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Marquette says John McAdams’ suspension to continue until he apologizes

By   /   January 15, 2017  /   News  /   No Comments

WAUKESHA, Wis.- Another semester is about to begin at Marquette University, and an academic freedom case that has gathered national attention continues to keep Professor John McAdams from doing what he loves most: teaching.

A Jan. 12 letter from Marquette’s legal counsel, Ralph Weber, says McAdams will continue to remain suspended because he refuses to apologize for a blog post criticizing another instructor who wouldn’t tolerate an opposing opinion on same-sex marriage in her class. 

“Dr. McAdams thus far has made clear he does not accept the standard of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties and therefore will not provide the necessary acknowledgements and commitments,” Weber wrote.

Watchdog.org file photo

FIGHT FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM: Professor John McAdams will remain suspended from Marquette University until he apologizes, according to a recent university letter. His legal counsel says the professor will be vindicated in court.

In a statement Friday, Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), which is representing McAdams, said the fight will continue in the courtroom.  

“We believe that Marquette has effectively discharged Professor McAdams for accurate and civil (if pointed) speech on a matter of great public and institutional interest,” said Esenberg, “This violates his contractual rights of personal expression and academic freedom. We look forward to vindicating John’s rights – and the rights of all dissenters at Marquette – in court.”

Marquette spokesman Brian Dorrington did not respond directly to the latest development. Instead he referred to a university statement made when McAdams was suspended and the faculty report asking for McAdams’ suspension.

McAdams was originally put on paid suspension in December 2014 after a blog post he wrote on his website, “Marquette Warrior,” criticized philosophy instructor and graduate student Cheryl Abbate for refusing to allow a discussion of viewpoints critical of same-sex marriage in her class at the Catholic university. The university moved to fire McAdams after the blog post went “viral” and Abbate received disturbing email. Abbate left Marquette shortly after for the doctoral program at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

McAdams, a nationally recognized expert on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, appealed to a faculty committee saying that the academic freedom in his contract protected his right to free speech. The committee issued a report in January 2016 recommending unpaid suspension for McAdams through the fall semester.

The letter from Weber reiterated the extra conditions placed on McAdams by university President Michael Lovell before he can be reinstated: “(1) acknowledgement and acceptance of the judgment of his peers; (2) affirming and committing to adherence to the standards of higher education at Marquette; and (3) acknowledgement that his blog post was reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette, and expressing regret for the harm suffered by Ms. Abbate.”

McAdams responded to Lovell’s demands in a five-page letter last April.

“If you fire me for failing to make the statements you demand, you will be committing yet another violation of the due process and the academic freedom provisions of the faculty statutes.,” McAdams said.

Lovell’s actions have placed Marquette University on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s list of Ten Worst Universities for Free Speech.

With WILL providing legal counsel, McAdams filed suit in May for breach of contract seeking to be reinstated at the university in an academic freedom case that is being watched nationally. For McAdams, the case is not about the money.

“There is no amount of money that they could offer me to get me to walk away,” he said in an interview Friday. “If they offered me $5 million, I don’t need $5 million.” 

“It really is a matter of principle. I’m not going to let the bastards get rid of me,” McAdams said.

SEE RELATED: Marquette prof recognized for being ‘unintimidated’

On Feb. 2, Judge David Hansher will decide on motions from both sides in the case for summary judgment. If the case continues, motions will be heard on May 11 and the case is scheduled for a jury trial beginning June 19.

“It’s been two whole years that I’ve missed and it’ll be at least another semester,” McAdams said.

In the meantime, McAdams has not been in a classroom with students or allowed to use university facilities for his research. He said he’s spending his time reviewing books about the Kennedy assassination and reading Facebook.

“It’s hard to get any really scholarly projects started when I’m isolated from my office,” McAdams said. “And of course, there’s always the uncertainty. There’s always, I don’t know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen,” McAdams said. “Then there’s the time involved with legal matters.”

“Between all that, I’m sort of in limbo,” McAdams said. “It’s no fun being in limbo.”


James Wigderson is a Wisconsin-based reporter for Watchdog. He is also an online contributor to MacIver Institute and RightWisconsin, blogs at the Wigderson Library and Pub, and was formerly an award-winning local columnist for the Waukesha Freeman. James is a member of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He lives in Waukesha, WI, with his wife Doreen and their children.