Marquette to Fire John McAdams for His Blog

Marquette University Dean Richard Holz has written a letter to Professor John McAdams, announcing that university will revoke his tenure and fire him.

The AAUP recently wrote a letter to Marquette objecting to the suspension of McAdams without adequate cause or hearing.

This latest development is far more alarming. AAUP regulations, and Marquette’s own policies, explicitly prohibit what Marquette is now doing: punishing a professor for publicly expressing his opinions.

According to the letter, “your conduct clearly and substantially fails to meet the standards of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties. As a result, your value to this academic institution is substantially impaired.”

Much of Holz’s letter is devoted to detailing the flaws of McAdams’ blog post about Cheryl Abbate, a graduate student teaching a class in which a student felt he was not allowed to denounce gay marriage. McAdams’ blog was read by some people who responded by making threats against Abbate, which caused her to transfer to another university. According to the letter, McAdams is being fired because “your inaccurate, misleading and superficial Internet story lacked any measure of the due diligence we expect from beginning students.”

While there is some reason to question Holz’s critique (as McAdams does on his blog), none of that debate is relevant to the attempt to fire McAdams. Abbate was not a student of McAdams, and he was under no obligation to choose more private criticism of her teaching methods. Nor did McAdams have any obligation to contact everyone involved for comment before writing a blog post.

One can conclude that McAdams is a terrible journalist, and a terrible person, and that changes nothing about the threat of academic freedom created by this dismissal, and the lack of any basis for it under Marquette’s policies.

McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.

Holz’s letter declares: “faculty members have voiced concerns about how they could become targets in your blog based upon items they might choose to include in a class syllabus. Your conduct thus impairs the very freedoms of teaching and expression that you vehemently purport to promote. Again, the AAUP has called upon University governing boards and administration to exercise their ‘special duty not only to set an outstanding example of tolerance, but also to challenge boldly and condemn immediately serious breaches of civility.’”

This is a complete distortion of the AAUP’s statements. Tolerance requires that a university not fire professors for their expression. Marquette is perfectly free to condemn McAdams for an alleged breach of civility, but not to punish him. And although some faculty might legitimately fear being criticized by McAdams, no one has a right to be free from criticism, or to punish McAdams for their own decision to self-censor.

Holz’s letter emphasizes one section of Marquette’s statement on academic freedom, that a professor “should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others.” The AAUP has made clear that its statement that professors “should” be accurate is moral exhortation, not an enforceable standard for punishment. Obviously, if any professor could be fired for any kind of alleged inaccuracy in any sentence, public or private, then tenure would be meaningless.

Marquette’s policy on academic freedom also declares about a professor, “When he/she speaks or writes as a citizen, he/she should be free from institutional censorship or discipline.” Marquette cannot invoke a distorted interpretation of its academic freedom policy to justify firing a professor and then ignore the clear prohibition on doing so in the same policy.

Section 306 of Marquette’s policy, which details the reasons to fire a professor, explicitly declares: “In no case, however, shall discretionary cause be interpreted so as to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action.”

And Section 307.07.2 declares, “Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed them by the United States Constitution.”

These policies explicitly prohibit the punishment of John McAdams for his extramural utterances. Marquette’s decision to fire McAdams, like its earlier decision to suspend him, is a violation of the AAUP’s standards for academic freedom and Marquette’s requirements in its policies.

44 thoughts on “Marquette to Fire John McAdams for His Blog

  1. AAUP is correct. And this case illustrates what should be the clear difference between tenure at the higher education level and what is erroneously called tenure for those of us teaching k-12 in public schools. We are not entitled to the same protection. All tenure means for us is due process, and in many state we have NO protected right to personal expression.

  2. While there are gratuitous portions of the dismissal letter that are frankly unpersuasive, I noted that John McAdams expressed a desire to destroy the graduate student’s academic career. According to the dismissal letter, the following quotation appeared in a subsequent blog post. I have never seen a professor take aim at a student in this manner. This is a very troubling case in terms of academic freedom:

    Does our blog post harm Abbate, for example making it harder for her to get an academic job?

    If there are some colleges out there who don’t want instructors who tell students that opposition to gay marriage is homophobic, Abbate might not get hired there.That is appropriate. We feel no obligation to suppress information to help her get a job.(p.14)

    While I believe that academic due process is lacking here, and represents a significant failure in adhering to AAUP principles, I cannot recall seeing a professor publicly state the intent was to destroy a student’s career. The fact that Ms Abbate was not his student is alarming in that his knowledge of the situation was even more questionable. The professor acted in an unprofessional manner and the question that should have been explored in an adversarial hearing was whether this was moral turpitude?

