Faculty Applicant at Iowa College of Law Files Suit Alleging Viewpoint Discrimination in Hiring

By August 12, 2009

Teresa Wagner, an applicant for both full-time and adjunct faculty positions at the University of Iowa College of Law, has filed suit against the law school alleging viewpoint discrimination in its hiring. Wagner is a 1993 graduate "with distinction" from the College of Law and and had been working there as a professional staff member in its Writing Resource Center. Prior to returning to work at the College of Law, she had worked at, among other places, two conservative organizations, the National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council, and had been offered a tenure-track professor position at Ave Maria School of Law, a conservative, religious law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  

In the fall of 2006, Wagner applied for one of two openings at the College of Law for a full-time Writing Instructor position, for which "prior successful law school teaching" experience was listed as a qualification. According to her complaint, prior to Wagner’s second faculty interview for this position, she was advised by the Associate Dean of the law school to "conceal her affiliation" with Ave Maria School of Law from voting faculty members.  Despite having the necessary teaching experience in her background, as well as the fact that her interview and presentation to faculty were complimented by several faculty members, Wagner was passed over for the full-time position. As alleged in Wagner’s complaint, there may have been some impermissible reasons for this:  

Associate Dean Carlson informed Plaintiff Wagner that Professor Randy Bezanson had been the one to speak against her appointment as the Writing Instructor during the faculty appointments meeting.    …   Professor Bezanson was a law clerk to former United States Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, author of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion and which Plaintiff Wagner’s career has protested. Professor Bezanson was Justice Blackmun’s law clerk during the term that Roe v. Wade was written.

Wagner was allegedly informed by Dean Carlson that Bezanson "had not liked" her presentation and had mentioned her class rank and grade point average as alleged disqualifying factors for the first time, despite the fact that these, unlike prior teaching experience, were not listed criteria.   When Wagner subsequently applied for an Adjunct Writing Instructor position, she again was passed over for similar reasons:  

Associate Dean Carlson informed Plaintiff Wagner that Professor Bezanson had again spoken out against her candidacy and that a minority of voting faculty can block appointments.    …  

The law faculty had hired three Writing Instructor Adjuncts with no prior law school teaching experience, including one who had just graduated from law school, Steven Moeller.

As it turns out, Moeller was a research assistant for the same Professor Bezanson.

To make matters even worse, the candidate who had been offered the full-time position, Matt Williamson, had no prior law school teaching experience before being hired as an adjunct at Iowa, had never practiced law, had no published works, and even admitted to Wagner and others that he was not qualified to be a writing instructor. In fact, he offered to resign after his first semester of full-time teaching and did resign after his second semester. Wagner, meanwhile, was allegedly told by Dean Carlson, despite her qualifications, that she "should no longer apply for open full-time or Adjunct Writing Instructor positions."

The allegations in Wagner’s complaint are quite eye-opening and disturbing. If true, they reveal some serious problems with the hiring practices and climate for ideological dissent at the Iowa College of Law. I encourage readers to read the complaint for themselves and to follow the case along with us.