The Tale of Robert Jordan

How many in this room have ever been arrested?

Less than I thought I’ll be honest.

Last year I got my first DUI and it didn’t go great. Obviously.

I wasn’t that drunk, but I think I made it worse because I kinda challenged the arresting officer, which… don’t do that. The average police officer is challenged enough as it is.

As I was being arrested I was trying to tell him it reminded me of this story from years ago. I’ll see if I can remember it.

news anchor: (mic in hand)
Good evening, we’re currently outside the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals awaiting the results a bizarre suit in which a man is suing Connecticut’s New-London Police Department- for discrimination.

So, what’s his deal? You might be asking. Our investigation found he isn’t even black, or gay, in fact he isn’t the subject of a criminal investigation at all. Instead, this is the story of a man who applied to join the police force as an officer, and was rejected. The reason why, will shock you.

Let me ask you a question see if this tracks:
So Mary has 4 dozen chocolate chip cookies, three dozen peanut butter cookies, and one dozen sugar cookies. So how many cookies does Mary have?
20 cookies?
50 cookies?
96 cookies?

Here’s another,
A man is driving 360 miles to his destination, he wants to arrive in exactly six hours. Assuming he travels the same speed, the entire time, how fast does he need to drive?
20 miles an hour?
60 miles an hour?
100 miles an hour?

One more:
Provide the missing word in this sentence: The car blank over the road.
Is the word:

So these are real questions appearing in cognitive assessment called the Wonderlic Personnel Test, a kind of IQ test.

In the spring of 1996, it was administered to about 500 applicants to the New London Police Department, including a man named Robert Jordan, as part of a pre-employment screening process which included a physical fitness exam, drug test, background check and the usual.

Robert Jordan was 46 years old, and for some reason, decided at 46 to become a police officer. Obviously, Robert Jordan was no genius, but he was a decently intelligent man. He didn’t find the Wonderlic assessment especially challenging. Still, he took his time, and gave it his best.

When Robert’s application was rejected, he assumed it must be his age. He knew he’d performed well at the physical exam, that his criminal record was clean, that he was drug-free, and that the IQ test was easy.

Uncertain, he reached out for an explanation. And they replied casually, that he was rejected not for his age, but because he’d scored too high on the Wonderlic.

To give you some perspective, the average score for the Wonderlic Exam is about 20 points, that’s the top of the bell curve, a flat 100 IQ. Robert Jordan had scored 33 points, equivalent to an IQ of about 125.

The department’s reasoning came from the Wonderlic’s manual, which listed an array of professions, and some typical scores associated with them. It isn’t known the reason Wonderlic felt it necessary to explain why unimpressive scores are so ubiquitous to the police, but alongside this data they provided the following guidance:

“Caution against hiring overqualified applicants, as they may soon become bored with unchallenging work, and quit. That to hire high scoring candidates can be self-defeating.”

Keith Harrigan, Associate City Manager for New London, was quoted in the Associated Press as saying: and this is a 100% real quote:

“We don’t like to hire people that have too high an IQ to be cops in this city.”

Robert Jordan, who again, decently intelligent, but no genius, filed a suit against the city of New London asserting that his rejection amounted to discrimination against people with above average intelligence.

He proved through evidence that there is in fact no link whatsoever between intelligence and job satisfaction, that its entirely incorrect to say that intelligent people abandon unchallenging work.

The city court shot him down, the judge agreed that there was a quote ‘reasonable expectation that cops not be too intelligent.’

Flabbergasted, Robert Jordan appealed, and finally in the year 2000, the US 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York agreed to see the case. The trial was brief, and on August 23rd that same year they published their decision.

They found the city acted wholly unreasonably, that the rejection of top applicants was counter to the interests of the city of New London and its citizens, and entirely unfounded, citing Robert Jordan’s research.

In the fall, Robert Jordan joined the New London police force and became an exemplary officer.

Keith Harrigan, the same city administrator I quoted earlier: retired the following year, disgraced.

Robert served on the force for the next 15 years, achieving the rank of captain before his retirement in 2016.

The Court’s decision established a critical precedent, untangling the bizarre and toxic practice of refusing intelligent candidates to be police officers across the northeast united states.

And in 2023, following renewed interest in the case, Robert Jordan published a memoir of his experience, recounting the court battle, his heroic victory, and his time in uniform, titled: “That Test Wasn’t Even That Hard.”

Except, that’s not what happened.

new anchor: (with mic in hand)

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals found- quote:

“As plaintiff (Robert Jordan) concedes, there exists no fundamental right to employment as a police officer. We conclude that even absent a correlation between high IQ scores and job abandonment, it is enough that the city believed- on the basis of material prepared by the test maker, that there was such a connection. It matters not whether the city’s decision was correct, so long as it was rational. Given this, the city’s rejection of the plaintiff’s application is found not to be discriminatory, as the same standard is applied to all applicants equally. “

The court concluded that as long as the police rejected all high scoring applicants, that they were safe from claims of discrimination on that basis.

This is a true story, and a real precedent.

Anyway, when I explained all this to my arresting officer, he didn’t find it nearly as interesting.