Jan 14, 2022 - News

Penn under pressure to fire law professor over anti-Asian comments

A sign reading "University of Pennsylvania" in Philadelphia .
University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia . Matt Rourke/AP

Pressure is building on the University of Pennsylvania to take disciplinary action against law professor Amy Wax for saying the U.S. is "better off with fewer Asians and less Asian immigration."

Driving the news: State Sen. Anthony Williams joined other elected officials and civil rights leaders at Penn's campus Thursday to call for the school to launch a review of Wax's tenure that ultimately leads to her dismissal.

  • Williams, a Democrat whose 8th District includes Penn, called Wax's comments "hate speech" and warned that the remarks could incite violence.
  • "She has violated her status of being protected tenure," he told Axios.

Meanwhile, a petition signed by more than 2,470 individuals — including Penn staff, students and parents — requests that university officials launch an investigation into Wax and boost scholarships for first-generation immigrants at the school, among other things.

Catch up fast: Wax made the anti-Asian remarks during a December interview with Brown University professor Glenn Loury.

  • Wax has a history of making inflammatory comments. In 2018, she falsely claimed that Black students seldom graduate high in their class.
  • Then in 2019, she said that the U.S. would be better off accepting white immigrants over immigrants of color.

Wax didn't respond to Axios' requests for comment Thursday.

The big picture: Anti-Asian rhetoric and hate crimes have been on the rise since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

  • Philadelphia received 41 reports of acts of bias or hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders last year, up from 28 in 2020 and 8 in 2019, according to the city.

What they're saying: Manjusha Kulkarni, co-founder of the group Stop AAPI Hate, said Wax's comments were dehumanizing and "give voice to white supremacists."

  • The group is waiting to see what action Penn officials will take, but Kulkarni called on the school to take steps to "mitigate the damage" caused by Wax, such as reassessing its curriculum.

The bottom line: Sanctions against a Penn faculty member must involve the university's faculty senate, a process which Penn Law School dean Theodore Ruger is actively considering, said school spokesperson Meredith Rovine.

  • "Due to the serious and harmful nature of Professor Wax's conduct, dean Ruger has consulted both university and faculty colleagues, and administrative officials about appropriate action," Rovine said.
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