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Professor to face his peers soon in Marquette University academic freedom fight

By   /   September 8, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

MILWAUKEE — John McAdams’ long legal limbo may soon be coming to an end.

The nationally acclaimed Marquette University political science professor at the center of one of the more closely followed academic freedom battles will finally have his day before his peers later this month.

Marquette’s Faculty Hearing Committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 21 to weigh whether McAdams should be stripped of his tenure for a blog post he wrote in November that criticized a graduate student teacher who told a student he couldn’t discuss his opposition to gay marriage in her class. The instructor reportedly insisted that discussing opposition to same-sex marriage may offend gay students in her class.

Photo by Prouty.org

TAINTED JUSTICE? Marquette University political science professor John McAdams is concerned that the process to determine whether he keeps or loses his academic tenure may be weighted against him.

The committee’s decision isn’t binding, but should it side with McAdams, the advisory ruling would “give Marquette (administration) a good excuse to step back off the ledge,” as the associate professor put it.

“If the committee comes down against me, Marquette will surely fire me and then, of course, a lawsuit will follow,” McAdams told Wisconsin Watchdog Friday on the Jay Weber Show, on News/Talk 1130 WISN.

McAdams, a conservative who has been highly critical of some of the Jesuit school’s policies and teaching methods over the years, believes the deck is stacked against him.

“There are two people on the hearing committee who shouldn’t be there,” McAdams said. “In one case, it’s a communications professor who signed a letter condemning me. In other words, she’s already made up her mind. In another case, a former provost I’ve blogged about and have been critical of clearly has skin in the game. Will they recuse?”

McAdams also claims the Milwaukee private university has concealed “a fair amount” of evidence from his lawyers, failing to comply with its own statutes on the production of evidence.

“Unless Marquette straightens up and decides to fly right, the process looks tainted at the moment,” the professor said.

RELATED: Waiting game goes on for professor caught in Marquette speech battle

Brian Dorrington, senior director of University Communication, in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog said Marquette “has been and will be complying in all respects with the faculty statutes.”

“Any suggestion otherwise is flatly wrong,” he added.

Given the personnel matter, Dorrington said Marquette does not have more information to share.

While McAdams may face some opposition among his peers on campus, he has garnered plenty of supporters nationally from defenders of academic freedom on college campuses.

Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer for The Atlantic, in February urged academics nationwide to denounce the move to fire McAdams.

“If tenure can be taken away based upon one controversial blog post, what protection does it offer? How many tenured professors will censor themselves from participating in public conversation to avoid a similar fate?” he pondered.

Marquette’s campaign to revoke McAdams tenure landed the university on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s “10 Worst Offenders of 2014” list.

“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,” the foundation wrote in a piece published in March in the Huffington Post. “Indeed, if the university succeeds in removing McAdams, free speech and academic freedom will lose whatever meaning they had at Marquette.”

Marquette claims its long-time political science professor stands accused of violating the university’s “Guiding Values and expectations of conduct toward each other and nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, or same-sex marriage.”

“Debate and intense discussion are at the heart of who we are as a university, but they must be balanced with respect,” Dorrington wrote in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog in late March.

McAdams has been on paid suspension and ordered to stay off campus since November, when he blogged his criticisms about the graduate student teacher.

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, noted the Milwaukee Jesuit school’s “objectives are understood against the backdrop” of its Catholic mission and vision.

McAdams acknowledges private universities can prohibit certain speech, but they have to abide by the rules they make.

“Marquette’s statutes, which are explicitly incorporated into our contracts, provide strong support for academic freedom, really as strong as what exists at (the University of Wisconsin-) Madison, where the First Amendment applies,” he said. “They in essence have guaranteed academic freedom contractually.”

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.