to success — to monetary success, personal success and otherwise. So I would say those fronts include educational attainment, family structure, rectitude or being law-abiding, sobriety, maintaining orderly, good habits and practices. I know people would contest some of that. For example, it’s oft-repeated that whites and blacks and other groups use drugs at similar rates. I have my reasons for doubting that, but I think there can be no doubt that rates of criminality definitely differ by subcultures, family structure does, educational attainment does. And those three make an enormous difference in our advanced technological society.
Ben Weingarten: And many people on the left like to attribute these differences to economics, which is something that I should state flat out on its face to me is laughable…Economic inequality, for example, has been fingered as a primary driver of jihadist acts, for example, which is laughable on its face because you can point out that Osama bin Laden came from a rich family and he was the most famous jihadist in the history of the world. In the case of economics as well, economics stem from a culture. So the idea that economics just arise from nothingness is laughable, I think also. But there’s a materialist perspective, which is that you can attribute almost everything to coming from poverty or coming from wealth. What do you say to those who ascribe differences between varying groups in America to economics as the primary driver.
Amy Wax: Well you’re right that there is a large divide between what I would call the “economics primary” people and others. Does economics cause dysfunction or does dysfunction cause poor economic outcomes? What I have to say to the “economics first” people is the facts just don’t bear you out, they get in the way. I think the counterexamples can be found by looking back at the past. People who were much poorer than we are on every possible measure have advanced, climbed the ladder, and succeeded and over generations have made themselves richer because of their discipline and behavior. And one can point to specific examples of that.
Also, people who were desperately poor in the past have not fallen into dysfunction by virtue of that. You can look at the Depression when families remained intact and people adhered to bourgeois values in large measure, not without exception, of course. But of course, there’s always been exceptions. That’s a counterexample.
And then of course, we have the immigrant experience in the United States where people come right off the boat, not even knowing the language, having zero to their name and leapfrog past Native American groups who are left behind.
I just think it’s manifestly obvious that poverty does not necessarily cause dysfunction. Now, I think it is a risk factor. Clearly, it’s harder to act middle class when you’re not middle class, but it’s very far from impossible. And also, turning it around, it’s clear that hard work, diligence, trustworthiness, thrift, good habits, obedience to law and the like contribute to success. For example, committing crimes, which is the main cause of incarceration, I should add, obviously impedes one’s ability to make a living. People who go to jail take a tremendous hit. So that’s just one obvious example. People who get high all the time can’t hold down a job. That’s another example. People who are not diligent, not industrious, don’t complete their education, they’re not gonna do as well as people who do. So we could just go ticking down the list of bourgeois habits and virtues, and connect that with life success.
Ben Weingarten: So I mentioned that there was controversy over this first piece, which lauds the very values that you just spoke to, and maybe it’s in part because while many of your critics would probably describe themselves or be aptly described as moral relativists and non-judgmental, and they would say that every culture is different, and who are we to judge which one is superior… They would say that the culture that you support is actually inferior and retrograde and regressive — something interesting, I think in their position.
Amy Wax: Except they exemplify many of the bourgeois values themselves. And as I point out to them, which only infuriates them more, try to inculcate those into their own children, I’m not sure why they do that if they think that those values are worthless.
Ben Weingarten: And Charles Murray in Coming Apart said that the cognitive elites…practiced what they did not preach.
Amy Wax: They practice what they preach against in many instances.
Ben Weingarten: What really ticked off people, however, at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere was a conversation conducted with a professor of Economics at Brown, Glenn Loury, on the Bloggingheads video podcast [“The Glenn Show” at Bloggingheads.tv], in a conversation about affirmative action. And the host, Professor Laury, shared your anti-affirmative action views for any number of reasons. And in the course of that conversation, you asserted that you’ve rarely seen black students graduate in the top quarter or top half of your classes. Now, Penn, as I understand it, has anonymous grading standards. So first of all, on what basis did you make those observations?
