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UI professor speaks about College of Law's discrimination lawsuit

BY BRENT GRIFFITHS | MARCH 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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A University of Iowa law professor, speaking publicly about a part-time employee’s lawsuit against the school, said he agreed with a judge who denied her a new trial on March 8.

Herbert Hovenkamp said he backed the judge’s decision against Teresa Wagner but said while the UI’s policy of maintaining silence during the case was “not irrational,” it resulted in some frustrations from faculty members, and it was not unique to the university or Wagner’s case.

“One consequence of [the silence] is the media tend to get one side of the story when one side speaks a lot, and the other side is kind of barred from speaking,” he said. “There’s a reason for [the policy] … several hundred people work for the university, and they’re afraid for a kind of free-for-all.”

Teresa Wagner, a part-time employee in the UI College of Law’s writing resource center, was denied full-time employment in 2006, which she claimed was based on her past employment and political affiliations. She first filed a lawsuit against then-Dean Carolyn Jones in January 2009. According to the Associated Press, she was denied a new trial on March 8.

Wagner was unable to be reached for comment as of Sunday evening.

On Oct. 24, a jury found that Wagner did not have her First Amendment rights violated, but it was unable to reach a consensus on if she was denied equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

However, U.S. District Judge Robert Pratt extended the findings to the equal-protection claim and denied her a new trial on March 8.

Wagner had claimed her previous employment at National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion and euthanasia, and the Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, led to her denial of employment, according to court documents.

“My experiences [at the law school], as well as my observations over the years, indicate that discrimination against conservatives in faculty is longstanding and systemic, notwithstanding official policies favoring diversity,” she said in a statement before the trial.

According to records obtained by The Daily Iowan, as of the spring of 2012, among tenured faculty members, approximately four registered Republicans are associated with the law school, compared with 19 Democrats, six nonpartisan, and three unregistered members. Roughly 60 percent of tenured faculty were registered Democrats compared with approximately 10 percent registered Republicans.

According to court documents, Wagner was also concerned about some professors, including Randy Bezanson. She pointed out his time as clerk for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, a Minnesota Republican who was nominated to the court by then-President Richard Nixon and became the author of the Roe v. Wade decision. However, Hovenkamp believes this portrayal is unfair.

“Since [the Roe decision], Bezanson has been not an abortion scholar but a First Amendment scholar,” Hovenkamp said. “He is the last person on the planet who would ever exclude somebody on the basis of their beliefs.”


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