At a talk Saturday in East Pyne, Amy Wax, a law professor who has garnered controversy over remarks she has delivered over the past two years, defended her advocacy for an immigration policy that would favor those from Western countries over non-Western ones.
Wax, the Robert Mundheim Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, reiterated that she believes immigrants from European countries would “assimilate” better into the United States.
“Our country, because it was founded by people who are essentially Anglo-Protestant and therefore quintessentially Western … can more easily assimilate people from … more similar cultures, and here I’m talking about Europe,” Wax said.
Throughout the talk, Wax consistently used “the West” interchangeably with “the first world,” and “the non-West” interchangeably with “the third world.”
“The main thrust of my remarks was that cultural compatibility should have a role, or we should talk about its role, in immigration selection,” Wax said.
Wax gave this defense at an event, hosted by the Whig-Cliosophic Society, entitled “Speak Freely: A Conversation,” in which she and Keith Whittington, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics at the University, talked about free speech on college campuses and related topics. The event took place in East Pyne 010, in front of a little more than a dozen audience members.
For most of the talk, Wax defended a selection of her most controversial comments. Wax claimed that her “troubles began” when she co-wrote an op-ed, which she called “seemingly innocuous,” for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
In the op-ed, Wax claimed that “all cultures are not equal” and that various social problems would be solved if “the academics, media, and Hollywood” would stop the “preening pretense of defending the downtrodden.”
In response, 33 of Wax’s colleagues signed an open letter condemning her assertions. Wax claimed on Saturday that the open letter had “no arguments or reasons,” and was a “pure denunciation.”
Wax also claimed that “some minority student activists at Penn law discovered” a 2017 podcast, which comprised a conversation about affirmative action between her and economist Glenn Loury, in which she stated, “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.”
In response, Wax was removed from teaching required first-year curriculum courses, and Penn Law Dean Theodore Ruger disavowed her comments, saying, “It is imperative for me as dean to state that these claims are false” and that “Black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law.”
Wax’s final defense was of her immigration policy proposal, which she made at the National Conservatism Conference earlier this year, in which she said that the United States is “better off with more whites and fewer non-whites.”
At the talk, Wax denied any allegations of racism, saying that criticisms of her comments “implied falsely that I was an advocate for racial discrimination.”
Vox had previously reported that Wax claimed her policy was not racist because “her problem with nonwhite immigrants is cultural rather than biological.”
Wax was asked directly whether she regretted her comments and why she invoked race when speaking on immigration. Wax responding by saying she did not want to shy away from policies that have “differential impacts by race.”
“Cultural compatibility has been eclipsed, it’s not really discussed. One of the reasons is it might have a racially disparate impact,” Wax said. “The result might be that we will admit more people from Europe and less from the third world.”
“It’s not clear my prediction would be correct,” Wax added.
Whittington spent much of his time speaking on the importance of both academic freedom and free speech on college campuses, which he listed the differences between, though he added that they were “linked.”
“The ideal of academic freedom ... was the goal of protecting the pursuit of academic inquiry and scholarly inquiry and teaching and research [for] faculty on college campuses,” Whittington said. “Faculty need to be guided by their own professional understandings of what kinds of questions were important ones, how should they be pursued, what kinds of arguments and analysis and evidence were acceptable ones.”
Whittington said that academic freedom and free speech were important to protect faculty members of more “controversial” opinions.
In addition, Whittington posited that there were “intrinsic limits” to academic freedom. He used the specific example of a chemistry professor spending devoting lecture to politics, saying that unrestricted “freedom” would interfere with teaching and research.
“The notion of academic freedom is also constrained by the extent to which it adheres to a set of scholarly and disciplinary norms about how exactly that freedom is supposed to be exercised,” Whittington said.
Whittington also denied that there was any kind of free speech “crisis” on college campuses, saying, “There was never really a golden age” of free speech.
While Wax acknowledged she did not have the same background on the topic as Whittington, she did claim so-called “peer-peer intimidations” on college campuses were unprecedented.
Wax alleged that she had witnessed, on a number of occasions, female students refusing to date male students because of their conservative beliefs, calling the phenomenon “the new Lysistrata,” in reference to the Aristophanes play in which women refuse to have sex with men to convince them to end the Peloponnesian War.
“There’s gonna be a lot of cat ladies in the future,” Wax said.
Concurrent to the event with Wax and Whittington, Whig-Clio also hosted a counter-event, “Organizing from the Margins: Speaking Freely on Lived-Experiences, Protest, and Princeton.”
When asked why the Wax and Whittington event was hosted in East Pyne, rather than Whig Hall, which houses the Society, Whig-Clio President Grace Collins ’21 clarified that Whig-Clio prioritizes its senate chamber for larger events, and far more students expressed interest in “Organizing from the Margins” than “Speak Freely,” so the former was held in the available Whig-Clio space.
“While only 6 people initially responded with interest to the free speech panel, 83 people responded to the anti-white supremacy panel on Whig-Clio’s Facebook page,” Collins wrote in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “For logistical reasons, at the recommendation of ODUS and for the ease of Public Safety, the ‘Speak Freely’ panel was then moved to another building.”
Collins added that the decision to move the Wax and Whittington event to East Pyne was ultimately made by University Vice President Rochelle Calhoun.
In the days before her visit, Whig-Clio’s invitation to Wax drew student criticism, which culminated in the organizing of the counter-event.
A number of Public Safety officers were stationed outside the room during the talk, and Whig-Clio members checked IDs when audience members entered. Dean Jarrett Fisher, who was present as an “Open Expression Monitor,” deferred comment to University Spokesperson Ben Chang.
“Open Expression Monitors and Public Safety officers may attend various campus programs, meetings, and events where University policy on freedom of expression may be challenged,“ Chang wrote in an email to the ‘Prince.’ “Open Expression Monitors and Public Safety officers uphold the rights of participants to express themselves in non-disruptive ways, safeguard the essential functioning of University operations, and protect members’ rights to hear, see, and engage with a speaker or listen to a lecture.”
“The University – from the Office of Undergraduate Students to the Department of Public Safety – has a duty to the campus community and a commitment based on our institutional values to ensure that events held on campus – including those sponsored by student organizations - are able to proceed without disruption so that all participants can speak and be heard,“ Chang added.