Amy Wax: Well, first of all… I know this has been repeated endlessly and parsed repeatedly… First of all, this was in the context of a conversation where I was making an entirely different point, but we will leave that aside for a moment. I said, I could not recall ever seeing a black person graduate in the top of the class or the top quarter, and rarely in the top half. But then I quickly added that I was basing this on my own experience teaching a required first year course, where I do teach a good chunk of the first year class. So I don’t see the whole class, but I see a good chunk of it. The first year classes are graded blind, which means we don’t know who we’re giving grades to. Implicitly I was basing this on over 20 years of teaching experience, not just my recent experience at Penn, and also I now recall though I didn’t talk about it, I was basing this on sitting for many years on the clerkship committee, which tries to help students get clerkships where we do in fact see class rank information. We are given printouts of class rank information. And in the clerkship committee, and I think I also… Talked about this in the podcast, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about why black students don’t get clerkships, and “It must be racism. We need to investigate this.” I said, “No, we don’t. In order to investigate this, the first thing we do is we should look at the grades at black students get because judges care a lot about class rank. They only want the best students.” Now that shut down the initiative, but it did not produce any data on black students, which I think the law school is not at all interested in revealing for the reason that, my guess is, that it would largely bear me out.
Ben Weingarten: As you mentioned, this assertion that you made, this anecdotal evidence, was in context of a broader conversation around affirmative action. And Professor Loury was speaking about the fact that it’s a challenging issue because he would stand in front of a class and assert that there were those in the class that were not up to the par of other people in the class academically. And this was a challenging thing because to say that to your students would offend them, essentially is what he was getting at.
Amy Wax: But of course, there’s a paradox lurking here, which is something I’m gonna talk about today when I give a talk to the National Association of Scholars, which is that on the one hand, all good people are for affirmative action. That’s a sign of virtue. On the other hand, to talk about the predicate, the reason that affirmative action is needed, which is that there are these gaps in educational achievement, and proficiency is verboten. So we kind of twisted ourselves in knots that we have to embrace something but deny the factual underpinning of it.
Ben Weingarten: It also bears noting… I looked up the Penn affirmative action policy. It’s called Penn’s “Equal Action Opportunity and Affirmative Action Policy.” And I quote here, it is “Grounded in equal opportunity, nondiscrimination, and affirmative action, Penn’s robust commitment to diversity is fundamental to the University’s mission of advancing knowledge, educating leaders for all sectors of society, and public service.” But I found it interesting, “nondiscrimination” and “affirmative action” placed next to each other. Is not affirmative action in and of itself an inherently discriminatory policy… On multiple angles discriminatory in that those who are kept out of school, who might hit certain academic standards are discriminated against; those who maybe are not as high level in a sense, face harm in that they’re put in classes maybe too academically rigorous for them. And then for the others who are deserving, regardless of affirmative action policy… People will constantly look at them and question whether or not they’re really up to par.
Amy Wax: Right. Well, the word “discrimination” here is virtually useless because is a manipulatable word that can mean whatever people want it to mean. But certainly the rap against affirmative action, when there used to be robust debate surrounding affirmative action, was that it amounts to a form of discrimination based on race, or taking into account race, and there are winners and losers. So there are people who are not going to get into these schools because they don’t have the right complexion, or don’t come from the favored victim group. So to that extent, yes, it does have an element of discrimination. But these words now have been so twisted, they’re now so capacious, that affirmative action is equated with nondiscrimination. Of course, that’s a completely Orwellian way of thinking about it, virtually meaningless.
But I think the broader point here is that the progressive powers that be in the universities have figured out all sorts of devilishly clever ways to hide and obscure, what they are actually doing. They plead confidentiality, everything is furtive, it’s secretive. They don’t even really admit to be doing what they’re doing, which is odd because you’d think they’d be proud of it. But when anybody shines a light on it, they become incredibly angry and aggressive. Their whole mission is to hide what’s actually going on so that they can have a free hand to decide who is going to be part of this community, and who is not.
And of course, the rationale for affirmative action has shifted, at least officially. It used to be a form of remediation. In the law, the Supreme Court long ago, scotched the idea that official discrimination could occur to remedy generalized societal racism or the like. That was shut down. So the rationale was shifted to diversity, and of course, diversity is in the eye of the beholder. It can justify almost anything, and is considered to be of pedagogical value, which of course has never been proven. Now, the catechism is that diversity has all upside. It’s an unalloyed good thing. There’s no downside to it at all, certainly in the university, something I disagree with actually. And so they don’t really need to justify it to anybody.
Ben Weingarten: And it would seem that diversity is largely in many respects today about traits that people have no control over, in and of themselves, so long as they all hold the same ideology.
Amy Wax: Right. One of the tenets of the ideology is that diversity is an unalloyed good. I happen to disagree with that. I think one of the downsides of diversity has been the death of open inquiry, academic values and free debate. I think diversity has produced orthodoxy, and that’s been very detrimental to the academy.
