Marquette Update: The Unredacted Dean Holz Letter Sent to John McAdams

Associate Professor of Political Science John McAdams released Dean Richard C. Holz’s, January 30, 2015, letter of dismissal. This is the redacted version of the letter of intent to seek a revocation of his continuous tenure. At the top of the document, Professor McAdams, in red letters, informs the reader of the redaction of just two “phrases.”

“NOTE: Two phrases have been redacted in the following, since they would tend to compromise the confidentiality of a source.”

The first redaction is on page 3, line one: “since you are the student’s academic advisor.”

The second redaction, “later as his academic advisor,” appears on page 9 in the first sentence under the heading: “Student Meets with You, The Week of November 3.”

Professor McAdams did not reveal a third and more extensive redaction of “Exhibit A.” He retains merely a reference to the exhibit at the end of the dean’s letter. It contains a nine-person “Witness List,” and a specific claim of alleged violations of Marquette University Statutes: Section 306.03. The unredacted Dean Holz letter is here.

I would argue he did not redact to conceal the identity of Cheryl Abbate’s undergraduate student who taped, without authorization, a conversation with the Philosophy graduate teaching assistant. The student’s name is not revealed, and I certainly do not know his identity. Dr. McAdams’s redaction, however, conceals his role as the student’s academic advisor. Professor McAdams was clearly engaged in the professorial activity of advising, and not as an independent journalist.

The professor’s claim that his blog posts on Cheryl Abbate and other Marquette students constitute journalism is not credible. The original Holz letter removes any pretense that Professor McAdams was acting as a journalist shielded from revealing sources, but claiming the right to identify with impunity a graduate teaching assistant. If Professor McAdams were intent in protecting the student, and not himself, why did he not redact the student’s grade in Cheryl Abbate’s Philosophy class?

My source for the unredacted letter is John Protevi’s Blog.​

Kindly see my initial post on the Marquette controversy here.

3 thoughts on “Marquette Update: The Unredacted Dean Holz Letter Sent to John McAdams

  1. I can’t see how this revelation makes the slightest difference in the McAdams case. If anything, it makes the case stronger for McAdams not to be punished, since he felt an obligation to defend the academic freedom rights of a student he was advising.

    I don’t understand why anyone thinks this “removes any pretense that Professor McAdams was acting as a journalist shielded from revealing sources.” McAdams is not being (and cannot be) punished for failing to name the student who revealed this incident to him. And no one is obliged to reveal sources for information, whether or not they are a journalist.

    I’m very disturbed by the implication that if a professor learns about something from his work, he is obliged to keep it secret and can be punished if he reveals something embarrassing about his university to the media or by blogging about it.

  2. I am not implying, or did not intend to imply, that a professor is obliged to keep all things secret. I certainly would not wish to ever suggest that. Yet there are many areas in academic life, that require confidentiality and secrecy: FERPA items, promotion and tenure documents, counseling matters with students. His posting on Cheryl Abbate was not investigative journalism, as he claims, that embarrassed Marquette. In fact Marquette’s effort to defend its students from a tenured-professor’s attack demonstrates its commitment to the welfare of its students.

    I would think many parents and many students are impressed by the university’s attempt to prevent continuous public attacks from a tenured professor on extremely vulnerable students. The graduate assistant could have been their daughter. Finally if Professor McAdams were really interested in rendering assistance to an advisee, he would have contacted the TA for her explanation (other than a Sunday morning email asking for a quick response), or called for a meeting with the instructor and the student, or sought some input from the Dept. of Philosophy chair or associate chair.

    You may be correct, however, that Professor McAdams saw himself as the protector of the student’s academic freedom, but the ends do not always justify the means. His redactions were an attempt to justify his means. Yet the means may represent such egregious conduct that the ends become irrelevant, and the means must be addressed in a direct and robust manner.

  3. John,

    1. You seem certain that McAdams’ intention, when blogging about Abbate, is to “defend the academic freedom rights of a student he is advising,” yet there is no evidence to support your seemingly (and strangely) confident claim about McAdams’ intentions. Furthermore, there are more compelling reasons to believe that McAdams had a not so altruistic motive. For one, a quick look at his blogging history indicates that he is dedicated to viciously attacking anyone who he perceives to be a “liberal or feminist threat”– there is little to no evidence that his primary agenda is to “protect the rights of his advisees.” Furthermore, let’s use common sense here when speculating about McAdams’ motives: surely, a better way to “defend” the complaining student’s supposedly suppressed right would be to have an internal conversation with both Abbate and Abbate’s department chair, especially since Abbate is just a graduate student who is new to teaching and could perhaps benefit from additional teaching mentorship. I find it quite implausible that one would honestly believe that blogging about this incident to the world would have the effect of “defending the academic rights of a student.” From what I can tell, the point of McAdams’ continual blogging about Abbate is to point a finger at Abbate and to publicly shame her for promoting the “liberal agenda” (as evident by the fact that McAdams has blogged about her not just once, but several times).

    2. No one said that McAdams should be “punished for failing to name the student who revealed this incident to him.” I believe the point here was to draw attention to the inconsistencies of one of McAdams’ “defenses” for his hypocritical behavior: he justified naming the graduate student in his blog (and directly linking to her blog, making it easier for his unhinged readers to find her contact information) while refraining from naming the undergraduate student by appealing to the basic tenets of “journalism.” Yet, clearly McAdams was not acting as a journalist when he obtained the information in his blog article– he was acting as an academic advisor and as a representative of Marquette University.

    3. The implication here is not that a professor should be obliged to keep his work findings a secret, but rather that, when a professor does learn about a complaint about a graduate student, he should file this complaint through the appropriate channels- he should not blog about it to the world, especially before the graduate student has received “due process.” And furthermore, if a professor does decide to make the unprofessional and irresponsible choice to blog about such a graduate student in such a manner, he should at least get his facts straight and avoid publishing a fabricated and/or inaccurate account of what happened, especially since this blogging has the potential to affect the graduate student’s future. The problem is not just that McAdams wrote a blog post that has the potential to embarrass the university (and, indeed, McAdams has done a good job embarrassing Marquette University by drawing attention to the fact that tenured faculty at Marquette occasionally harass their own graduate students in public blogs), but that the blog post was filled with libelous statements about a graduate student which not only led to her being violently harassed and subjected to *rape threats,* but also has the potential to damage her reputation (although, at this point, I am sure that the public is well aware that being criticized on a blog like McAdams’ is a sign that you are doing something right!).

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