    I noted that Professor McAdams’s e-mailed the student for her response prior to his attack but posted his statement the same day. That hardly represents a reasonable effort to explore both sides of the issue.

    • The standard for firing a professor is certainly not failure to make “a reasonable effort to explore both sides.” Nor is it moral turpitude, which is a vague ancient term that was usually used to fire gay professors and womanizers, and has no relevance today. I don’t think McAdams actually tried to destroy the student’s career, but that is still protected speech. If someone teaching a college class, for example, is recorded making racist remarks, then other professors are free to publicize this incident and encourage colleges not to hire them. You are free to criticize their decisions, but not to punish them for publicly expressing their views in extramural utterances.

      • Moral turpitude developed in the 19th century and is widely used in the AAUP literature. It referred initially to violation of community standards of ethics and morality. It is a concept used I believe in criminal law. Kindly consult the AAUP in its 1970 Ninth Interpretive Comment of the 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure. The term appeared in the 1940 statement and was contextualised in the revisions thirty years later. From the ninth interpretive comment:

        The concept of “moral turpitude”…The standard is not that the moral sensibilities of persons in the particular community have been affronted. The standard is behavior that would evoke condemnation by the academic community generally.

        I believe it is arguable that a professor whose declaratory intent is to destroy the career of a graduate student has committed an act of moral turpitude.The raison d’etre of a professor is to educate students not to harm them; to enlighten them, not to abuse or demean them and threaten their livelihood.

        Again it is not for me to decide, but a committee of peers in an adversarial hearing to do so. I maintain that the process used at Marquette was deficient and should be corrected. I also believe that former professor McAdams violated the basic code of our profession: to educate.

      • Unfortunately, the AAUP still embraces “moral turpitude” as a legitimate standard for firing faculty (it’s used as a term for denying a dismissed professor the standard year of teaching after being denied tenure). The phrase is mostly used today in immigration law. The purpose of it is to deal with criminal history and to distinguish between low-level crimes and the more serious ones that qualify as “moral turpitude.” That is how I think it should be used: if a professor is convicted of a crime, then “moral turpitude” defines what kinds of crimes deserve academic dismissal. But we should not expand “moral turpitude” to mean any opinion that most of the academic community would condemn. If any professor who demeans and abuses a student in an extramural utterance is guilty of moral turpitude, Peter, then you should have been fired long ago. But you weren’t because academic freedom should protect your opinions, even when they are unpopular, and even when they involve students.

    • You have followed the MU dean in taking McAdams’ remark out of context. McAdams refutes this criticism in one of his posts. 1) He was answering Holz’s prior criticism about hurting her career–saying ” We feel no obligation to suppress information to help her get a job.” You call this “publicly stat[ing] the intent was to destroy [her] career.” 2) McAdams went on to speculate that it would NOT hurt her career. This criticism is bogus.

      • A professor who never visits an instructor’s class, never speaks to the instructor about pedagogy, is not affiliated with the instructor’s department, makes no effort to mentor or counsel the instructor, gets magically a tape from a student who lied, according to the transcript that I read, to the instructor when asked if she were being taped, and then goes on his blog to describe her as an ideological radical who suppresses disparate views is out to destroy that instructor: in this case a graduate STUDENT, the most vulnerable of all college level teachers.

        This is a case that has to be adjudicated and pursued as it will be presumably at Marquette. I hope justice is served and that the graduate student has a career in academia without further PUBLIC bullying and abuse.

    • I’m disturbed by the apparent level of reading comprehension among academics shown here. The professor does not day that his intent is to destroy the student’s career in the passage quoted by Peter as evidence of that assertion. He says, rather, that he is unwilling to *suppress* information to *avoid* harming her career, and then speculates that, in any case, there will be no such harm.

      Intent refers to the *goal* of an action, not to possible side effects, whether anticipated or not. To state that one’s actions might have a certain side effect is not at all the same thing as stating that that is your intent.

      Likewise, speculating about potential harm, and then discounting the likelihood of such harm, is different than wanting the person’s career to be destroyed. That’s extreme hyperbole, not warranted by the quote.

      To imply that suppressing information to help a student is part of a professor’s normal duties as a way of helping students find work is, frankly, a stunning indictment of the state of academia.

  3. Sorry. McAdams engaged in unprofessional conduct regarding a student. Academic freedom does not protect against libel, FERPA violations, or abuse.

