WILL and McAdams’ Battle for Academic Free Speech Continues

Suspended Marquette University professor John McAdams is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to immediately take up his case, bypassing the State Appeals Court. Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) who represents  McAdams, petitioned the state’s high court to take the case. McAdams was suspended indefinitely from teaching at Marquette (WILL and McAdams argue he was, in essence, fired) after sharing a story of a graduate student instructor stifling a student’s free speech on his blog.

McAdams sued Marquette University for breach of his employment contract. The trial court ruled in favor of MU, concluding that it had to defer to the faculty hearing committee, and adopted all of its findings of fact and conclusions of law. WILL contends the trial court’s decision, as McAdams proved that Marquette had withheld key information from the committee.

According to WILL’s press release, in November of 2014 Professor McAdams wrote a blog post about a student that was told by graduate student instructor, Cheryl Abbate, that he could not voice his disagreement on same-sex marriage in a theory of ethics class because it would be homophobic and offensive. Ultimately, Marquette president Michael Lovell decided to suspended McAdams for his blog post indefinitely unless he issued a written apology. McAdams refused to apologize, so he was essentially fired.

Tom Kamenich, Deputy Counsel and Litigation Manager for WILL told Media Trackers Communications Director Jerry Bader that they are asking the Supreme Court to take the case in large part because of the broader implications on academic free speech:

“The underlying issue of what kind of speech is allowed on campus , and what should we do about this problem of professors, administrators, sometimes students, shutting down speech they don’t like. It’s literally what the graduate student instructor was doing to the student here, it’s literally what McAdams was arguing forcefully against in his blog post, and it’s literally what the university is now doing to McAdams, is silencing him, punishing him, firing him for his speech.”


While the case has been ongoing for three years now, WILL is now trying to speed up the process by requesting to skip the court of appeals, which could take years, and going directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Kamenich spoke of the need to take up the case sooner rather than later:

 “We’re saying to the courts this case is so important, and there is so little guidance out there right now that the supreme court should take this right now, not have to wait through another year in a half for the court of appeals to consider the case, so we can get an answer right away.”


This case, while important in defending Professor McAdams’ free speech, is also important to protecting and establishing free academic speech in UW and private universities. In the press release Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel at WILL noted of the case’s importance:

“Professor McAdams’ case continues to be a bellwether for academic freedom. Nothing he said or wrote justifies having his tenure stripped from him. Marquette’s decision to fire him is arbitrary and sets a dangerous precedent for professors not just at Marquette, but at UW System schools and other private colleges. A ruling from the Wisconsin Supreme Court would provide guidance on the relationship between schools and their faculty and codify the parameters of academic freedom.”


Kamenich told Media Trackers that the soonest they would hear about when the case would be taken up would be around the end of December or the beginning of January.


The full interview with Tom Kamenich can be found here: