Putting the John McAdams Case in Some Context

I agree that John McAdams should not be suspended for his speech. Like his colleague Daniel McGuire, but from a much greater distance, I find little in his political views with which I agree. Moreover, although I think that the way in which he handled the situation with a graduate student, which led to his suspension, should have been handled much differently, I am very uneasy that an action such as that should be an offense that warrants the suspension, even with pay, of any faculty member, let alone one who has earned tenure.

(Please note, I am not going to provide links to all of the items that I mention in this post. If you are interested in reading any of the items, you can cut and paste the titles into the Google search box.)

The incident that led to the suspension is reported in Coleen Flaherty’s article for Inside Higher Ed “Marquette Professor Who Blogged about A TA’s Decisions In Class Is Suspended With Pay, Pending Inquiry” (12-18-2014), in Eugene Volokh’s article for the Washington Post “Marquette Suspends Prof’s Teaching, Orders Him Off Campus” (12-17-2014), and, closer to home, in Karen Herzog article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel “Marquette Expands on John McAdams Controversy” (12-18-2014). But the article with the most interesting slant may be Sarah Butler’s “A Rawls Brawl at Marquette University” posted on the blog USCatholic (12-26-2014).

Butler takes the side of the graduate student in this controversy, as do two posts to the blog the Daily Nous, “Response to McAdams’ Attack on Abbate” (12-02-2014) and “Philosophy Grad Student Target of Political Smear Campaign (Several Updates)” (12-18-2014).

In his blog First Things, Matthew Franck’s post “Behaving Badly at Marquette University” delineates the many ways in which just about everyone involved in this case seems to have made poor choices.

Not surprisingly, McAdams’ suspension has received much more Far-Right media attention than media attention in general. How nice to see the Far Right so aggrieved by this case when it has been equally vocal but on the other side of almost every other notable case involving academic freedom over this past decade.

The FOX affiliates in the Milwaukee area have carried repeated stories on the case, the transcripts of which have been posted to their websites. And here is a sampling of the Far-Right reporting on the case, from least to most inflammatory: from the Washington Times, Jessica Chasmar’s “Marquette Suspends Professor for Conservative Blog”; from The American Conservative, Rod Dreher’s cleverly titled “Snowflake Campus Banishes Crimethink Prof.”; from Freedom Eden, “Marquette Harasses John McAdams” (which should be—is—ironic given Mcadams’ general reputation—see below); from The College Fix, Greg Piper’s “Marquette Playing Word Games to Deny It’s Punishing Conservative Professor”; from Ben Shapiro’s TruithRevolt, “Marquette Suspends Conservative Professor for Exposing Totalitarian Leftist Faculty: Sit Down and Shut-Up.”

If you want some basic background on McAdams, you can go to his profile in Wikipedia (under “John C. McAdams), or to his own webpages, a blog called The Marquette Warrior, in which he has addressed the incident with the graduate student, at length, or a website devoted to JFK—The Kennedy Assassination Webpage.

Interestingly, before this latest incident, Kennedy-assassination conspiracy theorists have complained pointedly and at length about not just McAdams’ personal views on the assassination but about the ways in which he has engaged in very personalized attacks on those with different views: see Jim DiEugenio with Brian Hunt’s article “John McAdams and the Siege of Chicago”; “Who Is John McAdams” at the site jfkmurdersolved.com; and “John McAdams—Laughing Stock of the Internet,” which is sub-titled “He Is the Westboro Baptist Church of the JFK Research Community!”—and which includes an annotated list of links to many other sources on McAdams’ recent incident involving the graduate student, his more controversial past activities and associations.

McAdams is clearly the sort of person who has a special knack for rubbing people the wrong way—as Louis Weisberg asks in his article for the self-described progressive newspaper, the Wisconsin Gazette, “Has Marquette University Grown Weary of John McAdams’ Right-Wing Shenanigans.”

Indeed, as Daniel Maguire suggests in yesterday’s post to this blog, McAdams seems a distinctly unlikeable person to have to defend. I have to admit that I myself think that most Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories reveal more about those promoting the theories than about the assassination itself, but I am very certain that if I were at a conference at which the issue were being discussed, I would be loath to be associated with John McAdams.

Nonetheless, if McAdams comes off as extremely annoying, or even as a crackpot who discredits his own ideas, he should be given the freedom to do so.

If he has violated university policies and procedures in his handling of this situation with the graduate student, he should be disciplined appropriately for that. But there has to be considerably more to this case than what I have seen for me to believe that it warrants a suspension. An institution cannot responsibly respond so strongly simply or largely to the cumulative evidence that someone is a crank.

Doing so, ironically, almost inevitably gives some credibility to the crank that he or she would not otherwise have.

Doing so, almost inevitably gives any administrator the right to target any faculty member for opinions that the administrator—or a trustee or a donor who has the administrator’s ear—might find objectionable for any reason—never mind, patently offensive.

3 thoughts on “Putting the John McAdams Case in Some Context

  1. Hmmm, i agree with you. I think all evaluations, even flippant one’s, should be public or at least for every stakeholder to be privy too. TAs no doubt tweet about professors and the argument that professors are precluded from the same freedom is silly, really. If everything is transparent, the power is equalized through equal access and public discourse and honest disclosure (some of which may not be pleasing or as expected) — even if in just a small relevant public. Those suspending the professor want to protect a system of hierarchy that transparency and equal communication threatens. Control freaks scared of growing behind their vision, usually.

  2. Pingback: AAUP Letter to Marquette on John McAdams | The Academe Blog

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