Ben Weingarten: The offending statement about the academic performance of minorities in your classes led to a firestorm that ultimately has culminated, at least to date, in you being barred from teaching mandatory first-year courses, I think civil procedure was the course that you had taught for some time. And the Dean of Penn Law School who wrote the letter that was publicized, laying out the bill of horribles in this case, essentially stated, and I’ll paraphrase… That to subject first year students to your class, they would not be in a “safe space.” They would be subjected to words that could harm them. And so in response to that, you needed to be pulled out, although one wonders, will second year and third year students then also have that issue if they’re in your classes. What’s the difference between a first and second and third? But what would your message be to black students considering attending your courses? Because what that dean said was that students might feel that you would be discriminating against them, implicitly or explicitly, in your treatment of them. And basically, he was implying that your views were bigoted. And so how could black students feel comfortable in your class?
Amy Wax: Well, his statement is quite a weaselly statement ’cause it can be parsed in various ways. One possible divide is, is he making an objectively verifiable statement about the way I treat black students? Or is it really just a matter of pure subjectivity — what’s in the mind of the beholder? So if it’s a statement that I actually grade down black students, that’s impossible because it’s blind graded. So that’s a non-starter. If it’s that black students actually learn less in my classes, and do less well than in other civil procedure classes or other first year classes, that’s also capable of verification just by the numbers. Of course, there has been no effort to substantiate that. And I don’t think it would be successful, once again because they’re blind graded, secondly because I don’t think there’s a shred of evidence that black students do worse in my classes because they have to sit and listen to me.
So really what I think it boils down to is this idea which is very dangerous and pernicious, and Glenn Loury has pointed that out, that if a student perceives that sitting in a class is somehow offensive to them or upsetting to them, or the professor creates a toxic psychological environment for them, that’s good enough. Out she goes. First of all, that assumes that professionalism is impossible, that professors cannot separate whatever personal views they have, or general views on issues of the day they have from their personal conduct in the classroom, or the way they teach. And I think that’s a very pernicious assumption, and one that is not warranted in the slightest.
But if it’s a purely subjective judgement, well, that is a weapon of mass destruction because it can be concocted and a retrofitted to exclude almost anyone who has a dissenting view on a host of subjects. So you can imagine a student saying, “Well, this professor voted for Trump.” Or “this professor opposes third world immigration.” Or, “This professor thinks colonialism might have been beneficial.” Or a million other views that a professor will hold, which makes the student uncomfortable, feels like the student will be disfavored, and it’s just a feeling because of who I am and my identity, and the like. And that’s it. No objective evidence needs to be adduced. Now that’s a way to get rid of a lot of people and purge the academy of dissent effectively, or at least the classroom of dissent effectively. And as you say, it knows no limits. I mean, mandatory first-year classes. Sure. We’re forcing the student to sit there, but there are a lot of other classes that are required in a sequence for a major, or for a particular program. And why would we ever hire such a person or let them teach a course that students had to take. This is a very, very dangerous idea.
Ben Weingarten: What do you say to those critics who suggest that raising the point that you raised anecdotally about student performance and other elements of your writings when it comes to performance of different groups academically or otherwise, exhibits a sort of racial animus? How do you respond to them.
Amy Wax: Well, to take note of facts, to notice and observe what is in front of us, I do not equate that with the term “animus.” I don’t think the word animus has anything to do with that. Also, the fact is that if that’s the way these grades stack up, which I have observed, other people are observing it to, unless they’re just masters of cognitive dissonance. They may not say it out loud, but if they take note of it, is that the product of animus? I think it is a strange notion that noticing facts, making an observation — an honest observation based on reality and the state of the world — is some kind of manifestation of animus. In a way what you’re saying is, we have to construct fairy tales and deny evidence in order to be free of animus. That’s rather a frightening prospect I think.
Ben Weingarten: Well, I would suggest that in the media, for example, and I write a lot about terrorism, all elements of why jihadism happens, who jihadists are, almost every aspect of that must be censored because to speak truthfully about it would offend certain people — often maybe not even the people that are involved with the offenses, but essentially the orthodox progressives. So I would suggest, and maybe you would comment on this, society might prefer not to discuss certain facts or objectively look at certain issues because society feels better about itself that way.
