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February 6th, 2011

Diversity In The Ivory Tower

By Nathan Tucker

Members of the ivory tower of legal academia often pride themselves on their alleged tolerance and diversity of everything under the sun…except for conservatives.  While members of racial minorities and the LGBT community are often overrepresented on the faculty of many law schools, ideological diversity is much harder to discover.

This disturbing reality is not due to a drought of conservative legal scholars, but rather the product of discriminatory faculty hiring decisions.  There are, unfortunately, far too many law schools where conservatives, faculty and students alike, are treated with hostility and disdain.  The liberal elite are intolerant of any dissenting opinions within their legal monastery, often refusing to consider, much less hire, professors with conservative views.

The University of Iowa Law School is, sadly, not immune to this type of viewpoint discrimination.  The law school announced in the fall of 2006 that it was seeking two full-time Writing Instructors, listing as its sole qualification that “prior successful law school teaching is strongly preferred.”

Teresa Wagner, a 1993 graduate of the law school and a part-time professional staff member of the Iowa College of Law Writing Resource Center, applied for one of the two positions.  In addition to editing three books and the written work of several law professors, Wagner had worked as an Adjunct Professor of Law in the Legal Writing and Research program of the George Mason School of Law.

Unfortunately for Wagner, she had also worked with The National Right to Life Committee and the Family Research Council.  She had also been offered, but declined, a tenure-track law professor position at Ave Maria School of Law, a conservative law school now located in Naples, Florida.

Before her faculty interview in January of 2007, Wagner was advised by Associate Dean Jon Carlson to conceal her affiliation with the Ave Maria School of Law from the voting faculty members.  Though she received compliments on her presentation from seven faculty members, she was not offered the job.

Iowa Law School allows a minority of faculty members to block appointments, and Wagner was informed that one lone professor, Randy Bezanson, spoke out against hiring her.  Bezanson, an ardent supporter of abortion, clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun during the term that Blackmun authored Roe v. Wade.  Bezanson later admitted in his deposition that it was probable the faculty discussed Wagner’s political views when they voted on her application.

Matt Williamson, the candidate who was hired by the law school, lacked any prior teaching or writing experience, prompting him to admit that he was not qualified for the position.  Williamson’s apparent redeeming quality in the eyes of the faculty was his pubic and well-documented dislike of Republicans and “right wingers.”

Undeterred, Wagner then applied for a part-time Adjunct Writing Instructor position at the law school.  Once again, it was Professor Bezanson who mobilized a minority voting bloc against her appointment.  Instead, the school hired three Writing Instructor Adjuncts with no prior law school teaching experience, including a recent law school graduate who was a research assistant for Bezanson.

How is it, then, that Wagner could go from being one of two finalists out of a pool of fifty for two full-time positions, to being considered “unqualified” for one of three part-time positions?  The answer may be found in an email by Assistant Dean Carlson in which he wrote, in part:

The problem is that I don’t understand the significance of the Faulty’s unwillingness to vote on approving Teresa as an adjunct.  It seemed that there might be an undercurrent of opposition even to that.

Franky, 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).

After being rejected a second time by the law school, Associate Dean Carlson informed Wagner that she should no longer apply for open full-time or Adjunct Writing Instructor positions.  Wagner has since filed a federal discrimination suit against the law school that is currently pending in the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sadly, Wagner’s story is not unique in the world of legal academia, and until steps are taken to remedy viewpoint discrimination in hiring decisions, law schools will continue to impart a biased and unchallenged liberal ideology to their students.

Foremost among these steps would be to end the power of the minority to block an applicant’s appointment to the faculty.  Secondly, as the Des Moines Register recently editorialized, all public hiring should be done in the open.  Bringing the discussions and voting on the applicants into public view would greatly discourage future acts of viewpoint discrimination.

Though not a complete cure, these long overdue steps are necessary to begin chipping away at the monolithic bastions of liberal thought we call law schools.  These institutions need to take down the “Liberals Only May Apply” signs and introduce some real and tangible diversity of thought in the ivory tower.

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About the Author

Nathan W. Tucker
Nathan W. Tucker is a Davenport attorney and author of We The People: The Only Cure to Judicial Activism. He can be contacted at nathanwt@juno.com.




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