Teresa Wagner's lawsuit against the University of Iowa for failing to hire her as a legal writing professor has caught a lot of people's attention and generated the usual discussion about left-wing bias in the legal academy.
It's a huge mistake to take irrelevant factors (like ideology) into consideration in hiring; it's hard enough to get talented and dedicated teachers and scholars without reducing the talent pool based on irrational reasons. And the people who're going to suffer most if ideological discrimination is acceptable are the extremists on both sides (left-wing and right-wing, but perhaps mostly left-wing).
However, I'm not so sure there was ideological discrimination in this case. One thing that I've seen a lot of in the fourteen plus years I've been in this business is that hiring decisions turn on a lot of factors, like how a person fits with the teaching and scholarly needs of a school, how a person's scholarship is received, how expensive a person is, the school's perception of potential, how recommendations come back....
A lot of this turns (obviously) on whether Ms. Wagner was qualified for the job. That leds to a critical question: What are the requirements for legal writing professors at the University of Iowa? Because they're teaching legal writing (rather than academic writing), I might think that experience as a legal writer (drafting documents like trusts, writing briefs, and statutes) would be very desirable, probably indispensible. I might also think that some academic writing would also be really desirable--in fact, it might be required. It's certainly taken as a given that candidates for doctrinal positions need to have some post-law school publications. For someone who's been in the business a while (as she apparently was), you might expect some more scholarship. That seems to be lacking in this case. Ms. Wagner's complaint says she "served as editor of three books" (for one I take it she provided editorial comments; for another she was co-editor; and the other, for which she was the sole editor, appears to be more about contemporary politics and morality than law). I can't see that she has published anything in a legal academic journal. Is this unusual?
Update as of August 8, 2010: Ms. Wagner's lawsuit was dismissed in July 2010. The National Association of Scholars has continuing coverage of the suit, including some documents.