    • There is clearly no FERPA violation here. McAdams criticized a student instructor in another department. He had no access to any FERPA-protected information about her, and did not reveal anything. What McAdams wrote is not close to libel, but even if it were, libel is a form of civil litigation, not a punishable offense under the university code. And when abuse takes the form of criticism of someone else’s teaching approach, it is protected by academic freedom.

  4. Here is the entire passage that McAdams wrote, which Holtz conveniently left out.

    “If there are some colleges out there who don’t want instructors who tell students that opposition to gay marriage is homophobic, Abbate might not get hired there.That is appropriate. We feel no obligation to suppress information to help her get a job.But of course, in an increasingly politically correct philosophy profession, hiring in a lot of departments is dominated by people who think pretty much as Abbate does.”

    And, of course, the notoriously liberal Colorado University Philosophy dept immediately gave her a job. Reading MU President Lovell’s statement on facebook, it now appears that McAdams is being fired for naming the TA and because students feel “threatened.” Wow. MU seems to be on really thin legal standing here, imo.

  5. This is a reply to John’s second post when he refers to me by name: John: My email was a private communication to a student on another campus. I did not attempt to destroy a student’s career. I never engaged in a public rebuke of a student as did Professor McAdams. To the extent I engaged in an “uncivil” manner I apologized for it. The Air Force Academy also apologized to me. I was expressing anti-war sentiments. I have walked he walk and I am not merely an abstract defender of academic freedom. I have had it violated.

    Professor McAdams’s case is quite distinct in my opinion. He went on the Internet to attack a student’s pedagogy, whom he never observed in the classroom, and attempted to thwart her future employment. Also Marquette is providing a grievance procedure so that the professor can defend himself. In my opinion, his conduct was indefensible and the university could not ignore it.

    • Peter, you’re correct that your case was very different. I was questioning the “abuse or demean” students ban that you suggested. It is also important to recognize that in this case, McAdams was defending a student who felt silenced by Abbate. I believe that all college instructors have academic freedom, including graduate students, but there is also no freedom for a teacher to be immune from criticism, even when the criticism is public and sparks bigoted threats and other illegitimate responses.

  6. Pingback: Today's Attack on Academic Freedom - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money

  7. Pingback: Marquette professor fired for blogging, academic freedom groups up in arms

  8. As an AAUP member and member of the professoriate, I’m disappointed by this hasty, ill-conceived post, the framing of which was unfortunately picked up by IHE.

    I wrote there, and repeat here:

    It’s unfortunate that you’ve chosen to present this as a matter of civility vs. freedom. The appropriate framing–the framing followed throughout the Dean’s entire letter, save for a regrettable lapse on p. 14–is that of *competence* and of *responsibility to and for student welfare/development*.

    I applaud Marquette’s courage in this matter, and lament the decision here at [Academeblog] to present the situation as though it were part of the ongoing (and thoroughly unproductive) set of arguments about “civility.”

    Faculty rightly resist efforts to erode their rights in the name of civility.

    But that’s not what happened here. Assuming the Dean’s letter is more or less truthful, McAdams simply did not do his job. He did not make any effort whatsoever to balance his responsibility to a graduate student and his responsibility to his own expression. If he had made a serious effort to discern the facts of the matter and report them accurately, this would be a trickier case. But he didn’t. Not at all.

    McAdams demonstrated gross incompetence (as detailed in the letter) and has himself, as quoted [in the IHE story–from his blog], refused the notion that he bears any responsibility to Abbate as a student. Although student instructors are indeed laborers in their relation to the university that hires them, their relation to faculty is not that of colleagues but rather that of professionals-in-training. As faculty, we bear at least some responsibility for graduate students’ development in other departments than our own–certainly, at the point where we decide to engage with them in their role as professionals-in-training. McAdams refuses to even consider honoring that contractual obligation.

    And all this has nothing to do with civility, and would hold just the same if the political polarity were reversed. To frame the affair in terms of “academic freedom” is to do real damage to faculty welfare, since we need that term to keep meaning something real.

    • Please remember that opinions on this blog are not necessarily the opinions of the AAUP. Also, while we encourage debate, I see little value in calling a post “hasty. ill-conceived” simply based on disagreement. You provide no evidence of haste and “ill-conceived” is in the eye of the beholder.

      That said, the point you raise is worthy of discussion, but I don’t think the relationship between faculty and graduate instructors is clear enough or codified enough so that firing a professor for failing to maintain amorphous “standards” is not extremely disturbing. Instead of the firing, Marquette could have begun a process of discussion and debate leading to clear presentation of faculty responsibilities vis-a-vis graduate instructors in both one’s own department and elsewhere within the university. Instead, in this case, I am bothered by the suspicion that the Marquette administration is creating rules as it goes.

