Fair? Fire Penn U Prof For “Racist” Claims Without Refuting Them; Labeling Claims “Racist” or “Hurtful” Doesn’t Disprove Them – Facts Are Best Response
WASHINGTON, D.C. (July 25, 2019) – More than 1000 student groups, and individuals affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, are demanding that Penn law professor Amy Wax be fired for a claim she allegedly made which they have labeled “racist,” harmful to minority students, and antagonistic.
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But it appears that neither the protestors at Penn nor Penn itself - which likewise condemned Wax's remarks without even trying to refute them - have come forward with any evidence even suggesting that her argument is incorrect, much less any proof that it is so clearly false that it cannot even be discussed or debated, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
The students say that suggesting, as alleged, "that our country will be better off with more whites and fewer nonwhites" is "racist," and "attacks" and "antagonizes" minority students.
For this they argue she should relieved of all teaching duties (the virtual academic equivalent of firing).
But this claim is one which should be subject to objective discussion and refutation in the spirit of academic freedom and open debate, not simply using labeling as a basis for punishment, says Banzhaf.
In other words, labeling something as "racist," even if it is in fact racist according to most commenters, doesn't necessarily mean that it is incorrect.
Indeed, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, in his Whitney v. California opinion, "If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence."
Thus, before seeking to punish her, those seeking this drastic remedy should have to show not only that many or even most scholars disagree with the alleged conclusion, but that it is so far from the truth that it can and must be rejected out of hand with no debate or examination of any proof, and subject her to severe academic discipline based solely upon labeling it "racist."
Labeling is not a valid or meaningful argument, suggests Banzhaf.
For example, says Banzhaf, professors should not be condemned - much less fired - for simply suggesting that a much smaller number of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, although some might argue that seeking to minimize the horror of the event to the Jewish people is antisemitic. However, arguing that the Holocaust never occurred would of course be outside the bounds of any reasoned academic dispute.
Similarly, while a professor should not be punished for claiming that African Americans and women played only a small role in the founding our country - although it is clearly disputable, and some might claim it is 'sexist," "racist," "misogynistic," etc. - this would be far different from a college employing a professor who teaches that those who signed the Declaration of Independence were Black and/or female.
Many critical assertions regarding Blacks - e.g., the role of race in crime and criminal justice, apparently lower measured IQs on many tests, problems with family structure, etc. - may sound and be characterized by some as "racist."
But if scholars are not allowed to make and debate the claims, it may hinder effectively addressing major problems in our society, says Banzhaf, noting that many accomplished and well educated African Americans oppose affirmative action, that many women contend that the #metoo movement has gone too far and is counterproductive, that many Jews condemn the overuse of the claim "antisemitic," etc.
In other words, argues Banzhaf, not every statement that many would characterize as "sexist," "racist," etc. is necessarily factually incorrect, even though scholars may - and probably should - discuss and debate any inferences which might be drawn from such statements.
Whether or not our country would "be better off" if our immigration policy favored Caucasians over other races or ethnic groups - as an empirical or at least empirical sounding assertion - should be capable of rational analysis based upon statistical and other reliable evidence, not name calling ("racist") or isolated anecdotal examples of non-Caucasian immigrants who have been successful.
For example, the "big data" type of analysis popularized by Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard has identified factors which have contributed to economic success and advancement - including some which were not previously recognized, and debunking some which were thought by many to be good indicators.
Using these same types of "long" data such as census information, tax returns, etc., it should be possible to determine if there are any significant differences in certain metrics generally recognized as markers of success (e.g., salary, social status, family structure, low crime rates, etc.) between lawful immigrants (which is what Wax is discussing) based upon their race and/or ethnicity.
Moreover, because of the types of statistical analysis he uses, it is probably possible to infer if not prove not only correlation but - more importantly - causation.
If there are no statistically significant differences between how well Caucasian and non-Caucasian groups of lawful immigrants do, especially in terms of our country being "better off" (e.g., amount of taxes paid, number of workers hired or employed, patented inventions, etc.), Wax's hypothesis would be weakened if not disproved.
However, if tax records, crime statistics, businesses started, workers hired, patents issued, etc, seem to show that Caucasian legal immigrants do perform somewhat better (making the U.S. "better off"), it would tend to support her empirical suggestion, although it would obviously not address related issues such as whether providing some preference for Caucasian immigrants would be fair, politically acceptable, workable, etc.
History shows that some views which were once regarded as unassailable have been proven to be untrue. For example, the U.S. Supreme Court once said that "the natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it" for the practice of law, without the need for any citation.
An empirical prediction, as compared to an assertion of already established fact, is especially difficult to disprove, so those who advance them should be given additional leeway, argues Banzhaf.
Even if, as her law school claimed, her theory is "repugnant" to the "core values . . . of Penn," that doesn't mean that it's necessarily so incorrect that it should never be uttered, even away from Penn.
This is especially true since the so-called core values of many universities for years permitted them to discriminate in admission and hiring against Jews, Blacks, and women, notes Banzhaf.
If Penn disagrees with a professor, they should prove her wrong, not simply label what she said as "racist," and assume that should end all argument and provide the basis for punishment, he says.