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Waiting game goes on for professor caught in Marquette speech battle

By   /   March 31, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Watchdog

MADISON, Wis. – There aren’t many academicians who know more about John F. Kennedy’s assassination than John McAdams.

The Marquette University political science professor wrote the book on the conspiracy theories surrounding the 35th president’s public murder — and the web page.

His work, described as “impressively comprehensive,” has spanned a 40-year academic career, most of which he has spent at Marquette.

Photo courtesy of prouty.org

IN LIMBO: Marquette University political science professor John McAdams continues to await the outcome of a process that could end with the termination of his tenure – part of a nationally watched speech and academic freedom battle.

This nationally respected professor’s career, however, remains in limbo, some say subject to assassination by Marquette administration.

Now McAdams’ professional fate, in large part, rests in the hands of a jury of his peers presiding over one of the more intriguing speech- and academic-freedom cases to confront a U.S. college campus.

“Well . . . the limbo is not good, but I am still collecting my salary, and my fringe benefits, so I’m not in huge distress,” McAdams wrote in a recent email to Wisconsin Watchdog.

McAdams says he’s hoping for the best from Marquette’s Faculty Hearing Committee, but if the advisory panel decides the administration should cut the professor’s tenure and fire him, McAdams says his next step will be a lawsuit.

McAdams has been on paid suspension and ordered to stay off campus since November, when the political conservative and frequent critic of Marquette administration criticized in his blog a graduate student teacher who wouldn’t allow a student in her philosophy class to voice his opposition on same-sex marriage.

In early February, the university began the process to terminate his tenure.

McAdams revealed his pending firing on his blog, posting a copy of a letter sent to him by Richard Holz, dean of the Marquette University College of Arts and Sciences.

The 15-page letter, dated Jan. 30, notes the Milwaukee Jesuit school’s “objectives are understood against the backdrop” of its Catholic mission and vision.

“Because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive, Marquette is open to all who share its mission and seek the truth about God and the world,” Holz wrote in his Dear John letter. “Academic freedom is the necessary precondition for that search, and accordingly Marquette welcomes and benefits enormously from the diversity of seekers within our ranks, even as we freely choose and celebrate our own Catholic identity.”

Apparently such academic freedom does not include McAdams’ criticism of Marquette teachers and administration.

“Therefore, in accord with Section 307.03, we are commencing as of this date the procedures for revoking your tenure and dismissing you from the faculty,” Holz stated in the letter.

“My lawyer thinks it’s unlikely that, even if things go my way, that I’ll be restored to my normal status by this coming fall semester,” McAdams said.

His lawyer is Rick Esenberg, founder and president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, a Milwaukee-based public interest law firm.

The controversy isn’t a First Amendment question per se, Esenberg has said. Private institutions can fire whom they please. But the veteran professor is protected by a contract, which in turn protects faculties’ academic freedom — principally speech.

“Their contract says you can’t be terminated for speech that would otherwise be protected by the U.S. Constitution. Marquette has obligated itself, and I think wisely, to academic expression. Now it’s time to live up to that commitment,” Esenberg said in a February Wisconsin Watchdog story.

But it appears Marquette, or at least its administration, is sticking to its guns.

Marquette President Michael R. Lovell has said he will not disclose further details of the proceedings until all “procedures required under university rules and policies are complete.”

“As our president notes, the decisions here have everything to do with our Guiding Values and expectations of conduct toward each other and nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, or same-sex marriage,” wrote Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog. “Debate and intense discussion are at the heart of who we are as a university, but they must be balanced with respect.”

Lovell said he doesn’t believe McAdams was being collegial when he wrote on his blog that philosophy teaching assistant Cheryl Abbate should have spent more time addressing varying opinions on gay marriage instead of dismissing them as “homophobic” and shutting them down.

Abbate has since left the school to pursue a doctoral degree in philosophy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Marquette officials have said as a result of McAdams’ “unilateral, dishonorable, and irresponsible decision to publicize” the student teacher’s name, Abbate received a “series of hate-filled and despicable” emails.

McAdams has received an outpouring of support from First Amendment groups across the country, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, known as FIRE.

“If Marquette can fire a tenured professor for criticizing a fellow teacher on a blog, then tenure at Marquette is worthless, as are freedom of speech and academic freedom,” FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley said in a column posted in Feburary.

FIRE recently published “Free speech on campus: The 10 worst offenders of 2014” in the Huffington Post. Guess who made the list?

“Marquette University’s chilling campaign to revoke the tenure of political science professor John McAdams due to writings on his private blog ensures its place on this year’s list,” FIRE writes. “Marquette’s disregard of due process and its incredible denial that its campaign against McAdams’s tenure implicates free speech or academic freedom in any way should frighten anyone concerned about faculty rights. Indeed, if the university succeeds in removing McAdams, free speech and academic freedom will lose whatever meaning they had at Marquette.”

McAdams still is fighting. He notes the “worst offenders” list on his blog, Marquette Warrior.

“Featured, of course, is Marquette, and its attempt to fire us for a blog post that the politically correct crowd did not like,” the professor writes.

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M.D. Kittle is bureau chief of Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment Reporter for Watchdog.org. Kittle is a 25-year veteran of print, broadcast and online media. He is the recipient of several awards for journalism excellence from The Associated Press, Inland Press, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, and others. He is also a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors. Kittle's extensive series on Wisconsin's unconstitutional John Doe investigations was the basis of a 2014 documentary on Glenn Beck's TheBlaze. His work has been featured in Town Hall, Fox News, NewsMax, and other national publications, and his reporting has been cited by news outlets nationwide. Kittle is a fill-in talk show host on the Jay Weber Show and the Vicki McKenna Show in Milwaukee and Madison.