Background to the Amy Wax story

The following is in the April edition of The New Criterion which by strange coincidence I read this afternoon in the backlog of mail that accumulated while I was away. The material is paywalled and this is cut and pasted from a PDF. This doesn’t necessarily contradict Sinc’s point, it is a glimpse into the culture wars as they play out in the US. There is a small extra item on another college.

Last summer, Professor Wax created a minor disturbance in the force of politically correct groupthink when she co-authored an op-ed for The Philadelphia Inquirer titled “Paying the price for breakdown of the country’s bourgeois culture.”
What, a college professor arguing in favor of “bourgeois” values? Mirabile dictu, yes. Professor Wax and her co-author, Professor Larry Alexander from the University of San Diego, argued not only that the “bourgeois” values regnant in American society in the 1950s were beneficial to society as a whole, but also that they were potent aides to disadvantaged individuals seeking to better themselves economically and socially. “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake,” Professors
Wax and Alexander advised.

Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

Such homely advice rankled, of course.

Imagine telling the professoriate to be patriotic patriotic, to work hard, to be civic-minded or charitable. Quelle horreur! Wax and Alexander were roundly condemned by their university colleagues. Thirty-three of Wax’s fellow law professors at Penn signed an “Open Letter” condemning her op-ed. “We categorically reject Wax’s claims,” they thundered.

What they found especially egregious was Wax and Alexander’s observation that “All cultures are not equal.” That hissing noise you hear is the sharp intake of breath at the utterance of such a sentiment. The tort was compounded by Wax’s later statements in an interview that “Everyone wants to go to countries ruled by white Europeans” because “Anglo-Protestant cultural norms are superior.”

Can you believe it? Professor Wax actually had the temerity to utter this plain, irrefragable, impolitic truth. Everyone knows this to be the case. As William Henry argued back in the 1990s in his undeservedly neglected book In Defense of Elitism,

“the simple fact [is] that some people are better than others—smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace.”

Moreover, Henry continued, “Some ideas are better than others, some values more enduring, some works of art more universal.” And it follows, he concluded, that “Some cultures, though we dare not say it, are more accomplished than others and therefore more worthy of study. Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. That does not mean that all contributions are equal. . . . It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.”

True, too true. But in a pusillanimous society terrified by its own shadow, it is one thing to know the truth, quite another to utter it in public.

For his part, Theodore Ruger, the Dean of Penn Law School, tried to have it both ways. He didn’t, on that occasion, discipline Professor Wax or seek to revoke her tenure. But he hastened to disparage her observation as “divisive, even noxious,” and to “state my own personal view that as a scholar and educator I reject emphatically any claim that a single cultural tradition is better than all others.”

There were other efflorescences of outrage directed at Professors Wax and Alexander last autumn. But since the metabolism of outrage and victimhood is voracious as well as predatory, fresh objects of obloquy were soon discovered. Attention drifted away from Amy Wax.

Until a few weeks ago, that is. At some point in March, a social justice vigilante came across an internet video of a conversation between Glenn Loury, a black, anti–affirmative action economics professor at Brown University, and Professor Wax. Titled “The Downside to Social Uplift,” the conversation, which was posted in September, revolved around some of the issues that Professor Wax had raised in her op-ed for the Inquirer. Towards the end of the interview, the painful subject of unintended consequences came up. The very practice of affirmative action, Professor Loury pointed out, entails that those benefitting from its dispensation will be, in aggregate, less qualified than those who do not qualify for special treatment. That’s what the practice of affirmative action means: that people who are less qualified will be given preference over people who are more qualified because of some extrinsic consideration—race, say, or sex or ethnic origin.

Professor Wax agreed and noted that one consequence of this was that those admitted to academic programs through affirmative action often struggle to compete. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the class,” Professor Wax said, “and rarely, rarely in the top half.” Professor Wax also observed that the Penn Law Review had an unpublicized racial diversity mandate.

Uh-oh. It took several months for the censors to get around to absorbing this comment. But last month they finally did and the result was mass hysteria. From Ghana to Tokyo to Israel, students associated with Penn Law School were furiously trading emails, tweets, and other social media bulletins about Amy Wax. The university’s Black Law Students Association, whose president, Nick Hall, was instrumental in publicizing the video, went into a swivet. What, they demanded of Dean Ruger, was he going to do about Professor Wax’s outrageous comments?

