Letter from Paul Levy to University of Pennsylvania President Elizabeth Magill

September 18, 2023 4 min read

Paul Levy

Excerpt: (Editor’s note): Paul Levy, former Chair of the Board of Overseers and founder of the Levy Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, recently sent this
letter by email to Elizabeth Magill, newly appointed President of the University of
Pennsylvania. In 2018 he resigned as Trustee Emeritus and Law School Overseer
over the treatment of law professor Amy Wax.

Dear President Magill:

We haven’t met nor have I previously communicated with you, but you may know of me. I was previously for many years the Chair of the Board of Overseers of the Law School and one of its largest donors, having, among other initiatives, created its Levy Scholars program which brought many wonderful students (diverse too!) to the school, many of whom have gone on to great careers, including at least one Supreme Court clerk. I was also a Trustee of the University. As you may know, I left the Law School and the Board when the unwarranted attacks on Amy Wax began in 2018. It’s a sad and shameful assault on a tenured professor and one that most assuredly should never occur, if anywhere, at a law school where studies of First Amendment rights are an important part of a law school’s constitutional studies. The University’s attack on Amy has no doubt contributed to Penn’s abysmal national free-speech ranking by FIRE as next-to- last, just above the ever-revered Harvard. Some may like proximity to Valhalla but in this case you shouldn’t.

You may agree with these attacks on her rights as a tenured professor and as an American citizen, which would be unfortunate. While I understand that First Amendment rights do not apply to private institutions, wrong as that may be, it’s the law and universities everywhere are exploiting that unfortunate lapse, especially in schools like Penn, which are quite “public,” in my view, accepting millions of dollars of federal and state funds, inviting any and all to apply and playing such important public leadership roles in our nation’s affairs. As they say, “but that’s another matter.”

But, to a person like yourself, a lawyer, to ignore what’s been happening to Amy is not appropriate, especially with a clean slate on which you can right wrongs. I can tell you when I left the Board I received many calls and letters from sitting Trustees, many still there today, complaining about how the Board functions and especially the treatment of Amy. Why so many failed to speak up is another source of concern, as most didn’t want to jeopardize their standing or prevent them from working within the system to get their kids, grandkids and kids of friends admitted. Even today, five years into this fiasco, when I sit with trustees they agree but when asked to speak up or write they demur. It’s pretty sad; to be rich and scared stinks.

The worm is turning, Madame President, as I said to Jared Mitovich of the DP in the email below, and I say the same to you: This miserable, corrosive worm will turn and when it does those who have failed to stand up for free speech, open discussion, inquiry and debate, will not look too good. David Cohen and Amy Gutmann don’t look too good right now either; do they? The McCarthy followers of yesteryear didn’t fare well and the repressive woke progressives will likewise regret their predations. I spent many hours with the late Bob Zimmer of Chicago, after he reached out to me when I first published my views in the Wall Street Journal in 2018. I asked him this: As a scientist, how did you come to your fervent support of campus free speech and your support of the Chicago Principles? His response was simple and very much reflected his unvarnished Bronx background (I too hail from there): “It’s obvious, Paul, this is what we’re here for, this is what makes America America.” Do you think he was wrong? He is gone, missed and revered; what do you want to be remembered for?

Well, you’ve an opportunity to stand up for what’s right. Amy may offend many but she has a right to speak. Whatever personal demons or public forces sent Ted Ruger into the deep dark hole he dug for himself is beyond my ken, but his conduct with Amy was not the Ted I knew for many years previously. Diseases spread in all directions and healthy people can die from them; he caught the woke disease, or perhaps just didn’t have the internal fortitude to resist the tide. Maybe you do; maybe you don’t. I should add, as you well know: the records no doubt support Amy’s statement that minority admits at the law school did poorly; Penn has failed to produce the evidence of her being wrong….because it can’t. (As an aside, I matriculated at the Law School in 1969 and at least half the black students in my first-year class failed to show up for the second; in those days grading was much more rigorous.) Glenn Loury of Brown and John McWhorter of Columbia, two black professors, support her views that affirmative action is wrong and has hurt more minorities than it has helped. Parading the flag of virtue may feel good to some but hurts profoundly many intended to be helped. How do you think those students in my class felt when asked to leave? At the very least, it’s a subject of debate and discussion, and Amy, Glenn, John, Thomas Sowell, Shelby Steele and many other black scholars of repute agree. Debate and discussion are what college is about. Isn’t it? Oh, and by the way, as you know too well, the Supreme Court of the United States happens to agree with these folks. Rather than working to undermine that holding as Penn probably is (do good citizens actually do that?), why not seize the moment and offer a Profile in Courage?

So, in conclusion, I’d ask you to take the high road—-it will always be the same high road: stand up to the woke mob, turn Penn back to the principles Ben Franklin and our Founders fought and died for to our benefit, and stop all this nonsense. Stop the proceedings against Amy and live with dissent and diverse views.

It would be nice to meet at some point.

Take care. Respectfully,
Paul

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