      Ultimately, this does have to do with academic freedom: When a faculty member loses her/his job due to public comments, those concerned with academic freedom should always examine the case, for a gradual encroachment on academic freedom is a constant worry. A firing is certainly “something real” and a firing for public comments always has at least tangential academic-freedom connections. Whether you agree that academic freedom has been abridged in this case or not, it still needs to be discussed in that context. For anyone to claim otherwise is a claim for limiting academic freedom by a form of prior restraint, and we don’t want that.

      • I appreciate your response. And certainly, I recognize the possible of reasonable disagreement on this issue. That said, I stand by at least the latter part of my characterization.

        The post was ill-conceived inasmuch as its intense reliance on academic freedom as the guiding principle for action here is poor framing, an unhelpful way of apprehending the world. We cannot and should not treat all faculty employment issues through the prism of academic freedom, even though it is always at least somewhat relevant. To do so hammers a vital notion so thin as to be virtually unusable.

        I would assume, then, that we agree that careful decisions need to be made about whether or not to approach any given faculty employment dispute through the lens of academic freedom–not because it’s not always relevant (I agree that it is, especially in cases of tenured faculty), but because it’s not always the most apt frame, the most salient or meaningful feature of the dispute or situation. In other words, I reject (and I would hope and expect AAUP to do the same) the strong claim that academic freedom is always the most useful or appropriate lens through which to understand faculty employment issues. The weaker claim–that academic freedom is always relevant to faculty employment issues, but not always equally salient or useful as a lens on those issues–seems prima facie correct; I certainly assent to that claim.

        But there is then no automatic warrant for thinking about faculty employment issues *primarily* as academic freedom issues, as the blog post here (unhesitatingly, even stridently–“McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances,” etc.) does. More particularly, there is no automatic warrant for presenting academic freedom as the key determinative principle for judging faculty labor disputes, irrespective of whether the parties involved agree that this is a site of conflict.

        Indeed, in this case, it seems to me–as opposed, for example, to the far more difficult case of Salaita–that academic freedom is clearly the wrong lens with which to start out. Certainly, as a principle, it should factor into decision-making, but it is inappropriate–as the blog post does–to act as though its meaning in this situation is clear at the outset, and so clear as to render it (i.e., academic freedom) obviously the determinative principle for judgment here. To the contrary, there are real and genuine questions of competence and responsibility raised by Marquette’s letter. The blog post does not address those head-on at all, does not make any sort of case for why academic freedom is a better and more appropriate lens on the issue than is dereliction of duty. I stand by the judgment that this is ill-conceived.

        The blog post frames the issue badly, without due consideration of a competing frame, and does so in a manner I take to cheapen and weaken one of our core values.

        Regarding hastiness: I was hasty in that judgment, I’ll admit. Before accusing the blog post of hastiness, I ought to have looked more closely at its timing relative to that of McAdams’ blog post and dissemination of Marquette’s letter.

        Still, I stand by the critical assessment, though I acknowledge I worded it poorly in describing the post as “hasty.”

        To repeat and expand my previous point, what struck me about the blog post was that it did not attempt in any serious way to engage with Marquette’s letter to McAdams. Wilson reframed Holz’s letter as a debate, asserted that “none of that debate is relevant to the attempt to fire McAdams,” and proceeded as though–a priori, simply by virtue of this assertion and the assertion that McAdams’ blog is extramural speech–he had no argumentative obligation to engage with the letter. But *the very premise of the letter* is that McAdams’ blog is not, in fact, extramural speech. Obviously, Wilson has no duty to agree with that premise, but to simply dismiss it and not bother to address the pages and pages of its exposition is, well, if not hasty, something else very like it.

        I don’t mean to say–at all–that any assessment concluding that McAdams has accurately portrayed himself as a victim of the forces of anti-freedom must necessarily be wrong (though, obviously, I think that it will be), but rather that any assessment of the situation is insufficiently careful if it does not address directly Marquette’s efforts–in my view, successful, but in any event necessitating consideration in the course of responding non-hastily to the situation–to frame the situation in terms of competence and contractual responsibilities.

        Marquette, to their credit, seems to have made a serious effort to conduct themselves without recourse to the tired and obviously chilling discourse of civility. Even if one concludes that they have failed, a non-hasty response to the situation would be obligated to take the measure of that effort. The effort itself, in my view, is remarkable for the care it takes in trying to avoid the rhetorical terrain of civility. Obviously, we might simply not agree that McAdams’ public attacks on a graduate student at his university constitute dereliction of duty and hence rise to the level of sufficient cause for revoking tenure, an action that should–and we definitely agree about this–only occur in extremis and which we should–and here again we certainly agree–be subjected to stringent examination, both internal and external.