In a word, capitulate. Then preen. Dean Ruger announced that Professor Wax would henceforth be barred from teaching any mandatory first-year courses. “It is imperative for me as dean to state,” he thundered, “that . . . black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law, and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate.” Did he offer any data to back that up? No. Perhaps Penn doesn’t keep track. But Dean Ruger may wish to consult a study published in the Stanford Law Review in 2004 which showed that in the most elite law schools, 52 percent of first-year black students pooled in the bottom tenth of their class, compared to 6 percent of whites. Only 8 percent of first-year black students were in the top half of their class.

Lack of data, however, is no impediment to declaring one’s higher virtue while simultaneously caving in to the atavistic forces of political correctness. Amy Wax, intoned Dean Ruger, is “protected by Penn’s policies of free and open expression as well as academic freedom.” Nevertheless, she will be treated as a toxic personality, too dangerous for Penn’s tender shoots embarking on a career in law. “In light of Professor Wax’s statements,” Dean Ruger wrote in a community-wide email, black students assigned to her class . . . may reasonably wonder whether their professor has already come to a conclusion about their presence, performance, and potential for success in law school and thereafter. They may legitimately question whether the inaccurate and belittling statements she has made may adversely affect their learning environment and career prospects. . . . More broadly, this dynamic may negatively affect the classroom experience for all students regardless of race or background.

As Jason Richwine noted in a column for National Review, Dean Ruger’s protest is “almost Orwellian in its blame-shifting.” All of the issues he lists “are the direct result of Penn’s affirmative-action policies. Those policies generate a racial skills gap in Penn’s first-year law class, and Professor Wax has merely voiced what every rational observer already knows.” Moreover, grading of first-year students at Penn is blind: professors do not know which grade is assigned to which student.

Doubtless Dean Ruger hoped that by scapegoating Amy Wax he would effectively mollify the beast of political correctness. Not likely. As could have been predicted, his capitulation and nauseating Two-Minutes-Hate display of politically correct grandiosity merely sharpened the appetite of the racial grievance mongers. Dean Ruger publicly castigated and in effect demoted Amy Wax. But that was not enough for Asa Khalif, a leader of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania, who is demanding that she be fired outright. Indeed, he told The Philadelphia Tribune that Penn has one week to comply. “None of what this racist is doing is new to anyone familiar with her,” Khalif said.

“Many people have known about her for years. Not just black and brown people, but people who don’t believe she can fairly grade or teach people who don’t look like her. . . . We are unwavering in our one demand that she be fired.”

As we write, L’affaire Wax is still unfolding. Who knows to what lengths Mr. Khalif and his Black Lives Matter thugs are willing to go? Who knows what ecstasies of groveling condemnation Dean Ruger or other Penn administrators may indulge? One thing, however, is clear. The truth is a dispensable commodity at our elite colleges and universities. When it clashes with the imperatives of political correctness, the truth loses. Like the firemen in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, most of those populating the higher education establishment are busy destroying the very things they had, once upon a time, been trained to cherish and protect.

Sermonizing on the Mount

If at the University of Pennsylvania Law School it is now verboten to tell the truth about the dismal results of affirmative action, at Mount Holyoke, that tiny New England sanitarium for feminist folly, it is impossible to tell the truth about sex.
If you go to the college’s website, you will find that it describes itself as a “liberal arts college for women” that is “renowned for educating women leaders.” Those phrases may soon have to be revised, however. A recently released faculty guide to “Supporting Trans and Non-Binary Students” advises teachers to avoid calling students “women” or referring to “the two genders.” The guide helpfully directs the attention of teachers to other “resources,” “Teaching Beyond the Gender Binary in the University Classroom,” for example, “faqs about Pronouns,” which is not a grammatical primer, “Transphobia & Racism, and Other Intersections,” and “ ‘Ask Me’: What lgbtq Students Want Their Professors to Know (video).”

