John McAdams Rejects Forced Apology

BY JOHN K. WILSON

John McAdams of Marquette University has written a letter to President Lovell, refusing to go along with the administration’s demands. McAdam’s lengthy letter outlines why he objects to his suspension and dismissal on both procedural and substantive grounds. Unless Marquette backs down, it seems likely that the administration will refuse to let him return to the faculty after his suspension.

 

5 thoughts on “John McAdams Rejects Forced Apology

  1. My understanding of the McAdams case comes from journalistic accounts. I have no inside information. Based on this knowledge it seems that Marquette was right to censure and discipline him for two reasons. First, his main offense was that he libeled the graduate student/TA in question. That is, he published statements that he knew or should have known were untrue or misleading in order to defame the student. Granted, libel is not a criminal act n the United States, and victims can sue. But civil actions require substantial resources that typically students do not have. Therefore, the university was right to step in to protect the student. This is not a case of free speech or academic freedom, because of the power difference between McAdams and the student. Second, McAdams had been officially for previous, similar acts. The outcome remains in the future, but I suspect McAdams will sue Marquette with the financial, legal, and other backing of various right-wing political organizations. I have no affiliation with Marquette other than that I live in the same metropolitan area as the university.

    • I think you are wrong. First, I don’t think Marquette (or any other college) punishes libel (I’d love to know about any college that does). Second, what McAdams wrote does not qualify as libel: his facts all seem accurate, and certainly not maliciously false; I disagree with his opinions, but opinions are not libelous. Third, academic freedom clearly applies to power differentials (such as the classroom). Fourth, power differentials must refer to “power over” someone, otherwise tenured professors would be unable to criticize any assistant professors anywhere, and McAdams did not have power over this student. Fifth, even when there is a power differential, it does not limit the right to publicly criticize someone. Sixth, any past misconduct (which I don’t think was particularly serious, if it happened) does not matter if you don’t commit an academic crime. FInally, it is clear that McAdams is being punished mostly because of the comments by others about what he wrote, rather than for he did himself, which is disturbing.

      • I seems to me most of our disagreement is on factual matters, not matters of principle. I am not clear on one of your arguments: I do not know what you mean by ‘academic crime.’

      • I’m not sure there are any important factual disputes here. McAdams wrote an op-ed critical of a graduate student instructor, some people responded with offensive and threatening comments, and the university suspended him and will fire him if he doesn’t apologize. Those are the only really relevant facts. The question is whether the principles of academic freedom allow such a punishment, and I strongly say no. An “academic crime” is shorthand for anything deserving academic punishment from the university. So, some crimes (like plagiarism) are purely academic, some crimes (assault) are punishable both in legal and academic contexts, and some crimes (say, shoplifting) should receive a criminal punishment but generally not any academic punishment.

      • I think there are factual disputes, because what I gleaned from local news sources differs markedly. Without going into what McAdams did or did not do, because with his resources he could sue me without regard for the merit of his complaint, it is noteworthy that he did not publish an “op-ed critical of a grad student,” as you write. He posted a personal attack by name of a grad student on his personal blog that bears the name of the university. The question is not “whether the principles of academic freedom allow such a punishment,” again to quote you. First, McAdams was afforded due process, and after a lengthy investigation a committee of his peers decided he had violated university policy and rules of employment. Faculty should not be able to claim academic freedom to say whatever they want. A university is not some Lockean transcendent and neutral third party. It is also a moral community. It bears responsibility for protecting the weaker members of that community, and it bears responsibility for acting morally as a collective. In the present instance, I do not see you proclaiming the importance of the academic freedom of the grad student who was falsely accused of stifling debate in the class for which she was a TA. Finally, I fail to see plagiarism as an academic crime. It is either fraud, the particular brand of which might be called plagiarism, but is uncommon at most; or it is poor and probably lazy scholarship. If lazy scholarship were a crime, most faculty would be (metaphorically) behind bars. A final point about universities as moral communities: When I was in college at a university with which you are most familiar, I and my fellow students demanded the university take a moral stance against the genocidal war that the United States was prosecuting in Vietnam. We got temporizing and obfuscation. The university acted immorally to protect its material interests. In the McAdams case, I would (reluctantly, because I am no fan of religious institutions) have to say that Marquette is acting morally.

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