Wisconsin’s Attorney General Brad Schimel has filed an amicus brief with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in support of Marquette University Professor John McAdams’ lawsuit against the university.
According to a statement from the attorney general’s office, “Wisconsin’s brief supports Professor John McAdams’ First Amendment claims in the case, which offers the court an opportunity to guarantee academic freedom in Wisconsin and to adopt a comprehensive doctrinal framework for First Amendment academic-speech claims.”
In the statement, Schimel explains why the state of Wisconsin has an interest in the McAdams case.
“The state’s university system, with over 175,000 students and 39,000 faculty, has a longstanding tradition of support for academic freedom,” said Schimel. “The State of Wisconsin has a direct interest in the outcome of this case and any academic-speech framework the State Supreme Court may adopt as the result.”
McAdams’ struggle to get his teaching position back at Marquette University is now over three years old, but he is hoping that this spring the Wisconsin Supreme Court will finally put him back in the classroom.
McAdams was suspended indefinitely 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 about the incident went viral, Abbate said she received a number of harassing emails, and McAdams was suspended. Following an investigation, a 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 extra requirements before McAdams could be reinstated. McAdams refused to comply, effectively ending his employment at Marquette, and he sued the university to get his job back.
A Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruled against McAdams, deferring to the judgment of the faculty committee. Attorneys at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), who are representing McAdams in the case, appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court saying Marquette University should not be the sole decider of the meaning of academic freedom in McAdams’ contract as that would render the term “academic freedom” meaningless.
The state’s brief, according to Schimel’s statement, says “that the First Amendment protects academic expression that touches on matters of public concern, including speech about the basic purposes of postsecondary teaching.”
“Marquette University is a private institution that has chosen to afford First Amendment protections to its faculty,” the attorney general’s office said. “The university’s interests as an employer do not outweigh Professor McAdams’ First Amendment right.”
The attorney general’s support was welcomed by McAdams’ attorneys.
“We welcome the support of the Attorney General for academic freedom,” said Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel for WILL in an email Tuesday. “The AG’s brief demonstrates that – even if you compare this case to a somewhat narrower view of free speech protection than that Marquette promises Dr. McAdams – that his speech was clearly protected.”
Esenberg agreed with Schimel about the importance of the case to academic freedom.
“There is simply no possible view of academic freedom or the First Amendment in which a professor’s accurate or good faith comment on a matter of great public concern is not protected,” Esenberg said. “Universities simply don’t do what Marquette did here and the Attorney General, representing the interest and experiences of the University of Wisconsin, recognized that.”Follow all of the developments in the McAdams case by clicking here to subscribe to the Daily RightWisconsin Update – free.