Of course, all this is merely business-as-usual at elite American colleges these days. No one is shocked or surprised by this carnival of rubbish, any more than they are shocked or surprised to find such student organizations at Mount Holyoke as “Femmepowered,” “Gender+,” “Coalition for Asexual/Aromantic Awareness,” or the campus resource “MoZone: Gender trainings for the entire campus community.” It is, as we say, almost old hat at this point in the devolution of American higher education. Nevertheless, we do wonder what parents think about sending their daughters to such patently twisted institutions. Let’s leave the moral, social, and intellectual deformations of such places to one side. It costs $64,658 per annum to attend Mount Holyoke. Think about that, ladies and gentlemen

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17 Responses to Background to the Amy Wax story

  1. stackja

    It costs $64,658 per annum to attend Mount Holyoke.

    What a waste!

  2. stackja

    Mary Mason Lyon (February 28, 1797 – March 5, 1849) was an American pioneer in women’s education. She established the Wheaton Female Seminary in Norton, Massachusetts, (now Wheaton College) in 1834. She then established Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College) in South Hadley, Massachusetts in 1837 and served as its first president (or “principal”) for 12 years. Lyon’s vision fused intellectual challenge and moral purpose. She valued socioeconomic diversity and endeavored to make the seminary affordable for students of modest means

    Conforti (1993) examines the central importance of religion to Lyon. She was raised a Baptist but converted to a Congregationalist under the influence of her teacher Reverend Joseph Emerson. Lyon preached revivals at Mount Holyoke, spoke elsewhere, and, though not a minister, was a member of the fellowship of New England’s New Divinity clergy. She played a major role in the revival of the thought of Jonathan Edwards, whose works were read more frequently then than in his day. She was attracted by his ideas of self-restraint, self-denial, and disinterested benevolence.

  3. classical_hero

    Yet another university taken over by atheists who betray the founding Christian principles.

  4. Bruce of Newcastle

    “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” -attributed to George Orwell

    We now live in such a time.

  5. She sounds an interesting woman, Rafe.
    So as one is wont to do when the bug of curiosity bites, I went looking for some of her work –
    Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century (Hoover Studies in Politics, Economics, and Society)16 July 2009
    by Amy L. Wax
    Kindle Edition
    $47.78

    Why the high price? Censorship via the price mechanism? (Rhetorical question.)

  6. Rafe;

    Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.

    Rafe, after my somewhat snarky response above, perhaps a better reply is in order:
    Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Yes – did that and got the rewards in job satisfaction, lives saved, and life experience.
    Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Always did. I was ever in mind of the characters in a book I read several times: “He was the mens favourite paymaster – the others would tell you that you weren’t entitled to such and such a payment, and show you the relevant clause. But he would would go through the book until he found the clause that said you were, and pay you.”
    Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Done that, signed the piece of paper that said you had written a cheque that covered everything you owned including your life and it was up to the nation to cash it or not. That piece of paper resides on my office wall in pride of place.
    Be neighborly, civic minded, and charitable. Done that as well, except the charitable – About fifteen years ago the major charities decide it was unfair to ask people to work, so now I just do neighbourly stuff.
    Avoid coarse language in public. Try and fail – needs to try harder.
    Be respectful of authority. This is the biggy. Can you enlighten me as to which authorities deserve respect shown them? The old Chinese saying of “A fish rots from the head down.” and the Australianism “Scum will always rise to the top.” is what is wrecking this nation. Look at the candidates we have in every Federal and State government. I would refuse entry to my home to 95% of them until I had locked up the valuables, children, and the rifle cabinet.
    Our choice for next PM? You would have to be joking.
    Eschew substance abuse and crime. OK. Got me on that one – had four beers last night and left the sprinkler on out of hours. Grin

  7. AlanR

    I must admit to finding this struggle for supremacy of one ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation’ above all others to be extremely tiresome and boring. As mentioned deep in this interesting essay, all cultures have something of great value to offer. Why can’t we take the best from each and thus raise humanity? Or perhaps I just have to accept that I am simply a naive idealist. Prefer that however, than being an angry supremist.

  8. Tim Neilson

    Why can’t we take the best from each and thus raise humanity? Or perhaps I just have to accept that I am simply a naive idealist. Prefer that however, than being an angry supremist.

    Who gets to judge which is best? If it’s me, I’m with you. But if the Muslims get to decide that banning alcohol is part of the “best”, then you’re on your own.

