by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
George Leef’s latest Martin Center column probes universities’ ability to practice discrimination based on ideology.
If a university were to state that it will not hire people applying for a faculty position because of their race, sex, or religion, that would be clearly illegal. No school would dare to disregard applicants simply because “people of their kind” were not wanted.
But what about an applicant’s philosophy and political beliefs? Can schools discriminate on that basis? A case that arose years ago at the University of Iowa has finally ended with the apparent result that ideological discrimination is not illegal.
Back in 2006, Teresa Wagner (now Manning) was employed part-time at the University of Iowa College of Law as a legal writing instructor. She had formerly taught at George Mason University Law School and practiced law, so she thought she had a good chance at landing one of the full-time places for legal writing instructor that the law school had advertised.
But she was not hired, and at least one applicant who was hired had markedly inferior credentials, never having either practiced law or taught it. That would have been the end of things—if there hadn’t been evidence that faculty members had expressed vehement opposition to Manning because of her outspoken pro-life views.
She filed suit against the university and discovered internal documents to support her argument. Especially damning was a memo by associate dean Jon Carlson who wrote, “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).” (Case documents have been assembled here by the National Association of Scholars.)
That line, “they so despise her politics,” rings true. Leftist academics have often voiced their animosity toward those who disagree with them. Never mind that Manning would have been teaching a non-political course; some leftists just don’t want to associate with ideological infidels. They were, however, happy to associate with the less-qualified candidate who had made it known that he hated Republicans.
From the time she filed her suit against the university, claiming that it had violated both her First Amendment and due process rights, it took nearly 10 years for the legal system to deliver its final answer to her: nothing.