The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Marquette University must reinstate a professor — John McAdams (shown above) — who it fired after he called out a student instructor for the way a gay marriage debate was handled in her class.
“The undisputed facts show 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 majority said in its ruling.
John McAdams, the professor, brought the lawsuit. He ran afoul of the university in 2014 after he named the student instructor in a blog post criticizing the way student opposition to gay marriage was shut down in her class, as the Associated Press reported.
The state’s high court ruled Marquette must reinstate McAdams, since the professor’s contract contains safeguards for intellectual freedom.
The university, for its part, had argued McAdams was not terminated over his blog post’s content — but because he named the student instructor in his post.
“Had he written the exact same blog post and not included the student-teacher’s name and contact information, he would not have been disciplined,” said Ralph Weber, Marquette’s attorney. “He’s being disciplined for his conduct, not any viewpoint.”
McAdams’ lawyer, Rick Esenberg, contended the university’s argument was “fundamentally dishonest,” and that the professor linked to “publicly available information,” as reported by the AP.
The Marquette Warrior, the professor’s conservative blog (published since October 2002), ran a series of posts in November of 2014 that discussed the classroom incident.
A November 9 post titled, “Marquette Philosophy Instructor: ‘Gay Rights’ Can’t Be Discussed in Class Since Any Disagreement Would Offend Gay Students,” named the instructor in question as Cheryl Abbate.
“A student we know was in a philosophy class (‘Theory of Ethics’), and the instructor (one Cheryl Abbate) was attempting to apply a philosophical text to modern political controversies. So far so good,” McAdams wrote.
“She listed some issues on the board, and came to ‘gay rights,'” McAdams continued. “She then airily said that ‘everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it,'” he added.
The professor continued with his criticism of how the instructor purportedly handled the classroom debate.
“The student, a conservative who disagrees with some of the gay lobby’s notions of ‘gay rights’ (such as gay marriage) approached her after class and told her he thought the issue deserved to be discussed,” he wrote. “Indeed, he told Abbate that if she dismisses an entire argument because of her personal views, that sets a terrible precedent for the class.”
The instructor, Abbate, allegedly faced a hostile academic environment after the professor’s blog post.
“The threats were bad enough that the university posted a security officer outside of her classroom and she noticeably lost weight,” according to the AP. “The graduate student eventually moved to another university, where she had to repeat three semesters and revise her PhD thesis.”
McAdams, however, appeared on “The Ingraham Angle” on Fox News in April and refuted this version of events.
“It’s unfortunate that she got some really nasty emails,” McAdams told host Laura Ingraham. “Although she had gotten no threats. Marquette claims that she got threats, but she admitted in one of her own blog posts that she had gotten no threats.”
It appears Abbate’s blog archive has been deleted. Abbate is a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she’s writing a dissertation on the philosophy of animal rights. She’s written a number of peer-reviewed publications.
McAdams posted to his blog later that in November 2014, in a post titled, “Politically Correct Marquette Faculty Attack Marquette Warrior,” several university faculty were publicly criticizing him over his handling of the matter. The blog post then listed eight Marquette faculty members.
“Out over the weekend, a nasty attack on this blog by several Marquette Arts & Sciences Department chairs — and signed onto by a handful of Marquette faculty — posted on a blog that has been dedicated, for the last few days, to harassing us,” McAdams wrote.
“It resulted from our reporting of the misconduct of a Philosophy Department instructor who told a student who wanted to discuss gay marriage in class that his views were ‘homophobic,’ and that any airing of opposition to gay marriage should not be allowed, since it would ‘offend’ any gay students in the class,” McAdams’ post continued.
McAdams was suspended after the November 2014 blog post. He did not return to work; he was told he’d need to write a confidential letter apologizing to the student instructor, the AP reported.
The conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty noted that Marquette President Michael Lovell went beyond the recommendation of a faculty hearing committee in his request for the apology letter; the recommendation was that McAdams be suspended for a semester or two without pay.
“This is Stalinist stuff. I’m not going to apologize.”
The university not only suspended him, it gave him a few days to issue a “Soviet-style admission of wrongdoing or be fired,” the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty said.
“They told me they would reinstate me if I apologized and promised to conform to Marquette’s supposed ‘guiding values,'” McAdams told Laura Ingraham in April. “Of course, I think I am more loyal to Marquette’s guiding values than the administration of Marquette University. But of course, this is Stalinist stuff,” he added. “I’m not going to apologize.”
Marquette University characterizes the conditions for McAdams returning to work differently.
“As President Lovell explained in his call for decency, John McAdams was asked to take responsibility for his actions and to privately express regret for the harm suffered by our student teacher,” the statement reads. “In response, John McAdams said he would do so ‘when hell freezes over.'”
“John McAdams was never asked to make a public apology and was never asked to apologize for any opinion or political view he may hold,” the university added.
While conservatives hail the reinstatement of McAdams as a victory for intellectual freedom, the court was divided along ideological lines. Conservative justices condemned the university for “unacceptable bias,” while liberal justices decried the ruling as “far reaching.”
This looks like a quite sweeping victory for the professor and for academic freedom. Amazing dissent basically says the college’s academic freedom should permit it to violate the professor’s academic freedom and override his contract. https://t.co/ngvIq3KwSL
— Brit Hume (@brithume) July 6, 2018
“This looks like a quite sweeping victory for the professor and for academic freedom,” commented Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume.