Marquette University and Professor John McAdams have reached a settlement, ending a nearly four-year battle over the definition of academic freedom guaranteed in McAdams’ contract. The settlement follows a victory for McAdams at the Wisconsin Supreme Court in July which put the professor back in the classroom after Marquette attempted to fire him over a blog post.
Rick Esenberg, the President of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) which represented McAdams, said in a release Friday that the professor’s reinstatement is now official. In addition, Marquette and McAdams have agreed to the amount of back pay owed and damages.
“With the settlement finalized, our client Professor John McAdams is finally reimbursed for back pay and damages and can return to the classroom and do what he does best – teach students,” WILL President and General Counsel Rick Esenberg said in the release.
McAdams is glad to be going back to the university that tried to fire him.
It’s good to be back doing what academics do – writing, researching and teaching – after three and a half years in exile,” McAdams said. “The fight was worth it, but if Marquette were the sort of university it should be, the fight would not have been necessary.”
The news comes as there are fresh worries that Marquette may seek other ways to clamp down on the conservative professor and anyone else that questions the Marquette administration. McAdams reported on his blog, the Marquette Warrior, on Thursday that the university’s faculty senate has a committee to consider the “balance of academic freedom and professional behavior,” as well as a working group to create a new policy on “cyberbullying.”
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court made clear that academic freedom is not just allowing popular notions a voice, but all ideas, even those that to some may seem controversial,” Esenberg said. “It would be very disappointing if Marquette University refused to learn its lesson and took actions to further suppress speech on campus.”
McAdams was indefinitely suspended by Marquette after a November 2014 commentary on his blog, The Marquette Warrior, criticized philosophy instructor and graduate student Cheryl Abbate for telling a student she would not allow discussion of viewpoints critical of same-sex marriage in her class. Abbate received a few unpleasant emails after the blog post went “viral,” and the administration accused McAdams of posting her personal information. McAdams did not, but linked to her public blog which had a page on how to contact her.
A faculty committee recommended in 2016 that McAdams be suspended through the following fall semester. Marquette President Michael Lovell added three additional requirements to be met before McAdams could be reinstated, including acceptance of the committee’s decision, acknowledgment that his blog post was reckless and incompatible with Marquette’s mission, and express regret for the alleged harm suffered by Abbate.
McAdams refused and sued for reinstatement to the university on the grounds that his contract guaranteed him academic freedom, including the protections of the 1st Amendment with the university. The case was decided by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in July with the court agreeing with McAdams that the university did promise the professor contractually that his free speech rights would be protected.
The case gained national attention as an important victory for academic freedom and free speech on college campuses.
Abbate transferred to the University of Colorado-Boulder to continue her PhD research, a university she applied to before the controversy began.
While being interviewed on WTMJ-AM, Esenberg estimated McAdams was owed by Marquette approximately $250,000. This follows on an estimate by McAdams that the university spent between $750,000 and $1 million just fighting the case.
McAdams will return to the classroom in the spring semester. This fall he is on a sabbatical from the university while he works on his next book, “60 Politically Incorrect Things You Should Know.”