Wall Street Journal | Wisconsin Supreme Court to Hear Marquette Professor’s Free-Speech Case
Lawsuit asks to decide if blog post was protected academic debate or internet trolling
Courts have ruled that professors at public universities have robust First Amendment protections. But legal experts say faculty at private institutions—like Marquette, a Catholic school—don’t have inherent free-speech rights unless specified in their employment contracts. Private universities often do protect academic speech to support discourse on even controversial topics.
Marquette is among such schools. Its faculty handbook says that in presentations or writings not directly related to academic work, professors “should at all times be accurate” and “should exercise appropriate restraint.”
A 123-page report from the school’s Faculty Hearing Committee in January 2016 concluded that Dr. McAdams “clearly and substantially violated the norms of the scholarship profession by recklessly and unjustifiably, albeit indirectly, causing harm to his junior colleague.”
The university’s president, Michael Lovell, accepted the faculty recommendation of giving Dr. McAdams two semesters unpaid leave; he also said Dr. McAdams needed to express remorse and acknowledge that his blog post didn’t align with the university’s mission and values. Dr. McAdams hasn’t yet done so and remains suspended without pay, according to the school.
Dr. McAdams and his attorney, Rick Esenberg of the libertarian Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, have framed the case as one about silencing conservative faculty members.