I’m not a First Amendment scholar, nor am I an employment discrimination scholar. I did, however, go through a hiring process twice, and this decision by the Eighth Circuit surprised the heck out of me. The gist of the opinion is that a jury must decide if a professor who was not hired at a public law school was discriminated against in violation of Section 1983. The allegation, quite simply, is that she was conservative and a liberal faculty (or more specifically, the dean following the recommendation of the faculty) refused to hire her.
The court held that this is a legally cognizable injury, and that a jury has to decide whether she wouldn’t have been hired anyway.
For those of you on the market this year (or thinking about it), the case is also an insightful view into the black box of academic hiring. It shows how mixed signals can occur, and how uniformly positive feedback can still not lead to getting hired for all sorts of reasons outside of the candidates’ control. I won’t comment on the reasoning or facts in this case, because I just don’t know them. That is, as they say, up to the jury now.
One final point – there is a key faculty governance nugget buried in this case. One factual question was whether the dean always followed faculty recommendations, and/or whether the dean must. While most deans follow almost all faculty hiring recommendations, they usually (technically) don’t have to. One issue in this case is that no such policy was in writing. After this case, deans might want to put such a policy in writing, but maybe the deans (or university provosts and presidents) won’t want discretion so limited.
H/T How Appealing