John McAdams may have won his academic freedom battle against Marquette University this summer, but one might imagine that more than three years of campus banishment, the precarious status of his tenured political science professorship, and a nationally-watched Wisconsin Supreme Court case over whether Marquette could fire him for contentious posts on his personal blog would take some kind of toll.
“No, no, no.” McAdams deadpans in his trademark hard-nosed, unsentimental manner. He waves away questions about whether he suffered during his leave, which finally ended last month when Marquette grudgingly reinstated him. And he’s equally dismissive of questions about whether, for example, greeting the building secretary is awkward now. And about whether what happened to him still hurts.
“I’d feel hurt if I’d lost, but I won.”
“And,” he adds, nearly betraying a hint of delight at his good fortune, “there’s a different secretary.”
Beyond that, “everything looks familiar.”
That includes his office, which he found last month exactly as he left it in 2014 when Marquette, the private, Jesuit university in Milwaukee, forced McAdams into professorial purgatory, indefinitely suspending him from campus for writings on Marquette Warrior, his personal blog. McAdams, a longtime critic of “politically correct Leftists,” complained on the platform about a graduate student instructor who refused to allow classroom debate over the propriety of gay marriage. (She told a student that debate was settled.) After McAdams’ post garnered national attention, the instructor got harassing and threatening messages. Marquette blamed McAdams.
But in July, the Wisconsin Supreme Court handed him a resounding victory. After agreeing to the rare step of taking the case on bypass from an appeals court, the Court ruled McAdams’ personal writings were indeed protected by Marquette’s contractual promises of academic freedom.
“The undisputed facts show,” the court wrote, “that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom.”
The decision overturned that of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, which had sided with Marquette.
Now McAdams, whose first day back was August 17, is picking up where he left off, enjoying the sabbatical semester he says Marquette owed him during his suspension, and working on a new book, titled “60 Politically Incorrect Things You Should Know.”
McAdams says the biggest continuing threat to academic freedom at most college campuses comes from the “small cadre” of students and faculty — supported by top-heavy, bureaucratic administrations — who don’t want certain ideas discussed.
That observation seems to hold at Marquette, which issued a statement after McAdams’ win, standing by its assertion that McAdams’ “behavior crossed a line” and promising to “re-examine its policies, with the goal of providing every assurance possible that this never happens again.” Marquette’s choice of language suggests it may modify its faculty contracts to decrease their academic freedom.
“It sounds to me like they’re simply going to try to come up with a rule to shut me or anyone else who might be like me up,” McAdams says of the statement. “I don’t know to what extent they could get away with that,” noting that such an outcome is certainly possible because, while he personally “like[s] a good fight,” “there are not that many faculty who are likely to make waves.”
“A lot of faculty just keep their heads down and would keep their heads down no matter how secure their guarantee of academic freedom was simply because they just don’t want to be in the middle of controversy.”
“Now as for what students lose” at a university with administratively-prescribed ideological orthodoxy, “obviously they lose hearing different sides of the issue, and if they lose that, then it becomes not education, but indoctrination.”
McAdams says he’s excited to get back to the business of education in the spring, when he is set to resume teaching classes. Students appear to be eagerly anticipating his return as well.
McAdams says a reporter at Marquette’s student newspaper recently told him she had been “bombarded with texts” asking if McAdams is going to be “teaching [his] JFK assassination course again.”
“So that, at least, will be greeted with Hosannas from a lot of students.”
Asked if he’s gotten an undeserved reputation for being out-of-touch, or too outspoken over the last few years, McAdams is unflinching.
“Only a very few students think I say offensive things. You may run across a few here or there, but for the most part, students don’t think that,” he says. “There have been a lot more students who’ve rallied to my side than have attacked me.”
As for what lies ahead for the remainder of his tenure at Marquette, one thing is certain: He doesn’t plan to start self-censoring — in or out of the classroom.
“I think Marquette’s kind of ginger in dealing with me, because they know that if there’s any backlash,” he says, with only the slightest pause, “it’ll be on my blog.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated when McAdams would return to teaching. He returns this spring. Newsdesk regrets the error.