Penn Donors Push Out President, Continue Whistling Past The Professor Bringing White Nationalists To Campus

I guess it really does depend on 'context.'

stupid confused shrug man with beard idiot moron dunce hipsterPop Quiz: which of these has the University of Pennsylvania’s donors up in arms? (A) An administrator testifying that university rules do not forbid speech unless it translates to action or (B) a law professor publicly calling white culture “superior” and routinely bringing white nationalists to campus? If you answered “B” you have a much firmer grasp on reason than the donors… because they absolutely answered “A.”

President Liz Magill resigned amid intense pressure from donors after a media storm characterized her congressional testimony — that statements “calling for the genocide of Jews” do not automatically violate the school’s code of conduct — as supporting hate. Notably these same donors have tacitly (and in some cases actively!) supported Amy Wax’s employment at the law school for years.

To be clear, Magill’s answers were entirely accurate. Representative Elise Stefanik asked if “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate Penn’s code of conduct. Stefanik was, surprisingly, not asking for herself despite the fact that she has a record of openly pushing the Great Replacement Theory. In any event, Magill responded that, if the statement was leveled as bullying or harassment, the answer is “yes.” But Magill, a former law school dean, noted that it would depend on “context” because the school does not (and really cannot, for that matter) penalize speech per se. Imagine the absolute meltdown Judge Ho would have if schools could entirely bar hate groups from campus.

Media coverage then twisted Magill’s precision into “dodging” and the doomsday clock on her career moved closer to midnight.

Meanwhile, these donors so deeply offended by Magill’s explanation that university policy can only punish speech once it has moved to some form of discriminatory action have gleefully forked over money for all the years and years that Amy Wax denigrated students, attended white nationalism conferences, and keeps bringing recognized hate group leaders to campus.

Obviously, some alumni spoke out against Wax’s continued employment. But the biggest of big money donors — the ones pushing for Magill’s ouster over the last several days — never yanked their money or delivered an ultimatum over Wax as the school looked the other way or proposed slap on the wrist sanctions.

In fact, one of the school’s former trustees actively used his position to support Wax.


Back in the day, former Penn trustee Paul Levy threw a fit and resigned when the school mildly rebuked Amy Wax, limiting her to teaching elective courses. At the time, Levy cited vague principles of free speech and academic freedom. It’s unclear where Levy stood on Magill’s remarks. Though earlier this year he joined several Trustees ripping the school for hosting a literature fest of Palestinian writers. So apparently his deep commitment to free speech… depends on the context?

Levy went ahead and delivered a quote to the Inquirer about that effort and it’s dumber than you might imagine:

“They are quick to invoke First Amendment rights on behalf of likely antisemitic speakers and suggest no possible reprimand for students or faculty organizing the event,” [Levy] said, yet they have instituted action against Wax and haven’t defended her right to free speech.

Penn didn’t give Amy Wax the “free speech” that Levy imagines she deserves so therefore… no one deserves free speech? At least standing for free speech in both instances would convey some sort of consistency.

Not that the two cases deserve consistent treatment.


A literary festival strikes at the heart of the sort of academic freedom Levy blathered about in his resignation letter back in 2018. It’s not, by itself, directed at creating a hostile environment for any students, placing it squarely in the zone of speech that is not translated into bullying action. Of course, the event could result in punishable action, but it doesn’t get there without more.

Meanwhile, Wax wasn’t engaged in any academic activity when she lied about Penn students and signaled that she thought Black students weren’t smart enough for her classes. As a professor with power over grades, her statements compromised the school’s academic credibility and conveyed her hostility as a grader toward Black students. That’s where speech translates into a discriminatory act. And where anyone with any influence at Penn should have pulled their money until the school terminated her.

But for now, with Magill gone, perhaps the folks incensed that the former president merely acknowledged a line exists between speech and action might consider redirecting their influence toward actually punishing who makes a career out of consistently blowing past that line.

But they won’t.

Earlier: Penn Trustee Resigns In Defense Of Amy Wax’s God-Given Right To Make Up False Claims About Students

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.