WILL Objects to Marquette Suspenion on Behalf of Professor McAdams

Published on: December 23, 2014

Yesterday afternoon, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (“WILL”) asked Marquette University to abide by its own rules and to honor its commitment to academic freedom. On behalf of its client, John McAdams, WILL sent a letter to Marquette University raising serious legal issues with how it has treated Dr. McAdams.

Dr. McAdams recently received a letter from the Dean of the College of Letters and Science relieving him from his duties as a tenured member of Marquette’s faculty, banning him from campus and from any activity that would cause him to come into contact with any member of the Marquette community. The letter, taking a page from Franz Kafka’s The Trial, offered no explanation of what Dr. McAdams is alleged to have done or how it might violate any of the university’s rule and regulations. When Dr. McAdams asked for an explanation, he received no reply.

Suspending a faculty member without specification of what he or she has done wrong and the process for contesting the suspension violates Marquette’s Faculty Statutes. As WILL put it, the letter to Dr. McAdams says only that “he is being investigated for some unnamed event that might violate some unidentified requirement of the university to be found somewhere in one of several documents enclosed with the letter.” While Marquette now claims that Dr. McAdams has not been suspended because “suspension” means “without pay,” its Faculty Statutes say otherwise. All suspensions are with pay.

“When someone does not want to follow the rules or explain what he is doing, it’s generally a sign of a deeper problem,” said WILL President and General Counsel, Rick Esenberg. In this case, the problem seems to be the failure of the university to abide by its own guarantees of academic  freedom.

Subsequent statements from the university have made clear that the basis for the suspension is a blog post in which Dr. McAdams publicly criticized a graduate instructor in the Philosophy Department for telling a student that opposition to same sex marriage would be not be tolerated in her class because it would be considered offensive and homophobic. Dr. McAdams expressed the view that such statements were consistent with a regrettable trend on the left to dismiss disfavored views out of hand as “offensive” rather than debate them on the merits.

Suspension of Dr. McAdams for engaging in academic discourse would violate Section 306.03 of the Marquette’s Faculty Statutes, which prohibits suspension or termination for reasons that would impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action. “The point is not whether you agree or disagree about what should and should not be said in class or how you feel about same sex marriage,” said Esenberg. “It’s not even about whether Dr. McAdams could have or should have phrased his view differently,” he continued.  He explained that the University has committed itself to the robust exchange of ideas and it has promised its faculty that they will not be disciplined for participation in that exchange

WILL’s letter asks that Dr. McAdams suspension (or whatever other thing it might be) be rescinded and that he be restored to his duties. “I’m not in this for anything but academic freedom,” Dr. McAdams said. “I just want to remind Marquette of its own principles and promises and ask that they be followed.”