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Civic Skinny

A backpack snoop (allegedly), a Republican wedding, a big legal bill, and how to cut the cost of your Register.

12/17/2014

Remember Teresa Wagner? Probably not. Maybe this will help: She’s a Republican — an active, pro-life conservative — on the staff at the law school at the University of Iowa, which should narrow it down to one or two people.

Wagner was, until the other day, associate director of the school’s writing center. For five years, she has been suing Carolyn Jones, at first the dean and now the former dean of the school, alleging the school wouldn’t hire her for a faculty position because of her political beliefs. Jones’ defense has been that in effect she was just a rubber stamp, that she had no authority even though she was dean, that she just did what the faculty told her to do, and that the faculty didn’t want Wagner. That sounds bizarre, unless you have spent time hanging around the University of Iowa. Then it’s kind of believable.

And surely this is irrelevant: When the suit was filed, there was but one registered Republican among the 50 faculty members.

Wagner’s case initially was thrown out. Then the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals overruled, saying she deserved a trial. The trial, in October 2012 in federal court, ended in a mistrial, and the Eighth Circuit ordered a new trial. That is scheduled for March of next year. Meanwhile, Wagner had kept on working with students on their writing.

The operative word in that sentence is “had.” According to a motion filed in federal court last week, last month Wagner returned to her office after getting a cup of coffee and discovered that her supervisor, Nancy Jones, was going through the backpack Wagner had left in the office. Jones had testified against Wagner in the 2012 trial but had remained as her boss.

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One thing led to another — calls to Human Resources and to campus security, a meeting with the university ombudsman — and then, apparently out of the blue, the university transferred Wagner to a new job at the main library. In this job, according to the new court filing, “she is required to go through boxes of old books, booklets and pamphlets.” She “does not use her legal background, does not meet with students and does nothing resembling the duties of her former position or resembling her educational background.” Formerly salaried, she now is an hourly worker “with no title and no seniority” and works in a workspace aptly called “the Fourth Floor Cage.”

Her new court filing seeks “temporary and permanent injunctive relief.” It asks that the university either put her on paid leave or put Nancy Jones on paid leave, “as is university practice when misconduct is alleged,” or whatever the court “deems necessary and just.” Wagner claims the actions of the law school and other university employees “demonstrate a prima facie showing of retaliation against [her] for the reporting of her Supervisor’s misconduct.”

Asked for comment about the allegation that she went through the backpack of Wagner, Nancy Jones said: “The information in your e-mail was not accurate.”

Meantime, Carolyn Jones, no longer dean but now a law professor at Iowa, last month filed a writ with the United States Supreme Court asking that it overturn the Circuit Court’s order for a new trial. …

“Register raised my rates from $35 a month to $42 a month while I was” on vacation, a Des Moines lawyer reports. “Yesterday, I called them to cancel, explaining it would be cheaper for me to buy it at the newsstand. (set italix) Sua sponte (end italix) (the guy is, as we said, a lawyer) they reduced my rate to $25 per month. Is that any way to run a newspaper?”

Apparently, yes. Another guy reports that the Register raised his monthly rate to $37 a month from $33. (The subscription rate seems to be “whatever we can get.”) “So I called to cancel our subscription,” he reports. “But, effective immediately, our subscription rate now will be $26 a month, with the first month free, which figures out to be under $24 a month for the next year, basically a 27 percent decrease in our current rate instead of a 12 percent increase.” …

Now that the election is over, the LaMarca law firm’s bills in the Chris Godfrey lawsuit are again making it to the Executive Council for approval. On the agenda for this week: $121,057.93. When (not if) approved, this will raise the amount of taxpayer money paid to the Governor’s lawyers to $648,140.93. It’s now pretty clear the firm’s bills will approach $1 million — or more — by the time the defamation, extortion and discrimination lawsuit goes to trial late next year. And, of course, if Godfrey wins the state will be responsible for the legal bills submitted by his lawyer, Roxanne Conlin. She is not known as a shy biller. The case, incidentally, was recently reassigned to Judge Brad McCall after a conflict arose causing Chief Judge Art Gamble to recuse himself. …

Brenna Findley, the governor’s lawyer, got married last Saturday to Bob Baird, a fellow graduate of the University of Chicago Law School. He proposed to her in July on the steps of the Capitol in Des Moines. The wedding was at All Saints Church in Stuart. “Brenna is awesome,” he says on the wedding website. He moved to Iowa from New York State a year ago. He quickly registered to vote as a Republican. …

Cityview joins those deeply saddened by the death of Freddy Lorber, who fled Austria as a young man, returned there as an American soldier in World War II, came back to America and built a life in Des Moines. He was smart and sweet and funny and generous and just a lovely human being. He was 91 when he died last week. CV

Comment: Ku Klux Klan

The University of Iowa, in its wisdom, a few days ago quickly removed from public view a faculty member’s sculpture made of newspaper clippings about the Ku Klux Klan. The 7-foot-tall sculpture was in the form of a cloaked and hooded Klansman.

The university called the display “divisive, insensitive, and intolerant.”

President Sally Mason apologized to one and all.

“For failing to meet our goal of providing a respectful, all-inclusive, educational environment, the university apologizes,” she said.

An apology was indeed called for.

Mason should have apologized for removing the statue.

It is not the university’s role to shield or protect students from what most people view as unpleasant facts, unpopular causes or unpalatable ideas. Universities are supposed to expose and expound and explain the unpleasant as well as the pleasant, the unpopular as well as the popular, the unpalatable as well as the palatable — isn’t that what Mason’s “all-inclusive” means? And that statue provided a great opportunity to do just that.

For the Ku Klux Klan is part of the history of this state. An unpleasant history, to be sure. But history nevertheless.

As World War I came to an end, the Klan rose in power throughout the South, burning crosses, lynching black people and spreading fear and hate — hate of blacks, hate of Jews, hate of Roman Catholics and hate of immigrants. It spread north, and it gained many followers in Iowa, in both the cities and the towns. It held parades in Des Moines and Ottumwa and other cities — long lines of hooded and white-sheeted men carrying American flags and the occasional cross, often at dusk.

A handbill for a Klan parade in Des Moines on June 12, 1926, noted it would be preceded by a picnic at the Fairgrounds. “The public is cordially invited,” the handbill said. And photos show a crowd watching the parade move through town. It included hundreds of sheeted marchers. Proudly among them: Police superintendent John W. Jenny.

Klan members were active in politics in the nation and in Iowa. They were heavily represented at the 16-day, 103-ballot 1924 Democratic convention — it was derisively known as the Klanbake — and they defeated a platform plank to condemn the Klan.

All this could have been a great subject for a campus forum or a history class or a public-radio discussion. Instead, President Mason is appointing a committee “to advise me on options including strengthening cultural competency training and reviewing our implicit bias training, as we move forward.”

I don’t know what that means. But it doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of free speech. CV

— Michael Gartner

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