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The Travesty of Due Process at Marquette

As we announced last week, Marquette University is moving to revoke the tenure of professor John McAdams and fire him from the Marquette faculty because of opinions and criticisms voiced on his blog, Marquette Warrior. The controversial decision was triggered by McAdams’s criticism of a graduate instructor, who he felt wrongly suppressed the expression of certain opinions in her “Theory of Ethics” philosophy course. After the blog post gained widespread media attention, Marquette unilaterally suspended McAdams, and on January 30 it informed him that it intended to revoke his tenure in response to his writing.

In this first of a three-part series of Torch entries, I will outline the many reasons why we should all feel deeply worried by Marquette’s attempt to terminate McAdams and the manner in which it has proceeded. This post will focus on the alarming due process deficiencies of McAdams’s case, which have been criticized by both FIRE and the American Association of University Professors.

To start, when Marquette suspended McAdams on December 16, it did not notify him either of any alleged policy violations or the action the school was contemplating taking. Both of these are explicitly required by Section 307.03 of Marquette’s Faculty Handbook, which makes clear that any notice of suspension should be accompanied by:

(1) The statute allegedly violated; the date of the alleged violation; the location of the alleged violation; a sufficiently detailed description of the facts constituting the violation including the names of the witnesses against the faculty member.

(2) The nature of the University’s contemplated action, with a specification of the date or dates upon which such action is to become effective with respect to faculty status, duties, salary, and benefit entitlements, respectively.

[Emphases added.]

How did Marquette get around these clear requirements? It lied to the public about the nature of the action it had taken against McAdams. In public statements, a spokesperson for Marquette claimed that McAdams had not been suspended, but that his conduct was simply “under review.” This same spokesperson claimed that the university’s “definition of suspension is without pay.”

This is simply false. Section 307.02 of the Faculty Handbook states that “[i]n all cases of nonrenewal, suspension or termination,” faculty salary and benefits are to be paid “for a period of at least thirty days after the cause arises.” (McAdams has been suspended with pay.) Marquette effectively, for public purposes, conjured up a nonexistent authority to justify banishing tenured faculty members indefinitely, without affording them the due process Marquette policies otherwise require.

Marquette didn’t merely suspend McAdams, of course. Marquette also banned McAdams from campus, prohibiting him from entering except with the university’s advance permission. And despite the fact that it had not charged him with any faculty policy violations, it cancelled his spring semester classes two days after suspending him. Finally, it implied to the public, through statements released to local media, that McAdams had harassed the student instructor and was banned from the campus because he was considered a threat to physical safety. Marquette president Michael R. Lovell, in a December 17 statement on McAdams’s suspension, wrote:

As stated in our harassment policy, the university will not tolerate personal attacks or harassment of or by students, faculty and staff.

And as Fox6Now reported on January 12, Marquette also stated:

The safety of our students and campus community is our top priority. The university has a policy in which it clearly states that it does not tolerate harassment and will not stand for faculty members subjecting students to any form of abuse, putting them in harm’s way. We take any situation where a student’s safety is compromised extremely seriously.

Though Marquette was fine smearing McAdams with these insinuations, it never charged McAdams with either harassment or making threats in this case, and it never produced any proof to suggest he was guilty of either. (It did, though, declare McAdams to be directly responsible for the actions of third parties who harassed and threatened the student, a grave distortion of free speech principles that will be discussed in my next post.)

To sum up Marquette’s due process failures, the university suspended him in violation of its own policies, publicly misrepresented the nature of his suspension, cancelled his next semester’s classes even as McAdams remained in the dark about Marquette’s justification for doing so, and publicly tarnished him as a menace to public safety without a shred of supporting evidence. No one concerned for fundamental fairness in campus proceedings should be okay with the extent to which Marquette has flouted its obligations in McAdams’s case.

It would not be until January 30, six weeks after McAdams’s suspension, that Marquette would notify McAdams of its intent to revoke his tenure. As I’ll illustrate in my next post, its justification for this harshest of punishments relied in part on subversions of free speech principles so severe as to render Marquette’s promises of freedom of expression practically meaningless.

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