Law school refuses to hire professor who embraces politics the rest of the faculty “despises”
posted at 8:11 pm on April 6, 2012 by Tina Korbe
Bet you can guess whether she was liberal or conservative. At the same time that schools pursue diversity for diversity’s sake without ever clearly explaining why diversity is important, they often fail to consider a different kind of diversity: What about diversity of thought? (And, yes, I was trying to see how many times I could use the word “diversity” in a sentence!) Sometimes, the details of a discrimination case are murky, but, in this case, they’re pretty clear:
[Teresa] Wagner, who graduated with honors from the law school [the University of Iowa College of Law] in 1993, has taught at the George Mason University School of Law. She has also worked for the National Right to Life Committee, which opposes abortion, and the conservative Family Research Council.
In 2006, Wagner applied for a full-time instructor position with the law school and was denied. She was also rejected for an adjunct or full-time position in four subsequent attempts, according to her attorney, Stephen T. Fieweger.
Fieweger said Wagner’s candidacy was dismissed because of her conservative views, and he cited a 2007 email from Associate Dean Jonathan C. Carlson to Jones in which Carlson 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).”
Fieweger said the law school and academic institutions in general have been so “entrenched” in discriminating against conservative-minded faculty over the years that “they don’t recognize they’re doing it.”
Ms. Wagner isn’t taking it lying down, though: She sued the school. A lower court initially dismissed the suit, arguing the dean could hire whomever he wished — but the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reinstated it. A trial is set for Oct. 15.
While I sympathize with Wagner’s plight and respect her decision to sue the school (especially because the school purports to be committed to fair hiring practices), I’m more generally against the forced imposition of diversity than I am in favor of her lawsuit. Freedom of association, anyone?
At the same time, I’m mindful of the way we hole up in our echo chambers. Our unwillingness to experience the friction that occurs when our ideas directly clash with another person’s is counterproductive. I’m talking about real friction and a real clash — the kind that occurs when you look another person in the eye, with no mediating computer screen or TV camera or other medium, and flat-out disagree. It’s uncomfortable — and it’s almost always cause for introspection. That introspection is often fruitful, as it forces us to either reaffirm our views for ourselves or to tweak them as the new information provided by “the other” requires.
A new study shows that Democrats and Republicans are actually unable to feel each other’s pain. As in, if you know someone is thirsting and you also know they have different political views than you do, you’ll feel their thirst less. To me, that’s shabby. We do have humanity in common, at least, and it’s worth it to pause and remember a few common truths and to try to build on those truths in our daily lives: In the grand scheme of things, we’re all small but none of us is unimportant, we all long to love and be loved, we all crave truth but are also often afraid of its implications …
Somewhere along the line, we’ve confused a commitment to “tolerance and diversity” with relativism. But we can simultaneously consciously seek to challenge our own views and, in the end, hold fast to our principles. It is possible. Not all opinions are equally true and two mutually exclusive propositions can never both be true. If we’re really seeking the truth, what does it hurt to give court to others’ perspectives? Maybe we’ll find we’re wrong … but maybe we’ll find we’re right.