Amy Wax: Well, and this came up in my recent Bloggingheads with Glenn Loury, I think to just gratuitously point out inconvenient and unpleasant facts about groups to no purpose is something that should probably be minimized. That’s just civil behavior, courteous behavior. But there are many, many instances in which facts about groups and behavior are absolutely pertinent to policies and problems that we need to confront. The example he gave is, what about a police chief who says publicly, “Well, you know, blacks commit most of the crimes in this jurisdiction.” Now, I didn’t go into details with him. I said, “Well, what is it relevant to? Is it relevant to anything that… Any policy or any plan that he has to carry out?” But I could have been more specific, and I should have been more specific. If the jails are full of minority men, and they’re disproportionately represented, and people are challenging that, I think it is perfectly permitted and relevant for law enforcement officers to say, there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason for that, that we can justify what you see because the propensity to commit crimes is not evenly distributed among the population. Now, you may not like that. That may not be nice. It may not reflect well on a particular group. But it is the truth. And if we deny that truth, then we’re going to distort policy in a way that could be unfair, could be dangerous, could work out poorly in the long run.
Ben Weingarten: I’ve suggested in several pieces that political correctness kills.
Amy Wax: Political correctness kills, and it also…It produces gross unfairness, inefficiency, bad policy — it costs as well as kills.
Ben Weingarten: Would it be fair to say that it is perfectly legitimate and intellectually honest to point out facts, even the inconvenient ones, not gratuitously to your point, but to judge each person individually, not as a member of a group?
Amy Wax: Well, I mean obviously we’re going to strive to do that. I would submit that I do that. I have done that as a teacher for 25 years when I sit in front of a class, or I have students in class from X, Y or Z group, I try to evaluate and deal with that student on an individual basis. I don’t come with any priors because the generalities don’t tell me about that individual. And of course, there are safeguards in place for professors at law schools to treat people on a fair basis, for example, blind grading. So I don’t think it’s all that hard to do that.
There’s another aspect to this, which is that students are encouraged — and I think to their detriment — to personalize everything. They learn this language of “hurt and offense,” and “marginalization and disparagement.” They trot it out. It’s almost like a tic. Now I’m not saying people aren’t discouraged, or aren’t offended by certain statements. They are. But they should be discouraged from talking about that as a way to shut down certain kinds of discussions. They should learn that they need to put those feelings aside because they are unanswerable, and it is important to get the truth out, even when the truth is unpleasant.
So there are a lot of things you could say about women. I’m a woman. I’ll take an example. Larry Summers said in a speech that women are in some respects less cognitively able than men, or might be. Now, what he meant by that is, and this is actually a true fact, there are fewer women at the far right tale of the ability curve. There are fewer women with IQs over 155 than there are men. And this is a fact that has been verified over and over and over again. Now, I could be offended by that, but facts are facts. Facts cannot be unjust. They just are. Nancy Hopkins, an MIT scientist, when he said that — she was in the audience — she wrote later, “I almost lost lunch. I almost fainted. I had to run out of the room.” Well, I thought that was absolutely ridiculous. I was far more offended by her reaction than I was by what he said because it just feeds into the stereotypes that women are weak-minded, that they can’t deal with challenging ideas and all that sort of thing.
So one of the problems is, and I think the black students, the minority students, they’re very proud of themselves because they get to exert a lot of social power and people are afraid of them. But at the end of the day, they only do it by professing their own weakness, and their need to be protected from facts and ideas and arguments. That is no way to gain respect in the long run.
Ben Weingarten: You mentioned before the slippery slope of questioning anything that could even be perceived as a proxy for biased, or prejudiced in some way, beliefs, then being used to justify pulling professors out of classes. And the dean at Penn was very careful in I think public statements to say “This in no way effects,” not in so many words, “tenure” because that would be a third rail —
Amy Wax: Even liberal progressives believe in tenure.
Ben Weingarten: For a law school dean to touch. But your case I do think is illustrative of a problem that we’re facing in this paradigm created on campuses where certain speech is considered unacceptable. If the speech offends people, the speech itself is considered violence, and it can even be met with a justified violent reaction in response to it. Now, thankfully, you have not faced threat to life and limb to our knowledge, but that said, the mob in some respects did push to have you pulled off of a class in a way that seems sort of unjustifiable based upon the dean’s public statement. So what are the ramifications more broadly in your view for academia based upon this precedent that has now been set?
