Wagner's cautionary tale of latest example of political bias
By Chris Gacek
The latest, prominent example of political bias on our nation's university campuses comes to us from the Midwest and involves a job applicant, Teresa Wagner, and the University of Iowa College of Law.
Wagner is a conservative Republican and an ardent advocate for her deeply held anti-abortion convictions. She graduated from UI's law school in 1993 and moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked at the Family Research Council and National Right to Life. She taught a legal research and writing class at the George Mason University School of Law.
In August 2006, Wagner joined UI's law school faculty as a part-time associate director in its legal writing program.
She also applied to be a full-time teacher of legal writing, analysis and research. This is a foundational course in the law school curriculum. Despite being the most qualified candidate, her application was denied, and her repeated applications for a part-time position were also denied.
Last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit allowed a lawsuit filed by Wagner to proceed because it found there were clear factual issues still in dispute related to the decision not to hire her. The decision's salient features point to questionable behavior by UI.
The court noted that "[t]he law school faculty ... [are] viewed as being liberal. Only one out of 50 professors is a registered Republican."
The initial stages of Wagner's job search had gone well, and some emails indicate that there were faculty members who did want her to be hired. Unfortunately, she was advised by a friendly faculty member, then-Associate Dean John Carlson, that she should not tell faculty members about an offer of a tenure track position she received from the Catholic, conservative Ave Maria School of Law because it was regarded as a conservative school.
Two days later, on Jan. 26, 2007, Wagner was informed she would not get the job even though the person offered the position, as the court of appeals put it, "had never practiced law, had no legal publications, and had no prior successful teaching experience."
Wagner learned from Carlson that there was one vocal opponent to her candidacy, a Professor Randall Bezanson, court documents state. He had his own connection to abortion politics: he had clerked for Justice Harry Blackmun at the time he wrote Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, he had "written tributes to Justice Blackmun and his abortion jurisprudence, and [had] published legal articles advocating a pro-choice viewpoint on abortion."
After her rejection for the full-time position, Wagner expressed an interest in teaching a legal writing course during the summer. Carlson wrote in an email, "Frankly, one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in any role, in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it)." In the end, Wagner was not even offered a part-time teaching position.
Subsequently, she filed a suit, arguing that the law school's hiring decision illegally discriminated against her based on her political beliefs. The court of appeals has allowed her case to proceed, but that does not mean she will win.
One wonders if there is no more effective, faster and less costly remedy for bad institutional behavior and ideological tyranny like this.
Chris Gacek is Senior Fellow, Regulatory Affairs at the Family Research Council
This article appeared in The Cedar Rapids Gazette on January 22, 2012.