Joe Patrice calls for Amy Wax’s firing

For those who doubted that political correctness posed a threat to free speech on campus, Above the Law contributor Joe Patrice just gave you reason to believe. Patrice called for the firing of two tenured professors who coauthored an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling for a return to “bourgeois values.”

Patrice characterized the article as racist and sexist, “This dynamic duo of dumb spend the op-ed concocting a theory as terrifying as it is bereft of factual support when they posit that all of America’s woes really do stem from failing to live up to the ideals of an era when (white) men were men and everyone else kept their goddamned mouths shut.”

Amy Wax and Larry Alexander began their op-ed with a clear statement of purpose, “Too few Americans are qualified for the jobs available. Male working-age labor-force participation is at Depression-era lows. Opioid abuse is widespread. Homicidal violence plagues inner cities. Almost half of all children are born out of wedlock, and even more are raised by single mothers. Many college students lack basic skills, and high school students rank below those from two dozen other countries.”

Wax and Alexander argue that the breakdown of what they call “bourgeois values,” contributed to all of these problems. They defined these “bourgeois values” as, “Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake. Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness. Go the extra mile for your employer or client. Be a patriot, ready to serve the country. Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable. Avoid coarse language in public. Be respectful of authority. Eschew substance abuse and crime.”

Wax and Alexander credit these social norms for boosting prosperity, reducing crime, and increasing social cohesion. It is difficult to see how Wax and Alexander’s innocuous paean to conventional wisdom and middle-class norms could be considered racist. The substance of the article is indistinguishable from what one might hear in a black church on a Sunday morning.

Strangely, Wax and Alexander’s critics seem to associate “non-whites,” with laziness, promiscuity, and irresponsibility. A view that the Charlottesville deplorables would not disagree with.

Racism is not the reason Joe Patrice provides for firing Wax and Alexander. Rather, Patrice writes, “Neither Wax nor Alexander should be fired for holding unpopular opinions. They should be fired for being bad scholars.”

“An op-ed isn’t an academic journal, of course, but belching out so many lies and half-truths while draped in the imprimatur of the credibility that the law school’s name brings is an institutional embarrassment. It undermines that credibility with students and peers. Op-eds for local newspapers may not be held to the strict standards of a scholarly journal, but that doesn’t absolve professors of the need to conduct themselves as scholars for the good of the institution that employs them.”

It would have been more honest for Patrice to say he wants them fired because he disagrees with what they have to say. To paraphrase Voltaire, I disagree with what you say and will ensure that you get fired for your offensive opinion.

Becoming a tenured professor requires around a decade of hard work, from the time you graduate college to the time you receive tenure. In Patrice’s view a single poorly sourced (according to him) newspaper op-ed should be enough to take that away. Regardless of your lengthy and impressive publication record, your stellar teaching evaluations, a substandard op-ed or ill-considered letter to the editor makes you unfit for academic employment.  

Patrice should have based his call to fire Wax and Alexander on his (bogus) allegation of racism. The justification he falls back on falls laughably short of what would, or should, lead a school to remove a tenured faculty member.

Calls to fire Wax and Alexander will not succeed in getting them removed, but they will succeed in having a chilling effect on speech. Nontenured faculty, graduate students, and undergrads, will all have to watch what they say; they will need to be extra cautious not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the Joe Patrices of the world, and when you think about it, that’s kind of the point.