        But I did not accuse Wilson of haste and ill-conceiving because I disagreed with him. I accused the blog post of being hasty and ill-conceived because I took it very much to be both, as I’ve tried to demonstrate here.

        And so, in the end, although my characterization of haste was itself hasty, I stand by it (or something very like it) all the same. The original blog post simply does not, relative to its rhetorical context (i.e., as “unofficial” but nonetheless expressive AAUP communication), give due consideration to how the situation as a whole ought to be framed. Moreover, in my view, it takes a position that actually contributes to the erosion of faculty protections by weakening one of our most crucial terms of art.

        Academic freedom is defensible because not all faculty labor disputes are primarily questions of academic freedom. By breezily asserting that rationally arguable situations clearly are best framed in this manner, we erode our own best bulwark against ongoing efforts to dismantle the university as a capable social institution.

        We have to defend unpopular causes with the principles to which we are committed, but not all unpopular causes are expressions of those principles. We safeguard the significance, meaning, and power of our principles by only standing upon them when they themselves are well-grounded, and by clearly and carefully arguing for their grounding where there is legitimate cause for dispute about that.

      • Let me address the substance of what you say. When a professor is being fired for expressing his opinions on a blog, I think it’s obvious that academic freedom is relevant. The question is whether McAdams did something so wrong that it overwhelms the academic freedom concerns.

        I think there are two basic arguments against McAdams: incompetence, and abuse of a student.

        I think the incompetence argument is very weak, which is why I didn’t focus on it. In order to show incompetence, Marquette (and its supporters) need to leap three very high hurdles. They need to show that McAdams’ blog had serious inaccuracies. Then they need to show the inaccuracies were so overwhelming or intentional that they prove the incompetence of a tenured professor. Then they need to show that incompetence in an extramural blog proves Adams is incompetent in his professional work. (In terms of the AAUP standards on extramural utterances, they need to show he was wrong, then they need to show he’s unfit, then they need to show it’s professional unfitness.) So far, despite devoting a lot of space in the letter to this topic, they haven’t yet shown any significant inaccuracies in McAdams’ story, and haven’t even bothered to try reaching the other two standards, which seem impossible for them to prove. Marquette actually seems to think that any inaccuracy in any statement anywhere is grounds for a charge of incompetence leading to dismissal, which is plainly wrong.

        The abuse of a student argument is not convincing to me, but it is relevant to the situation. The problem for Marquette is that writers generally cannot be punished for the actions of their readers. What happened to Abbate was terrible, and you may wish to think McAdams was morally responsible for publicizing this case, but that doesn’t apply to formal discipline of a professor.

        Professors have an obligation to treat their own students fairly in their classes, but they don’t have a professional obligation to treat anyone enrolled at their university with kid gloves. For example, if a student rapes another student, or says something racist or homophobic publicly, a professor is not professionally obligated to keep silent in public in discussing the issue, and should not be fired for speaking about this (take, for example, the Group of 88 at Duke during the lacrosse rape allegations). Abbate was not McAdams’ student, and he was not professionally obligated to keep quiet about allegations regarding her teaching. Students are not immune from criticism in public debate. And that’s particularly true of graduate students in the role of teachers. Pedagogy is not a private matter immune from criticism.

        The issue of protecting students is even more complex in this case, because McAdams was trying to protect an undergraduate student whom he felt had been silenced in Abbate’s class, and he believed that working quietly behind the scenes would not protect students with similar views.

        Certainly, McAdams is not immune from criticism for his words, and he can be held morally responsible by condemnation for his views. But neither AAUP standards nor Marquette’s policies permit punishment of a professor for his extramural utterances, even when they are about a student.

    • “Assuming the Dean’s letter is more or less truthful…”

      Not wanting to take your comments out of context however that is a might large assumption. Especially in light of the Dean himself taking comments out of context in his letter, as well as violating Marquette policy and procedure throughout this incident.

  9. “McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.”

    And therefore there is no reason for it to be protected.

    Academic freedom is a privilege that society grants to scholars so that they can do scholarship without fear of retaliation. It’s not a license to say awful things that would get anyone with an ordinary job fired in a heartbeat.

    McAdams’ blog wasn’t scholarship. It was garden-variety dickishness. There’s no benefit to society from extending academic freedom to him.