    And there’s no need to be angry to be a Western (or even Anglo) culture supremist. You just have to look at which cultures people flock to, and which cultures people run away from.

  9. stackja

    AlanR
    #2734588, posted on June 12, 2018 at 10:15 am
    I must admit to finding this struggle for supremacy of one ‘culture’ or ‘civilisation’ above all others to be extremely tiresome and boring. As mentioned deep in this interesting essay, all cultures have something of great value to offer. Why can’t we take the best from each and thus raise humanity? Or perhaps I just have to accept that I am simply a naive idealist. Prefer that however, than being an angry supremist.

    Australia in the 1950s accepted many cultures. Then the idea of multiculturalism was created.

  10. H B Bear

    Why can’t we take the best from each and thus raise humanity? Or perhaps I just have to accept that I am simply a naive idealist. Prefer that however, than being an angry supremist.

    History is one long, ongoing experiment in what works and what is”best”. How many people are illegally trying to enter Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, most of Africa, Central America …?

  11. AlanR

    It is the ‘everything or nothing’ attitude and the arguments offered by extremists and zealots on both ends of the debate (as exemplified by this quote from the essay above) that I find the most distasteful:

    “Every corner of the human race may have something to contribute. (“MAY” have something?? What a magnanimous position to concede.) That does not mean that all contributions are equal. . . . It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose.”

    I recall an agricultural expert many years ago admitting that he learnt more about land care whilst working with the indigenous peoples of central Australian than he ever did after 4 years at university. Nothing worthwhile to learn there from an ‘inferior’ culture ??? I think not. As Carl Sagan remarked “The inability of Western Civilisation to admit that they have nothing to learn from others is staggering.”

    And as H B Bear says above “History is one long, ongoing experiment in what works and what is”best.” Let us not be blinded to opportunities to continually discover something better.

  12. AlanR

    Ooops got that Carl Sagan quote wrong. It should go something like “The inability of western civilisation to admit that other cultures have something to teach them is staggering.”

  13. The inability of western civilisation to admit that other cultures have something to teach them is staggering.”

    Western civilization was precisely the admixture of classical and biblical civilizations so it is hard to credit the claim the Westerners lack such an ability. And as Tim N pointed out above, if we are going to pick out the best of this or that civilization you will be using the standard set by this one while doing the picking. There is simply no way of doing this and avoiding the appearance of ‘supremacy’.

  14. Tim Neilson

    The inability of western civilisation to admit that other cultures have something to teach them is staggering.”

    But we have to avoid “cultural appropriation”!/sarc

    The quote is of course complete bullshit. “Arabic” numerals, acupuncture, rice, yoga … it’s easy to make a list of things adopted by the west from other cultures. What aspects of other cultures have we set our faces against that we really should be adopting?

  15. Mother Lode

    Why the high price?

    Anyone involved in editing, publishing, transporting or selling it has to recoup money for additional insurance premiums.

    We are talking about something the left doesn’t like.

  16. herodotus

    It’s already risky in Australia to discuss in any reasonable way in a public forum apart from here, and then only with noms de clef, The Climate Scam, The Energy Debacle, The Runaway PC Train, Sensible Immigration Policies, Mining, The Debt Bubble, Conservative Values, Abortion, Gay Marriage, The Republic, The Long March, The Universities, The ABC, The IPA, Coal Fired Power, Nuclear Power, New Dams for New Hydro Power, Gender Pay Gap, The Number of Female CEOs, The Union Stranglehold on the ALP, Funding Issues Relating To Unions and GetUp, and quite a few other things that readers will no doubt come up with.

  17. max

    “Carl Sagan quote: It should go something like “The inability of western civilisation to admit that other cultures have something to teach them is staggering.”

    We use Arabic numerals today, instead of Roman numerals; because they are better.

    Paper, printing, and books are today essential aspects of Western civilization, but all three came out of China– and they have displaced parchment, scrolls, and other forms of preserving writings all around the world.  Books are not just different, they are better.

    Firearms have likewise displaced bows and arrows wherever the two have come into competition.
    Chinese invented black powder during the 9th century, fire lance was invented in China during the 10th century and is the predecessor of all firearms.

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