Case Status: Pending

Norman Wang v. University of Pittsburgh, et al.

  • Federal District Courts

CIR is representing Dr. Norman Wang, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who was disciplined for publishing an article in a scientific journal that analyzed the extent and effect of racial preferences in medical education over the last fifty years.

Wang has been on the faculty at the School of Medicine for more than a decade.  Beginning in 2017, he served as the director for a fellowship program in clinical cardiac electrophysiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), a closely affiliated corporation.  As a scholar, he has written and contributed to dozens of articles for scientific and academic journals.

In March 2020, Wang published a research article in Journal of the American Heart Association entitled “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity: Evolution of Race and Ethnicity Considerations for the Cardiology Workforce in the United States of America From 1969 to 2019.”

Wang’s article reviewed the last fifty years of affirmative action in medical education.  It recounted how professional organizations and accreditation groups increasingly are forcing the medical profession to replace voluntary efforts to increase minority representation begun in the 1960s with mandated efforts to achieve proportional representation based on population.  Wang’s article argues that this approach is likely to be unsuccessful in reaching long-term diversity goals for currently underrepresented minorities, that it largely ignores legal limitations on the use of race by schools and employers, and that it fails to address documented harms of preferences to minority students.

As early as April, the article began to receive a negative reaction on social media for its critical stance toward affirmative action policy.  Twitter users attacked the article in the hopes of labeling the content racist and ultimately pressuring the journal to withdraw it.

The University of Pittsburgh’s Disciplinary Actions

In late July and early August, leaders at the School of Medicine, who previously had expressed no concerns about the article, took swift action against Wang in response to growing attention from Pitt faculty and Twitter activists.  On July 31, Samir Saba, the Chief of the Cardiology Division in the School of Medicine, and Kathryn Berlacher, another faculty member in the school, met with Wang to discuss his article and his views.  Wang stood by the position that he expressed in his article and defended his findings.

Samir Saba

After the meeting, Saba removed Wang from his position as Program Director of the Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology Fellowship at the UPMC. The following day, Saba emailed Wang to explain the school’s decision. Saba informed Wang that his views “contradict” the school’s “core values” and demonstrate his inability “to function in a leadership position.”

On August 4, Saba and Berlacher informed Wang that he would be prohibited from making contact with any medical students at the University of Pittsburgh, adding that, because of the views that he expressed in his paper, any classroom in which he participated was “inherently unsafe.”

Reputation as a Scholar Attacked

Around the same time, social media activists began attacking Wang and the JAHA on Twitter.  Some applied pressure to the JAHA to have it retract Wang’s article.  Under the hashtags #MedRacism and #RetractRacists, users bombarded the journal with tweets calling the article “racist” and “a disgrace” and insisting that “the peer review and editorial process has failed.”  One user described it as a “‘Minorities are not qualified to be in medicine’ diatribe.”  Another falsely characterized the paper as arguing “diversity = incompetent.”

Berlacher personally contributed to the online attacks, condemning Wang’s work in several tweets.  In one tweet, she called the article both “scientifically invalid and racist.”

While the social media controversy was growing, several administrators and faculty members sent emails to students and faculty that condemned Wang’s article.  The Dean of the School of Medicine, Anantha Shekhar, sent a mass email denouncing Wang’s article as “against equity and inclusivity.”  Mark Gladwin, Chairman of the Department of Medicine, emailed colleagues condemning the article as “antithetical to [the school’s] values.”

Currently unknown representatives of the medical school and UPMC wrote to the JAHA insisting that it withdraw Wang’s article. They alleged that the paper contained misquotations – errors that the journal evidently missed during its peer review process.  The JAHA promptly withdrew Wang’s article and apologized for publishing it.  The journal later published a follow-up editorial alleging that Wang’s paper “misrepresented facts in its efforts to argue against affirmative action.”

CIR Files Suit

CIR has brought a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  The University of Pittsburgh has violated Wang’s right to free speech by removing him from his position as program director and forbidding him from contacting medical students in response to his academic article.  Additionally, the JAHA, University of Pittsburgh, and several administrators have libeled Wang by falsely accusing him of substandard scholarship and academic dishonesty.

You can read Wang’s article here.

Cooperating Counsel

  • Jonathan Goldstein, Goldstein Law Partners, LLC

Updates on this case

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On April 4, U.S. District Judge Marilyn J. Horan gave the green light for Dr. Norman Wang to proceed with his free speech lawsuit against...

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