    • The same argument is used by those who applauded the dismissal of Steven Salaita. From the very start of the AAUP, its 1915 Declaration of Principles included protection of extramural utterances as a part of academic freedom. If we only protect scholarship under academic freedom, the result will be professors who are fearful to communicate with the public at all. And we will all be the poorer for it. We protect extramural utterances even when they are unwise because we do not want to generally suppress the wisdom that can come from professors.

      • Professors are not uniquely wise outside the areas of their expertise, and there’s no reason to give them special protections when they are venting like ordinary jerks with keyboards. They should be free to say whatever they want, and obliged to live with the consequences of whatever they say, like anyone else.

        By all means, academic freedom should protect scholars when they communicate with the public. Administrators and officials should not be permitted to chill the speech of a scholar, no matter how seemingly unwise, when the scholar speaks in his or her field of knowledge.

        But when professors are not communicating as scholars, what is the justification for special rights? Surely not because society needs more vile and stupid on-line ranting from awful people.

  10. McAdams isn’t being fired for criticizing someone’s views. McAdams is being fired because he published the name of the TA, while simultaneously protecting the name of the undergrad, which resulted in the TA receiving numerous death threats.

    At least one of these threats required MU to post a Safety Officer outside of her classroom.

    McAdams didn’t want to engage in intellectual discourse over his disagreement. No, what he wanted was to publicly humiliate a graduate STUDENT. He wanted to end her career before it started. And if, in the process of achieving these goals, that resulted in her physical harm from loonies on the internet, McAdams seemed perfectly content to risk this young woman’s life to further his own political agenda.

    That isn’t academic freedom. That isn’t intellectual expression. McAdams deserves to be fired and if any harm comes to this young woman, he deserves to be charged as an accessory.

    His actions were irresponsible and his continued presence at Marquette merely tarnishes the school’s reputation.

  11. No freedom is an absolute. No one can claim that academic freedom is an absolute. No court, no AAUP document, no other professional organisation has ever made that case. I do not believe that AAUP has averred that under no circumstances can an extramural utterance be sanctioned. I am pretty close to being an absolutist in this area as our work here in Illinois has amply testified. I have rarely if ever placed a professor’s speech outside the orbit of academic freedom. See our work on Salaita, Boyle, Chehade, Meade to name a few.

    Where I leave the train is when a student is publicly targeted by a professor. Many of us have had encounters with students and harsh disagreements with students. Students are not angels that are beyond critique. In fact Illinois AAUP aggressively defended John Boyle and Iymen Chehade against student complaints in which the former action led to censure of Northeastern Illinois and the latter to a course restoration. Yet to use a blog that Prof. McAdams states is just an exercise in journalism (read his blog!) to attack viciously a graduate student without any effort to resolve this matter privately is a form of abuse and harassment with the intent to thwart a career.

    I would like to add, however, this public criticism of a “character flaw” of the complaining student whom Professor McAdams asserts, as a “journalist,” he will not identify. No he is not a journalist working independently from Marquette, but a paid tenured professor writing on his blog about his place of employment. I think I know a little about this since I have blogged for ten years. I feel unfettered to criticise publicly an unnamed student who did not tell the truth about an unauthorized taping of the graduate student:

    Lie Number One: p. 6 of Dean Holtz letter to McAdams

    Abbate: No, the example that I gave was in this class, if you were going to make a comment about the restriction of the rights of women, such as saying that women can’t serve, are you videotaping or taping this conversation?

    S(tudent) No.

    Abbate Can I see your phone?

    S(tudent in a bullying and threatening manner in my opinion) Oh, I am. I’m going to be showing it to your superiors.

    Reported Lie Number Two by Unnamed Student: p, 7 of Holtz’ letter:

    Student Meets for the First Time with Dr. Snow, Chairperson and Dr. Luft, Assistant Chairperson, of Philosophy Department, October 28.

    After leaving Arts & Sciences, at approximately 10 AM, the student met briefly with Drs. Snow and Luft. Dr. Luft was already aware of the issue and the taping because he had been told about it by Ms. Abbate, as noted above. The student briefly stated his complaint without disclosing or sharing the tape recording. To the contrary, when Dr. Luft asked the student if he had recorded the conversation, the student said he had not done so.

    I stand by and defend any student who is publicly harassed and bullied by a professor. It is essential that we defend the vulnerable and the defenceless, and not drive them off campus to another institution.

    • I’m curious, do you also stand by and defend any student who is privately harassed and bullied by a professor?

      Do you find it suspect that the student, who has tape proof of inappropriate comments by the TA, suddenly writes thanking the TA’s superiors for not allowing him to transfer out of the class?

