Jurors in Bias Case Believe University of Iowa Engaged in Ideological Discrimination

The Des Moines Register ha an interesting article following up on the lawsuit against the University of Iowa law school alleging ideological discrimination in hiring. The judge declared a mistrial because the jury was deadlocked. According to interviews with jurors, however, there was genuine agreement that Teresa Wagner was denied a position because of her conservative views and political activism, but disagreement over whether the Dean could be held responsible. Given the nature of the claim, the Dean was the named defendant, rather than the university (or the faculty, who largely control academic hiring decisions).

jurors said they felt conflicted about holding a former dean personally responsible for the bias. They wanted to hold the school itself accountable, but federal law does not recognize political discrimination by institutions.

“I will say that everyone in that jury room believed that she had been discriminated against,” said Davenport resident Carol Tracy, the jury forewoman.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Teresa Wagner on Tuesday filed a motion for a new trial in the case that scholars agree could have national implications in what some argue is the liberally slanted world of academia.

The jury’s belief that Wagner was a victim of discrimination is significant as the case heads toward a retrial that will cost the state thousands of dollars to litigate and could cost the university hundreds of thousands of dollars should it lose or settle out of court, scholars following the case said.

Paul Caron has more here.

As I noted before, as a general matter I do not think faculty hiring decisions should be second guessed in courts. Ideological discrimination in faculty hiring is contrary to the principles of academic freedom and is incompatible with a genuine commitment to liberal education. But this does not mean such conduct should be illegal, particularly in private institutions. If the allegations are true the University of Iowa’s law faculty should be ashamed of themselves.

UPDATE: According to the faculty tenure provisions of the University of Iowa’s “operations manual”:

If a university is to perform its function effectively, it is essential that faculty members in their teaching and research feel free to express new ideas and divergent viewpoints. In the process of teaching and research, accepted “truths” often must be challenged and questioned. A good university must create an atmosphere which, in a positive way, encourages faculty members to express new ideas and divergent viewpoints and to make inquiries unbounded by present norms. Such an atmosphere currently exists at The University of Iowa; and tenure has contributed substantially to the creation of this atmosphere and to its continuance. Put simply, free inquiry and expression are essential to the maintenance of excellence; tenure is essential to free inquiry and expression; The University of Iowa’s consistent goal is excellence; and the tenure system must continue if the University is to recruit and maintain a distinguished faculty. . . .

While the job-security aspects of tenure bear surface relationship to other job-security systems, the primary rationale for tenure is that it is essential to the creation and maintenance of an atmosphere which encourages the free exchange of ideas so necessary to educational vitality.

This is how the manual justifies providing faculty with tenure, but tenure will do little to encorage open inquiry if faculty cannot get hired or promoted if they express heterodox views. Note also that if the allegations in Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit are true, it is not the case that the law school has an “atmosphere which, in a positive way, encourages faculty members to express new ideas and divergent viewpoints and to make inquiries unbounded by present norms.”

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