Marquette University Political Science Professor John McAdams nearly four year legal battle with his employer came to a close this morning with a sweeping victory for McAdams at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The state’s high court ruled that McAdams was improperly suspended after he publicly criticized a graduate student by name on his politically conservative blog and opened her up to threats.
The court ordered MU to immediately reinstate the professor and sent the case back to a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge to award damages, including back pay. Following the ruling, McAdams spoke with WHBY talk show host Josh Dukelow.
What was your reaction when the opinion was released?
I’m partly elated and partly relieved it’s been 3.5 years.
Does he expect awkwardness or ill will when he returns to campus?
Probably not. The people who have been after me are in the administration who I rarely interact with. I mostly interact with students. So I think things are going to be fine.
Does he see the ruling has having a direct significance to the larger public?
It doesn’t have direct significance except that what happens in academia has significance for everybody. Academia is more and more intolerant, more and more unwilling to tolerate speech that politically correct leftist don’t like. This is one battle in a much wider war to vindicate free speech rights on campus.
With employment fully restored, when will he return to campus?
It will be whenever I choose to go. It will be when I decide that I need to go in and collect some papers or do something on my desktop computer at Marquette. It’ll be whenever I want.
Recap of the case, provided by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, which provided Adams’ legal representation:
In Fall 2014, John McAdams, a political science professor at Marquette University, blogged about a graduate instructor who refused to allow debate about same sex marriage in her classroom (in a situation where same-sex marriage was relevant to the class discussion), claiming that any opinion against gay marriage was homophobic and would not be permitted in her class. On his blog, Dr. McAdams wrote that the topic should be debated, not suppressed. Marquette responded by first suspending Dr. McAdams and banning him from campus as if he posed a physical threat.
Marquette then sent Dr. McAdams notice that it would terminate his tenure and fire him from the faculty. The suspension, banishment, and termination were then reviewed by a faculty hearing committee. That process, however, was significantly flawed. For example, Marquette allowed Dr. Lynn Turner to sit on the faculty hearing committee, despite the fact that she signed a public letter condemning Dr. McAdams before all of the facts were known. Also, the university actually had access to substantial evidence that called into question or even disproved the story they were trying to tell the committee. But Marquette failed to turn the evidence over to Dr. McAdams, who only discovered it later in litigation.
The panel, despite acknowledging that Dr. McAdams did not break any university rules, concluded that he should be suspended for two semesters. But Marquette President Michael Lovell proceeded to effectively fire McAdams by making his reinstatement contingent upon Dr. McAdams apologizing and admitting that he had done wrong.
McAdams refused to say that his exercising his right to speech and his defense of the undergraduate student were wrong. As a result, in May 2016, WILL, on behalf of Dr. McAdams, sued Marquette University for breach of his employment contract.
Marquette is, of course, a private university. But it guarantees its faculty academic freedom by contract and promises its employees – like McAdams – that termination would not be used to restrain rights protected by the United States Constitution (i.e. the First Amendment freedom of speech). This makes sense; academic freedom is an essential value on college campuses, giving faculty protections of speech that may be disapproved of by the administration or students on campuses.
Yet the Milwaukee Circuit Court ruled in favor of Marquette, concluding that it had to defer to the faculty hearing committee, and adopted all of its findings of fact and conclusions of law. It did this even though McAdams proved that Marquette withheld key information from the committee. It did this even though nothing in Marquette’s agreement with faculty provides that anyone will defer to this committee.
We appealed directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, attempting to bypass the court of appeals. We explained that since most universities make promises of academic freedom, the case gives the Court an opportunity to define and protect academic freedom. It gives the Court a chance to say that even speech that is unpopular with the University’s administration and other faculty members is entitled to protection. It is an opportunity to reject the notion that unpopular speech can and should be suppressed on college campuses and to speak out for free speech on campus. In the end, we’re not asking Marquette to do anything other than simply honor the promise of academic freedom they make to their professors.
The Supreme Court of Wisconsin agreed to hear the case.