      I am also curious how you feel about administrators like the Dean, that cannot even follow the universities policies and procedures, while using the same policies and procedures to remove tenure from a professor?

      The reason I ask the above, is primarily to understand how rules are applied differently toward different people in the same situation.

    • No freedom is an absolute, but the AAUP statement on extramural utterances is very close to an absolute, and what McAdams did is not even close to meeting the “unfitness” standard. The question is academic freedom, not protection of those we think are “vulnerable and the defenceless.” If you say that academic freedom applies only to those you deem “vulnerable,” you open the door to firing any tenured professor. You arbitrarily decide that an undergraduate student who is told not to express his views in class is not vulnerable but “bullying and threatening” and launch a long tirade against that student which is irrelevant to the McAdams firing. McAdams didn’t drive anyone off campus, nor did he meet any rational standard of harassment. You’re simply blaming him for the effects of publicizing this case.

      There is no exception in the AAUP standards (or Marquette’s policies) for extramural utterances about a student. The AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics only refers to students in the context of a teaching or other professional relationship. Otherwise, a professor would be obligated to check the enrollment status of any person before publicly criticizing them.

      It’s particularly disturbing that you call McAdams “a paid tenured professor writing on his blog about his place of employment.” You seem to be saying that professors have no academic freedom in making extramural utterances about their own university, which is absolutely wrong.

      • I am glad you concede that fitness is a criterion in determining some parameters on the application of academic freedom. I am sure you recall a major case we had in Chicago which I supported an investigation and you had a different opinion. So we have and will continue to disagree, at times, on what academic freedom means. The issue is whether Professor McAdams’s conduct is protected under the AAUP definition of academic freedom. I believe it is not.

        Marquette is well within its rights to initiate the action it has taken, which is not a summary dismissal, but the initiation of a dismissal proceeding that will be followed presumably by existing grievance and appeal procedures at the Jesuit institution. This is not a Salaita firing but a university responding to an unacceptable attack, in my opinion, on one of its former graduate teaching assistants from a professor who believes his blog is fair game to denounce and derail careers of vulnerable TAs

        In response to your last paragraph, I stand by the statement which is accurate: Prof. McAdams is “a paid tenured professor writing on his blog about his place of employment.” He is not a custodian or a jet pilot for the AIR FORCE. I mentioned this because on multiple occasions he describes himself as a journalist who is not subject to normal professorial restraints or to administrative actions that had preceded his latest student-named attacks.

        On his blog Professor McAdams claims that his refusal to communicate directly with the TA or other members of her department was the result of his journalistic role:

        I quote:

        Secondly, blogging is journalism, and it’s simply not standard journalistic practice to quietly try to right a wrong by appealing to officials to fix the situation. If an issue is of public interest, it is reported.

        On his blog Professor McAdams once again defends his refusal as a self-proclaimed journalist to identify the student who repeatedly lied about an unauthorized taping of a conversation,

        I quote:

        We left the undergraduate’s name out of the post because he was our source, and gave us the information on the condition that we keep his name confidential. That’s Journalism 101.

        On his blog Professor McAdams defends his unseemly ideologically inspired attack upon a teaching assistant due to his self-proclaimed putative role as a journalist.

        I quote:

        Somehow, Holz thinks that when a journalist reports questionable conduct on the part of an individual, that individual has the right to veto being identified. That notion would flunk Journalism 101.

        Apparently the provost had previously told Professor McAdams not to attack students on the Internet. Ahhh, but the professor, once again, claims as a journalist he has the right to attack students and ignore his provost. I am somewhat bemused by Professor McAdams repeated use of the word “we” and “us” and not “I” when referring to his interactions, or lack thereof, with third parties:

        I quote:

        Holz continues:
        You have been asked, advised, and warned on multiple prior occasions not to publicize students’ names in connection with your blog posts.

        This is simply untrue. Only once did any university official (Provost John Pauly) tell us not to make any blog posts about students. (Actually, he said it was fine to commend students, but we should not criticize student activities – essentially demanding biased journalism.)

        Finally, Dr. Wilson you wrote in a reply above I believe to Ira Allen: “The problem for Marquette is that writers generally cannot be punished for the actions of their readers.” Yes they can, when a professor’s actions, taken despite other viable options, leads to death threats and a decision to uproot an academic career by having to transfer to another institution. Maybe Prof. McAdams did not foresee the specific consequences of his actions, but his blogging as a professor, not as a journalist, including open speculation on her capacity to find academic employment, are examples of attempting to abort her prospects even before she finished her graduate studies. At the very least, it was a reckless indifference to the well-being of a TA.

