National Association of Scholars Draws Attention to University of Iowa Faculty Applicant’s Lawsuit Alleging Viewpoint Discrimination

By July 15, 2010

Here on The Torch last August, we covered the case of Teresa Wagner, a faculty applicant at the University of Iowa College of Law who alleged that she had been discriminated against as an applicant for full-time and adjunct Writing Instructor positions due to her political beliefs. In a complaint filed in federal court, Wagner claimed that despite being qualified for the positions and already having served as a professional staff member in the College of Law’s Writing Resource Center, she encountered resistance from those doing the hiring and was passed over in favor of less qualified candidates.

This week, the National Association of Scholars (NAS) is drawing attention to Wagner’s lawsuit against the law school, which claims the law school discriminated against Wagner in its hiring decisions on the basis of her political beliefs. NAS’s article summarizes her case as follows:

Wagner believes that she was denied the appointment on political grounds. Like [historian Mark] Moyar she is a Republican. She was also outspoken in her advocacy of some conservative positions. None of this seemed to matter in a variety of professional positions she held before applying for the Iowa opening, and in fact Wagner seemed to pass through two rounds of interviews at the law school with flying colors. At that point, however, her appointment was blocked and the position was instead granted to an individual who had never practiced law or published, and who professed to "hate" Republicans and "right wingers."

NAS reports that Wagner’s case is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, after the district court judge denied Wagner’s claims at the summary judgment stage and she appealed the decision. Given the weight of the allegations involved, this is a case worth following.

NAS is also making a good number of documents related to the case available on its website (to view them, simply scroll to the bottom of the article). The article highlights two of these documents in particular:

If you have time to look at just one document, we recommend the first one, which is a half-page internal memorandum from the law school’s associate dean, Jon Carlson. Carlson expresses his puzzlement at the Faculty’s unwillingness to hire Wagner, even for a lesser position, and worries that this might have something to do with her political views: 

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).  I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually think it is, but I’m worried that I may be missing something.

That’s as close to a smoking gun as one is likely to find in the academic world, but the associate dean leaves room to squirm, and if you have time for a second document, I recommend his "Two Years After" letter of January 27, 2009 to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.  Here Carlson executes an about-face, saying, "To my knowledge, no one on the faculty viewed Wagner’s political views as at all relevant to the decision being made."

As the article notes, that’s a significant change in position. One wonders what is really going on behind the scenes at the law school, and whether Wagner’s appeal to the Eighth Circuit will bring it to the light of day. We will keep you posted on developments in this case, and in the meantime we encourage you to check out the documents from the case for yourself.