Lawsuit Pits Political Activism Against Campus Diversity

Adam Liptak, New York Times, January 9, 2012

Teresa R. Wagner is a conservative Republican who wants to teach law. Her politics may have hurt her career.

An official of the University of Iowa College of Law, where Ms. Wagner applied for a job in 2006, certainly seemed to think so.

“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),” Associate Dean Jonathan C. Carlson wrote in 2007 to the law school’s dean, Carolyn Jones.

Ms. Wagner, who graduated from the law school in 1993 and had taught at the George Mason University School of Law, was not hired. She sued, alleging discrimination because of her political beliefs. Late last month, a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled that her case should go to trial, saying she had presented enough evidence to suggest that “Dean Jones’s repeated decisions not to hire Wagner were in part motivated by Wagner’s constitutionally protected First Amendment rights of political belief and association.”

Ms. Wagner’s lawyer, Stephen T. Fieweger, said the decision was a victory for an important sort of academic freedom.

“It’s gotten to the point where the law school’s diversity efforts are to eliminate everyone from the mainstream,” he said. “They espouse cultural diversity, but won’t consider the conservative viewpoint.”

According to Ms. Wagner’s lawsuit, the law faculty at Iowa in 2007 included a single registered Republican among its 50 or so members. The Republican professor was appointed in 1984. In 2009, The Des Moines Register found that there were two registered Republicans on the faculty.

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“My client is an ideologue,” Mr. Fieweger said. “She does believe in conservative values.” Ms. Wagner has worked for the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion and euthanasia, and the Family Research Council, which takes conservative positions on social issues.

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A study published in The Georgetown Law Journal in 2005 analyzed 11 years of federal campaign contributions by professors at the top 21 law schools as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. Almost a third of these law professors contributed to campaigns. Of those who gave $200 or more, the study found, 81 percent gave wholly or mostly to Democrats, while 15 percent gave wholly or mostly to Republicans.

The percentages of professors contributing to Democrats were even more lopsided at some of the most prestigious schools: 91 percent at Harvard, 92 at Yale, 94 at Stanford. {snip}

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