BY JOHN K. WILSON
Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of John McAdams in his lawsuit against Marquette University.
Marquette suspended McAdams because he posted a criticism of graduate student instructor Cheryl Abbate on his personal blog, Marquette Warrior.
Marquette issued a statement today:
Marquette University welcomes yet another chance to address the issue of John McAdams’ mistreatment of our former graduate student in court. In January 2016, Marquette’s 7-member Faculty Hearing Committee unanimously concluded that he violated his core obligations as a tenured professor when he used his blog needlessly and recklessly to harm our student. In May 2017, a Milwaukee County judge issued a 33-page decision dismissing all claims against Marquette University. The judge stated, “Academic freedom does not mean that a faculty member can harass, threaten, intimidate, ridicule, or impose his or her views on students.”
Our position on this matter has not changed. A faculty member’s reckless internet attack on one of our Marquette students is unacceptable. Furthermore, we remain deeply concerned about the attention that Dr. McAdams continues to focus on our former graduate student, exposing her personal contact information as recently as last month. These troubling actions show that he either cares nothing about exposing her to additional harassment, or is actively trying to expose her to additional harassment, more than two years after she left Marquette.
Please note that other details regarding Marquette’s position on this matter can be found in the university’s Frequently Asked Questions and Answers document.”
The judge’s broad ruling was wrong for many reasons. First, McAdams did not harass, threaten, intimidate, or impose his views on anyone. He did ridicule a graduate student instructor, but ridicule and criticism must be protected by academic freedom.
The AAUP initially protested the suspension of McAdams without due process, it but has otherwise stayed out of the case, probably due to an erroneous deference to the faculty committee’s mistaken belief that McAdams deserved a two-semester suspension for publicly criticizing Abbate and inspiring his readers to denounce her.
The fact that McAdams has some dubious allies should not change these important facts. George Will wrote an awful column last month attacking Abbate as the leader of a secret plot to destroy McAdams and mocking announced that “she is still a (perhaps career) graduate student, writing a doctoral dissertation on the importance of the rights of . . . animals.” Yes, god forbid any philosophers should be allowed to analyze animal rights.
Will blithely announced, “Nationwide, colleges and universities ‘are under pressure’ — all of it from within the institutions — ‘to enact or implement speech codes or otherwise restrict speech in various ways.’”
Yes, Will actually argued that there is no external pressure anywhere to restrict speech on campus. It’s difficult to imagine a more asinine position.
But even if you don’t like McAdams or what he did or the people who support him, that should not distract anyone from the core issue here: academic freedom is in danger if the ruling against McAdams is allowed to prevail in the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the suspension of McAdams is allowed to continue at Marquette.
As I’ve previously argued, the court’s narrow vision of academic freedom endangers higher education. And so does the ongoing suspension of McAdams. His original suspension ended a year ago. Currently, McAdams is being suspended without any hearing, in contradiction to the ruling of a faculty committee, for the crime of refusing to endorse his original suspension (which would also require him to give up his right to sue Marquette over it). Everyone should be able to agree that this is wrong, and I hope the AAUP will urge the Supreme Court of Wisconsin to overrule the lower court.