University political bias lawsuit ends in mistrial, can be brought again

A faculty member who claims the University of Iowa denied her a full-time position because of her conservative political views may have her case retried, a judge determined last week.

After deliberating for three days, a jury determined that UI’s law school — where part-time writing instructor Teresa Wagner had sought full-time employment — had not discriminated against Wagner’s political views. But the jury was unable to decide whether her equal protection rights had been violated, leading the judge to declare a mistrial.

Stephen Fieweger, an attorney for Wagner, objected to the way the verdict was reached, according to the Des Moines Register.

“What happened is exactly what I feared: The jury that is coming down to the deadline got, in my opinion, a coerced order for a verdict and it happened after a time that I had been informed that there would be a mistrial on both counts,” he said.

If her objection is overruled, Wagner plans to appeal.

The success or failure of Wagner’s lawsuit will be an important test for those who believe academia and university administrations are not only overwhelmingly liberal, but openly hostile to people who hold conservative viewpoints. Recent studies seem to support these claims.

One found that many professors in a certain field — social psychology — self-identified as likely to discriminate against conservative candidates seeking academic positions or grants. another determined that the scant number of conservatives in academia has dropped even lower in recent years.

Supporters of Wagner’s claim can also look to the substantial evidence submitted on her behalf. Only one of the 50 law professors at UI was a Republican when Wagner applied for the job in 2006. And according to an email exchange between an associate dean and the dean of the law school, concerns that Wagner had been discriminated against because of her views were shared by some administrators:

“[O]ne 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). I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually think that, but I’m worried that I may be missing something,” the associate dean wrote in an email.

Several university administrators testified that Wagner was denied the job because she gave a bad answer during her interview. Though such interviews are recorded, it is university policy to delete the recordings after the final decision is made.

Wagner did not respond to requests for comment.

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