Bias against conservative lawprofs: Wagner case heads toward trial

by Walter Olson on October 13, 2012

The Associated Press covers the pending lawsuit against the University of Iowa by Teresa Wagner, who believes she was shot down for a job teaching legal writing because of her outspokenly conservative views (earlier here, here, and here). A federal trial starts Monday in Davenport, Iowa.

One sentence misses the mark slightly in conveying my views. As I should have taken pains to make clear, the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, as a decision, is by no means sacrosanct in legal academia; law professors both right and left, young and old, criticize it often for its reasoning, as a political blunder, and on other grounds. What is a good bit less common — and especially rare among younger academics aiming for tenure offers at law schools with no religious affiliation — is a passionate stand against abortion in itself, like Ms. Wagner’s.

The university, for its part, disclaims political bias and apparently intends to argue that Ms. Wagner did not perform as well at the interview stage as her lawyers contend. As I told the AP, while I have no doubt that political bias is rife — in 2007, Iowa’s law faculty is recorded as having had 46 registered Democrats and only one registered Republican — I have severe doubts that the courts will improve matters by peering over the hiring committees’ shoulders. (& TaxProf with links; Des Moines Register “Juice”; Prof. Bainbridge)

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 5 comments }

1 spo 10.14.12 at 9:25 am

“I have severe doubts that the courts will improve matters by peering over the hiring committees’ shoulders.”

No, they probably won’t, but why should that be her problem? It’s common knowledge that conservatives don’t get a fair shake in academia, and where that happens at a State university, it’s a First Amendment problem. Are you saying that the First Amendment shouldn’t be enforced?

2 Richard Nieporent 10.14.12 at 9:27 am

I have severe doubts that the courts will improve matters by peering over the hiring committees’ shoulders.

That ship has sailed a long time ago. The courts already do so when it comes to minorities, women and if not already, soon to be, gays. As someone who frequents this website, I am not in favor of frivolous lawsuits, but it seems unreasonable to me that the most important diversity, diversity of thought, is the only one that is not protected at a university. I don’t know what the best way is to rectify this bias, but it does not bode well for the country that the ideas of only one side of the political spectrum are presented at our universities.

3 LTEC 10.14.12 at 10:53 pm

In my university, on the assumption that all men are biased against women, every hiring committee must have a woman on it. They do this even though all the evidence shows that hiring is biased in favor of women, often openly.

In this case there is strong evidence of bias against “conservatives” (anyone not left wing) although it is hard to prove it in any particular case. The solution is to have a “conservative” (if they exist) on every hiring committee. This will hopefully have the effect of keeping the rest of the committee honest, and shaming them as well, without introducing any legal structure.

4 captnhal 10.15.12 at 9:26 am

Why do political views even come up on a job interview. It shouldn’t be asked. It isn’t any of the employer’s business. If such a question is asked, the candidate should have a right to know why it’s relevant to the job.

I’ve never been asked that question on any job interview, but then I’m not a law professor.

5 Ron Miller 10.15.12 at 2:03 pm

It is hard balance. Political beliefs should not be at issue. But it also does not mean that because a school is showing bias – which the statistical evidence would suggest here – that they would have hired this woman.

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