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Marquette Continues to Earn ‘Worst School’ for Free Speech Label With New Punishments for McAdams

A suspension through the fall 2016 semester and a compelled apology: that is the punishment reportedly imposed on Marquette University Professor John McAdams yesterday. The punishment stems from his 2014 online criticism of a graduate student instructor who told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage in her class at the Catholic university.

This development comes as the result of recommendations made to Marquette President Michael Lovell by a faculty hearing committee in January. However, according to a report today from Inside Higher Ed, a lawyer for McAdams claims that the faculty panel never recommended, in its confidential 123-page report, that McAdams apologize as a condition for his return to work—a condition that amounts to an age-old inquisitorial tactic used to violate freedom of conscience through compelled speech. That condition, it appears, was apparently imposed by the administration.

McAdams’ lawyer told IHE that the apology and admission of guilt must come within two weeks or his client will lose his job. According to IHE, a spokesman for the university refused to answer questions about the university president’s role in demanding an apology.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which has worked with McAdams on his case, had this to say about the details of the faculty committee’s confidential recommendations and the subsequent punishment:

The Committee found that Marquette had improperly suspended Dr. McAdams in violation of his due process rights under the Faculty Statutes and disagreed with the University’s desire to terminate him. It did recommend that he be suspended for one to two semesters, with benefits, but without pay.

In its lengthy report, the Faculty Hearing Committee gave lip service to academic freedom but made it subject to a multi-factor after-the-fact balancing test that would leave members of the university with no real guidance or protection other than the sufferance of their colleagues. In other words, University faculty retain freedom of speech only so far as their colleagues are willing to tolerate it.

FIRE has harshly criticized Marquette’s treatment of professor McAdams from the very beginning. FIRE wrote to Marquette early last year after the university suspended McAdams—who is a long-time critic of the administration—without due process, publicly insinuated that he could be a violent threat to the campus, and cancelled his classes. FIRE asked the university to immediately reinstate McAdams, now in his third semester of being banned from campus, and to respect his free speech and due process rights.

As a result of Marquette’s complete disregard for McAdams’ right to free speech and academic freedom, FIRE placed the university on its list of the worst colleges for free speech in each of the last two years. With Marquette’s latest unjust actions against McAdams, the university seems to be angling for permanent residence on our list.

The Backstory

On November 2014, McAdams, a tenured associate professor of political science, posted an entry on his Marquette Warrior blog describing a recorded conversation between an undergraduate student and the instructor for his “Theory of Ethics” philosophy course. The instructor, Cheryl Abbate, was recorded telling the student that the expression of certain opinions in class was inappropriate because those opinions may be considered offensive to other listeners. Abbate specifically cited the student’s stated opposition to same-sex marriage as a problem.

Abbate’s actions were criticized by readers of McAdams’ blog entry, and her alleged actions received widespread attention from national media. In response, Richard C. Holz, dean of Marquette’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, suspended McAdams.

The suspension letter stated that Marquette was “continuing to review [McAdams’s] conduct” and ordered him not to enter the Marquette campus except with advance permission from the university. Holz did not inform McAdams of any alleged policy violations justifying the suspension, as Marquette’s faculty policies require.

On December 18, Marquette cancelled McAdams’s spring semester classes, and McAdams has not taught a class since. In January 2015, the university announced that it would seek his termination. His appeal was heard by Marquette’s Faculty Hearing Committee in September.

While Marquette has not yet fired McAdams, the action announced yesterday punishes him for his expression and seeks to violate his conscience by demanding an apology for a wrong he does not believe he committed.

In FIRE’s January 30, 2015, letter, FIRE told Marquette that unilaterally suspending McAdams for the opinions expressed on his blog violated his freedom of speech and academic freedom rights. FIRE also pointed out Marquette’s multiple violations of faculty policies, noted its bogus public insinuations that McAdams constituted a threat to campus safety, and highlighted the severe threat to free speech posed by Marquette’s suggestion that McAdams was directly culpable for the actions of unknown individuals who allegedly harassed or threatened Abbate after reading his blog.

The American Association of University Professors also wrote a letter to the university, noting that the university’s actions had the “characteristics of a summary dismissal.” The letter also urged the university “to reach an arrangement with Professor McAdams which will return him to his teaching responsibilities.”

The Way Forward

FIRE is deeply concerned by the number of faculty members—many of whom are or were tenured—who have been investigated, or even fired, for their protected speech in recent years.

Andrea Quenette at the University of Kansas was placed on leave last year after numerous students filed discrimination complaints against her following a candid in-class discussion about timely racial issues. She was only cleared of those baseless charges this past week.

Earlier this year, two faculty members at Mount St. Mary’s University were fired after criticizing their university administration.

Dave Hillman at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota lost his job last year after allegedly helping a production of a school play keep true to its ancient origins.

Erika and Nicholas Christakis. Teresa BuchananLaura Kipnis. Alice Dreger. Chester Kulis. Patti Adler. The list goes on and on and on.

FIRE will continue to monitor McAdams’ situation and lend support to all faculty members, like McAdams, who become subject to official university inquisitions into their protected speech.

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