Professor John McAdams’ lawsuit to get his job back at Marquette University got a boost Monday when the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear his case.
“We are pleased that the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear our case on behalf of John McAdams,” said Rick Esenberg, President and General Counsel at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). “It is very important to have clarification on this important issue and I’m glad that John will have his day in court sooner than later.”
Esenberg and WILL said they asked the court to take the case because “there is no binding precedent on the question of how far academic freedom extends.”
“A ruling from the court will also provide a standard for the rights of professors at UW System schools and private universities and colleges that also promise their faculty academic freedom,” according to a WILL press release.
McAdams was indefinitely suspended by the university in 2014 after a post on his blog, The Marquette Warrior, criticized philosophy instructor and graduate student Cheryl Abbate. In a recorded conversation, Abbate told a student at the Catholic university she would not allow discussion of viewpoints critical of same-sex marriage in her class. When McAdams’ blog post went “viral,” Abbate received a number of harassing emails.
McAdams, a nationally recognized expert on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, appealed to a faculty committee, saying the academic freedom mentioned in his contract protected his right to free speech. The faculty committee issued a report in January 2016 recommending unpaid suspension for McAdams through the fall 2016 semester.
However, Marquette University President Michael Lovell added three requirements before McAdams could be reinstated: McAdams would have to accept the judgment of his peers, commit to the standards of higher education at Marquette, and acknowledge that his blog post was reckless and incompatible with Marquette’s mission. He was also expected to express regret for the alleged harm suffered by Abbate.
McAdams refused, effectively ending his employment at Marquette. A Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruled in March against McAdams when he sued to get his job back, deferring to the judgment of the faculty committee that McAdams should not have named Abbate in his blog post because of the emails that were sent afterward. WILL contends that the faculty committee, “suffered from serious procedural flaws, as Marquette withheld evidence from McAdams and allowed a clearly-biased professor” to serve on the committee.
Marquette University issued a statement claiming to welcome the review by the Supreme Court.
Our position on this matter has not changed. A faculty member’s reckless internet attack on one of our Marquette students is unacceptable. Furthermore, we remain deeply concerned about the attention that Dr. McAdams continues to focus on our former graduate student, exposing her personal contact information as recently as last month. These troubling actions show that he either cares nothing about exposing her to additional harassment, or is actively trying to expose her to additional harassment, more than two years after she left Marquette.
Marquette University did not explain how McAdams could continue his lawsuit or defend himself without mentioning Abbate.
Marquette’s treatment of McAdams has received national attention as an important case in the discussion of academic freedom and campus free speech. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has twice listed Marquette University as one of the ten worst colleges for free speech because of the McAdams case, and the organization has been critical of other free speech issues at the university.
The case has also recently been featured in National Review, the Washington Post, and an editorial in the Wall Street Journal. Lovell and McAdams both had letters debating the professor’s firing published in the Wall Street Journal.
George Leaf, writing for the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, even suggests “McAdamsed” becomes the term for the unfair punishment of a university professor being denied academic freedom in the same way “Borked” applies to judges.
McAdams appeared on an episode of RightWisconsin Conversations discussing the case and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.