      • I am baffled as to why you think McAdams should be fired for mentioning a graduate student instructor by name, and then denounce him for failing to reveal the name of an undergraduate student who came to him seeking help. The only unethical mistreatment of a student in this case might be the revelation of the undergraduate student’s grade by the administration. I cannot believe that you actually advocate punishing people for the actions of others because of the “crime” of blogging.

  12. Pingback: Suppressing Speech as the University Burns - The American Interest

  13. Pingback: Academic Freedom, Schmacademic Freedom | Hang Together

  14. Pingback: Marquette to Fire McAdams for Dereliction of Duty | The Academe Blog

  15. The strongest argument for termination is that McAdams repeatedly publicized the names of Marquette students in ways that were guaranteed to make them targets of harassment, even after being warned not to do so.

    Assume Marquette took no action in this case, and McAdams did it again – but this time the death threat was serious and the student in question was murdered. I suspect that most of Marquette’s endowment would be transferred to the student’s surviving family as a result of the subsequent lawsuit finding that Marquette’s conduct in not terminating McAdams was reckless. Deep pockets and all.

    This is not about academic freedom. This is about a university’s obligation to keep its students safe.

    • Firstly, she wasn’t just a student. She was a tutor. Secondly, if your criterion was accepted – that one could not name anyone who might be the subject of third-party abuse – it would be a radical and sweeping breach of freedom of expression.

  16. Given the repeated times that McAdams has done this to his own students previously, it’s a wonder the harassing conservaturd hasn’t been fired earlier.

    He violated policies so blatantly that the his student left the university due to threats on her life.

  17. I am a Marquette grad (92) and it seems things have changed a lot in academia. I debated many of my professors who disagreed with me in class. At no time was I made to feel bad or shut down, which is what this grad student did. I believe had this discussion occurred when I was at Marquette, the professor (I never had a grad student instruct a class but that’s another story) would have allowed the debate to continue. I realize the student might be a pain in the butt, but no where does it say as far as I know, that a professor shall at all times be protected from objectionable opinions like objections to gay marriage. I think a good professor would have found a way to let the student say his peace and could have had another student take the pro gay marriage side. That’s what my English professor did when I said Marquette should not divest itself of companies with operations in South Africa. At no time was I told for instance that going against the University made me a racist. Maybe professors were different back then.

  18. Pingback: Protecting Students from Catholicism At Marquette - Crisis Magazine

  19. I get the feeling many of the above are simply displaying their biases by adopting one position or the other.nevertheless , I want to wonder what the Fuzzy Quotient of Mr Kirstein might be..Purported e mail threats do not -in the Non Bizaaro world-constitute evidence of endangerment.This is even more ridiculous when the recent track record-and even not so recent -of fabulists on the left (Oberlin KKK,U Va rape hoax,Columbia mattress carrier ) to make themselves a victim. I’m reminded of Dean Conant’s comment; “All I can say is it couldn’thappen in the chemistry department.”

  20. Pingback: Can I Tweet That? Academic Freedom and the New Social Media | The Academe Blog

  21. Pingback: The 25 Most Read Posts to the Academe Blog in 2015 | The Academe Blog

  22. In looking for an update, I stumbled upon this.

    A two time graduate of Marquette and a once TA for McAdams, I can give an update and clear the air a bit. McAdams, while blustering and here imprudent, was the only voice to an increasingly stifled campus (both for students and faculty). The question is very much about academic freedom (though I think that modern academic freedom inevitably leads to oppression and an end to liberal education).

    Just last December twenty faculty gathered to share their fears about teaching the very things they are obliged to teach for fear of reprisal under ever more restricted speech guidelines (you can find the minutes reported at McAdams blog). The McAdams dismissal has sent a cold chill through many of Marquette’s faculty who were already, I assure you, on edge. He alone voiced alarm over the years and gave students and alumni a different view from the university’s Pravda, though it was highly politicized, and yet not unfitting — he is an American politics professor you know. Certainly, I don’t agree with McAdams politics or much of his blustering, but he is a gregarious and friendly Alabaman with a fast paced drawl easy to like and by no means threatening in person. His blog was, however, long a thorn in the side of admins far more than peers. And so called Academic freedom is no longer safe at Marquette. McAdams’ dismissal will remain a sharp reminder. In discussing it initially with a friend who teaches at Marquette, I assured him McAdams would be fired while he held it inconceivable. Members of the pholosophy and theology departments seem the most concerned, and should be.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don't impersonate a real person.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s