Iowa’s Prof. Hovenkamp Comments on Dismissal of Ideological Bias Suit

The University of Iowa College of Law’s Professor Herbert Hovenkamp, offers the following statement on the dismissal of Teresa Wagner’s lawsuit against the school alleging ideological bias in hiring.

While the Wagner viewpoint discrimination trial involving the University of Iowa College of Law has generated considerable attention, the only principals who have spoken to the press are associated with the plaintiff. Since the court has now entered its judgment for the College on all counts I feel free to say a few things. I was on the faculty appointments committee that was responsible for hiring in our Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (“LAWR”) program the year in question.

Teresa Wagner is a quiet and pleasant person whom I came to know during the hiring process. To this day I have never seen her speak of her political beliefs or even ask questions or make comments at faculty seminars, which she occasionally attends. This was not a case where we debated about whether to hire someone with a particular ideology. The subject never came up, and I learned of her views for the first time when her complaint was announced.

The federal jury trial in this case was conducted by Senior District Judge Robert W. Pratt, an excellent federal district judge. The opinion dismissing the complaint, which was issued March 8, recites very few facts; however, the trial was videotaped in full and can be viewed or downloaded here.

The trial and public record show the following:

A. During the year in dispute we hired one “permanent” entry level LAWR faculty member and one “adjunct.” The stated job criteria were strong academic credentials, a preference for teaching experience, and a “job talk” presentation to the faculty. The “adjunct” position, which did not require a job talk, was a one year evaluation position which could lead to the more durable position. The plaintiff had not written any law review articles or books, although she had edited two collections of essays authored by others. Scholarship was not a stated qualification for the position.

B. Five candidates were in the Committee’s recommended pool for two positions. Three (including the plaintiff) had J.D.s from Iowa, one from Texas, and one from Harvard. Four of the candidates had excellent academic records ranging from 3d in the class to just under the 90th percentile of their respective classes. The plaintiff had a lower GPA, which placed her roughly in the 62-65th percentile of her class. One of the five initial candidates dropped out after a poor job talk. All remaining candidates had some teaching experience, and all but the plaintiff had student teaching evaluations which became part of their application dossier. While the plaintiff had taught a legal writing class some two years as an adjunct at George Mason Law School, she was unable to produce any of her teaching evaluations. After her job talk we contacted GMU Law School directly in an effort to obtain her teaching evaluations, but GMU was unable to produce them either.

C. The one hiring criterion that was hotly disputed was the quality of the job talk. The plaintiff herself testified that it was good, while numerous faculty members testified that it was a failure, often in strong terms and well illustrated. If you want to see the details of that testimony look at the video. My own assessment, shared by most others, was that she was articulate on the need to improve students’ writing skills. Even after questioning, however, she seemed unwilling or unable to discuss legal analysis, which the faculty deemed to be an essential part of the position.

In every vote taken, the plaintiff went up against candidates with better academic records, fuller teaching records, and better job talks. Any report to the effect that she was rejected in favor of a “less well qualified” candidate simply has no basis.

The overwhelming majority of my colleagues believe in diversity in faculty hiring, and I believe most would include ideological diversity of both right and left. Some would regard diversity more as a “tie breaker” for choosing among people with roughly equivalent records, while others would reach further. I am confident that no one on our faculty would discriminate against a candidate because of his or her views. Our hiring goal, just as that of all other law schools I know, is to hire the most skilled, able teachers for our students.

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