In response to what he called a “mismanaged” situation, Paul S. Levy stepped down from his positions as University of Pennsylvania trustee emeritus and Penn Law School overseer as of April 6.
The action comes in response to the ongoing controversy over a video of professor Amy Wax claiming she has not seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the law school’s class, and “rarely, rarely in the top half.” The video resurfaced in early March.
“I can think of one or two students who’ve graduated in the top half of my required first-year course,” Wax said during the September 2017 video chat on the platform Bloggingheads.
After urging from students, alumni and the community — including the school’s Black Law Students Association — Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger barred Wax, who is Jewish, from teaching a required first-year civil procedure course.
Her status, tenure and seniority remain, however, and she will teach a full course load of electives next academic year, per The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Levy wrote in a letter to Penn President Amy Gutmann, which was posted in full to The Daily Pennsylvanian website, that he considered Ruger’s decision a “serious error” and the treatment of Wax “unacceptable.”
He noted that Ruger had not provided the data to either prove or disprove Wax’s claim.
“Preventing Wax from teaching first-year students doesn’t right academic or social wrongs,” he wrote in the letter. “Rather, you are suppressing what is crucial to the liberal educational project: open, robust and critical debate over differing views of important social issues.”
Later, he wrote, “Penn Law has entered the world of micro-aggressions and ‘snowflakes’ and that is not a world I choose to be a part of.” Given Wax’s “teaching stature and litigation experience,” he added, it was not enough reason to bar her from teaching the required course “just because some students might be uncomfortable in her class.”
Much of the incident is linked to previous controversial statements Wax has offered. One that has been repeatedly highlighted is an August 2017 Inquirer op-ed Wax co-authored promoting the idea of “bourgeois culture” and values laid out in the 1950s.
In it, she criticized the “single-parent, antisocial habits, prevalent among some working-class whites; the anti-‘acting white’ rap culture of inner-city blacks; the anti-assimilation ideas gaining ground among some Hispanic immigrants.”
Levy, a 1972 Penn Law graduate and founder and managing director of a New York private equity firm, noted that Ruger sought opinions from alumni before making the decision to bar Wax from teaching but not his. Levy, who was previously CEO of Yves Saint Laurent, chaired the Board of Overseers from 2001 to 2007, per the DP.
He and his wife have donated large gifts to the school, including establishing the Levy Scholars Program and the reconstruction of the Levy Conference Center.
In an email to the Exponent, Levy wrote that his views remain unchanged.
“Support has been tremendous from all quarters, even sitting professors and trustees and students, alums and complete strangers,” he wrote. “I wish Penn well despite this travesty of justice and academic freedom and norms.”
On April 12, Wax received an award for “academic courage” by the National Association of Scholars in New York City, according to a DP article.
She gave a talk titled “The Price of the Push for Equality of Result,” discussing the op-ed and decision to bar her from teaching the first-year class.
“[Ruger] speculated that black students assigned to my class may be adversely affected — what does that mean?” she said per the DP story. “Any claim that I deliberately downgrade minority students is a non-starter; first-year grading is blind.”
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