At a meeting hosted by the Penn Law chapter of the Federalist Society on Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Penn Law Professor Amy Wax delivered a talk on the suppression of divergent opinions at Penn Law and how she believes dissent and disagreement ought to work in the academy. Wax’s talk runs roughly 42 minutes, with a half hour of Q&A:
Wax is a member of Heterodox Academy. In August, Wax and law professor Larry Alexander wrote an op-ed on “bourgeois culture” that challenged some widely held views and that triggered a reaction and a controversy. You can read our coverage of that controversy here, including links to the open letter signed by 33 of her colleagues that “categorically rejected” Wax’s claims, along with Jon Haidt’s defense of Wax and critique of open letters of condemnation in general. You can also read two additional posts here at Heterodox academy: a piece written by Professor and HxA member Jonathan Klick, one of Wax’s colleagues at the Penn Law School who had signed the open letter against Wax, as well as an essay by Professor Jonah Gehlbach, who was the initiator of the Open Letter, in which he responded to the specific contents of the Wax/Alexander op-ed, and defended the use of open letters.
In the video, Wax opens her talk by describing the nature of a university as a truth-seeking entity. She says “Universities are not politics, they are not religion, universities need a variety of views. There should be no orthodoxy immune from challenge in academia.” Without the confrontation of opposing views– that she says should be presented with “logic, evidence, facts and substantive arguments”– Wax argues, students are absolved of engagement with ideas they find confusing, challenging or even controversial. “You don’t need protection, you need exposure.”
She provides advice and encouragement for those who want to challenge ideas, saying to “be cautious in dissent…When you comment, don’t name call, slur, libel or vilify…remember the positive role model. Embrace the dignified, reasoned language of evidence, justification argument, [and] the modes of civil discourse… Operating in the marketplace of ideas is hard work. It requires patience and restraint; investigation and effort. …Operating in that marketplace means sometimes being offended, upset, bruised or even outraged. Democracy and debate– robust and wide open– are not for the faint of heart.”