Amy Wax: Well, I think they’re dire. And it’s not just pulling from the classroom, but the broader practice of using this rhetorical trick of, “I’m offended, I feel unsafe. I feel disparaged, marginalized,” the whole litany. And the keyword here, of course, is “feel.” This is entirely subjective. It’s unanswerable. There are no external checks on it, criteria or gauges for its validity. Just to utter it is to validate it. And that, of course, is a very, very dangerous device that can be used to eliminate, de-platform and banish any kind of disfavored idea whatsoever. It is ultimately a instrument of power. Power becomes the substitute for reason, for reason justification, robust debate, civil discourse and the like, and that is death to everything that academia is supposed to stand for. Why do we even exist? We might as well become a political party, or a religion. I think it just eviscerates the whole project that we are dedicated to, which is an attempt to get at the truth, something I take very seriously. One of the things that frightens and grieves me the most is that I see a generation coming through that doesn’t seem to value that at all, indeed sees it as antithetical to the main project, which is, I guess, diversity, inclusion, niceness and making everybody feel good about themselves. And there’s been some recent polls, surveys that reveal this. Males are still interested in robust debate, and in trying to get at the truth. They believe in free speech. But women and minorities have much lower rates of adherence or advocacy of those. Many fewer of them are proponents of that, and they’re willing to sacrifice free speech to these other social values. I think that is very ominous for the future of academia for our society.
Ben Weingarten: I’ve long held a theory, and for audience, I really hope I’m wrong about this theory that if you wanna see where America is going, Europe is always around 10 years ahead of us in the plight down the progressive path. And I think there’s a parallel when it comes to academia and the impact on society, that oftentimes the most, in my view, odious ideas developing in the academy ultimately filter down to the culture, and impact us negatively. So in that light, does what is occurring on campuses in your view presage what will happen in society more broadly? And of course, we’ve already seen cases like James Damore at Google, or Brandon Eich at Mozilla where private, free enterprise institutions are engaging in ideological discrimination. Do you see it only accelerating?
Amy Wax: Oh definitely. I mean I see it spreading rapidly like wildfire, and part of it is that more people are going to college now, getting higher education. So they’re shunted through these institutions. And these institutions are the seed of the elites throughout various social sectors, big business, the professions, the media, Hollywood, entertainment journalism, the non-profits. All of the places in society where educated people hold sway now have been infiltrated with these attitudes. It’s luckily not anywhere near complete because generationally there are people of my age who came of age in a different era. And there are a lot of people out there who are appalled and aghast at what’s happening. Unfortunately, though, and as my recent experience shows, they are really terrified of going on the record because they are scared of guilt by association, of being labelled racist. Just a couple of days ago, one of the big donors to Penn, and… A trustee and someone on the Board of Overseers quit, wrote a public letter in which he excoriated Amy Gutmann, the president of the university, and my dean for their treatment of me. He’s kept me in the loop, and he’s received an outpouring of support and congratulations, but people clearly don’t wanna sort of start a stampede or a movement. They’re not willing to collectively go public, partly because they’re terrified of being labelled racist, which is the worst thing that someone can be. But also, there’s another problem which I call the “Little Kaitlin” problem, which is that donors and alumni are absolutely determined to get their children and relatives into these institutions, and get them out. And they don’t much care what happens while they’re there because these elite universities are just one huge, expensive, elaborate HR department for lucrative jobs. So as long as little Kaitlin gets into Penn, or Harvard, or wherever and then gets her job at Goldman Sachs, they’re not gonna rock the boat. I don’t know what the solution to that is, but it’s definitely a problem.
Ben Weingarten: What in your view would be a just resolution to what has transpired? What would you like to see happen?
Amy Wax: Well, I would like to get my course back, definitely. I’m exploring avenues for that. The university Dean Ruger really has libeled me. He has traduced me. I think that if there was true discovery, that his assertion that I have spoken falsehoods would be debunked. So I’m thinking about what to do about that, if anything. But I guess I have a fantasy that something like a rebellion would occur. The people who funnel money to the university and keep it afloat, the big donors, the overseers, the trustees, would rise up and quit, and just say, “We’re not gonna do this anymore.” Someone needs to start a movement defund the Ivies, defund the universities. They are now a force for evil. I truly do believe that. They are odious. If you go into any average classroom, what you hear is that we are an irredeemable, racist, bigoted society, that Western Civ is corrupt and deserves to die; all of these preposterous propositions being uttered by people who enjoy the fruits of our heritage, and our legacy and the sacrifices of our progenitors every day. These people are at the very least ungrateful, and at the worst, utterly destructive.
Ben Weingarten: And I guess there’s a twisted irony that these very institutions that stem from the core Judeo-Christian, classical liberal principles of Western Civilization, it seems have sowed the seeds of the destruction of those very principles.
Amy Wax: Right, so it’s the Suicide of the West. But as you know, a number of conservative commentators have heralded this development. This is not a new idea. Liberalism ultimately defeats itself.
Backed Vibes (clean) Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
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