WILL Press Release | Judge Rules Against Professor John McAdams in Dispute with Marquette University over Tenure, Academic Freedom
Vows to appeal decision upholding Marquette’s decision to terminate him
May 4, 2017 – Milwaukee, WI – In a 33-page ruling today, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge David Hansher found that Marquette University had the legal right to terminate tenured political science professor, Dr. John McAdams. The judge treated the Marquette committee that sat in judgment of McAdams as the equivalent of a neutral, third-party arbitrator, adopting its reasoning and conclusions wholesale. McAdams has already vowed to appeal the ruling.
In November, 2014, McAdams shared a story on his blog, Marquette Warrior, of an undergraduate student who had been told by a graduate student instructor, Cheryl Abbate, that he could not express his disagreement with same-sex marriage in her theory of ethics class because doing so would be homophobic and offensive. The story went national, resulting in a lot of bad press for Marquette.
In response, Marquette summarily suspended McAdams from his teaching duties and banned him from campus, then initiated proceedings to revoke his tenure and fire him. An internal faculty hearing committee (FHC) was convened to judge the dispute, but it suffered from serious procedural flaws, as Marquette withheld evidence from McAdams and allowed a clearly-biased professor to sit on the FHC. The FHC eventually recommended McAdams be suspended for two semesters. Instead, Marquette President Michael Lovell suspended McAdams indefinitely without pay unless he issued a written apology for his behavior – effectively firing him.
Judge Hansher adopted the FHC’s cramped and unsupported view of academic freedom and the First Amendment. He concluded that because naming Abbate could conceivably bring negative attention to her, McAdams was prohibited from doing so.
“No college professor in Wisconsin has any real protection if that’s the standard,” explained Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel of WILL. “If a professor can be held responsible for the actions of every person who reads or even hears about what the professor writes, then they have no protections at all. By that standard, every professor who was publicly critical of McAdams should be fired too.”
Tom Kamenick, Deputy Counsel at WILL, sharply criticized the court’s decision to defer to Marquette’s own internal committee: “When two parties to a contract disagree about its application, courts cannot simply let one side decide how to interpret it. That’s like saying an employee who brings a sexual harassment complaint against another employee has to abide by the employer’s internal review that finds no wrong-doing occurred.”
The court also found no problem with Marquette allowing a clearly-biased member to sit on the FHC. Professor Lynn Turner signed an open letter shortly after the controversy broke out condemning McAdams and concluding he had violated his professional responsibilities. McAdams asked that she be removed, but the FHC refused. The court decided that as long as the FHC had considered the request, that was good enough – it didn’t matter how biased she was.
“This is another example of the increasing unwillingness of colleges to stand up for free speech. Hardly a day passes without an example of a speaker being shouted down, or disinvited, or a student being punished for some innocuous (but politically incorrect) comment on social media,” commented Dr. McAdams.
“This is just another step in a long process,” said Esenberg. “As Ronald Reagan said, ‘Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.’ We will take this case as far as it needs to be taken to vindicate McAdams’ – and all professors’ – rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom.”
Background on the case can be found here.