The Battle Over a Professor’s Speech

More from our inbox:

  • My Tiny Rebellion Over the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Ron DeSantis, Bully
  • First Trump, Now Greene. Didn’t the Media Learn?
  • Young and Old, Together

Students at UPenn have complained about Prof. Amy Wax’s comments for years.Credit…Hannah Yoon for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “In ‘Toxic’ Professor’s Speech, a Test of Tenure” (front page, March 13):

Unfortunately, the University of Pennsylvania’s law school dean has muddied the issue by filing a complaint for the faculty to consider regarding discriminatory remarks about students and faculty by Amy Wax, a tenured professor.

The remarks were made both inside and outside the classroom, and the complaint cites the university’s nondiscrimination policies and standards of professional competence.

The article clearly demonstrates that punishment should not be meted out to people expressing their opinions in public. As the saying goes, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

However, professional competence applies to the classroom, and a decision about Professor Wax should be based on whether she is discussing legal theories and dealing with students based only on their academic abilities, as shown by performance on class assignments and in class participation, without regard to their race or ethnic background.

Gary Lefkowitz
New Fairfield, Conn.

To the Editor:

Let’s avoid muddy thinking so as not to confuse two separate issues: Academic freedom and tenure pertain to the free expression of ideas sustained by rigorous scholarship. Common decency and fairness oblige professors to refrain from publicly denigrating anybody because of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation or political beliefs.

If that happens, an apology and disciplinary action are needed, and in the event of a subsequently repeated offense, dismissal.

Richard Etlin
New York
The writer is distinguished university professor emeritus at the School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, University of Maryland, College Park.

To the Editor:

What if Amy Wax’s pattern of bigoted comments were directed at another professor, instead of toward a student? Such behavior would surely constitute a hostile work environment, rather than merely an exercise in academic freedom.

So why is it that the students whom Professor Wax was hired to educate are less deserving of the same respect? Students deserve a safe working environment, too — one in which professors help them engage in positive, productive discourse that challenges them to do more complex thinking about the world and their place in it.

Viewing the role of the professor in that light, I cannot understand how Professor Wax’s comments further academic freedom instead of stifling it.

Conservatives used to talk about lower taxes, smaller government and equality of opportunity. Anyone can still talk about these things on a campus. However, if the conservatives of today wish to defend reactionary and bigoted rhetoric as speech that is being silenced simply for being right-wing, it says more about modern conservatism than it does about academic freedom.

Claudia Silvera
San Diego
The writer is a junior at the University of California, San Diego.

To the Editor:

I have never attended a college or university lecture where I didn’t hear a combination of facts, opinions and beliefs.

Diverse ideas compete for space in our heads. It is up to us to sort through them, compare them to known facts and personal experiences and decide which ones reside in our heads more permanently.

I’ve learned a lot from professors who provoked me into digging deeper. I’m sure many of Amy Wax’s students will as well.

It’s not useful to demonize anyone who holds ideas about race and culture just because they fall on the forbidden side of those topics. Universities need to be places where diverse ideas abound, not simply places where diverse races and cultures agree, with a shrinking set of acceptable ideas.

Daniel Kerkel
West Chester, Pa.

My Tiny Rebellion Over the Pledge of Allegiance

Marissa Barnwell’s parents said that they filed a federal lawsuit over how school officials handled their daughter’s refusal to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.Credit…Alexa Jurado/The State, via Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “School Sued After Scuffle Over Pledge of Allegiance” (news article, March 13):

The failure of the student in this article to acknowledge the Pledge of Allegiance reminded me of when I was a student at the Bronx High School of Science more than 70 years ago.

We were required to recite the pledge every morning in the auditorium before classes began. When we reached the line “liberty and justice for all,” some of us said “liberty and justice for some.”

The assistant principal, a tough disciplinarian who led the recitation, could hear that something sounded wrong, but he could never identify the culprits.

I think that our tiny rebellion was protesting the gap between the words of the pledge and the many times in our nation’s history when we did not live up to the noble words of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance.

A. Stevens
New York

Ron DeSantis, Bully

As he travels the country promoting his expected presidential campaign, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida has repeatedly pointed to his ouster of Andrew H. Warren, a liberal local prosecutor. Credit…Jordan Gale for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Inside DeSantis’s Machinations to Remove an Elected Prosecutor” (front page, March 12):

This judicious and chilling article supports my growing conviction that Ron DeSantis is a political bully unfit for higher office. As a possible candidate for president, Governor DeSantis needs to publicly defend his actions, not at a rigged news conference, but perhaps before a panel of respected national journalists.

He, too, deserves his day in the hot seat.

Jerome T. Murphy
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is a retired Harvard professor and dean who taught courses on leadership.

First Trump, Now Greene. Didn’t the Media Learn?

When Ms. Greene entered Congress in January 2021, she was viewed by Republican leaders as a headache.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

To the Editor:

When Donald Trump made his now infamous ride down the escalator to announce his intention to run for the Republican nomination for president, the various media outlets, including The Times, delighted in presenting the ensuing spectacle for our entertainment.

As we all know now (some knew it right away), such coverage only gave Mr. Trump an extraordinary amount of free publicity that propelled his campaign and helped him secure the Republican nomination and ultimately the White House. We are still suffering from his four years in office.

You would think a lesson would be learned. But no, here we go again. The media are once again presenting the usually insane and always vile positions of Marjorie Taylor Greene as entertainment for the smug and self-righteous. Once again, we are in danger of being amused to death.

Stephen Sicari
Baldwin, N.Y.

Young and Old, Together

Credit…Photographs by Skynesher, Xavier Lorenzo, Tetra images and Susanne Kronholm, via Getty Images

To the Editor:

Re “What Old and Young Americans Owe One Another,” by Yuval Levin (Opinion guest essay,, March 11):

I have no children, but for my entire working life I have been taxed quite heavily to support the public school system in my community and the public universities in my state. I don’t begrudge this, considering it my contribution to the greater good.

Of course we need to address the burden placed on our young people. But they, in turn, need to remember that the people whose Social Security benefits are coming in part out of their earnings are the same people who paid for the education that made those earnings possible.

Theresa Twigg
Haddam, Conn.

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