FIRE’s Worst for Free Speech Spotlight: Marquette University


And now for the list you’ve all been waiting for: FIRE’s “10 Worst for Free Speech on Campus” list for 2014. While the phrasing of that title may seem a little odd, we changed it from “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” this year because sometimes outside institutions are major threats to collegiate free speech. For the second year in a row, the Department of Education is likely the biggest threat to free speech on campus. You can brush up on the details in my December 2014 Ricochet post entitled Campus Speech Codes Decline, But Federal Government Threatens to Impose Censorship Codes at 100% of Colleges.

But I wanted to bring Ricochet readers’ attention to a handful of “winners” in particular. One of the most urgent cases here is the one still going on at Marquette University:

Marquette University’s chilling campaign to revoke the tenure of Political Science Professor John McAdams due to writings on his private blog ensures its place on this year’s list. McAdams criticized a graduate instructor for what he viewed as her inappropriate suppression of certain viewpoints for in-class discussion (one student’s opposition to same-sex marriage in particular) and the instructor came in for heavy criticism. Marquette then suspended McAdams without due process and abruptly cancelled his next semester’s classes. It also publicly insinuated that McAdams violated its harassment policy and was a safety threat to the campus, despite a complete lack of proof for either charge. Marquette’s disregard of due process and its incredible denial that its campaign against McAdams’s tenure implicates free speech or academic freedom in any way should frighten anyone concerned about faculty rights. Indeed, if the university succeeds in removing McAdams, free speech and academic freedom will lose whatever meaning they had at Marquette.

Firing a tenured professor is an extreme step. You can read a lot more about this case not only on FIRE’s website, but also at The Atlantic and at Bloomberg View.

And keep in mind that Marquette University is the very same college that, many years ago, stood by its decision to take down a quote by humorist Dave Barry from a PhD student’s wall claiming that it was “patently offensive,” a term usually reserved for hard-core pornography. The quote?

“As Americans we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful, and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government.”

In 2009 Barry sat down with us for a one-on-one interview about his case. The interview is a real treat, but the ongoing free speech problem at Marquette University is no laughing matter.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. Seawriter Contributor

    Didn’t Scott Walker attend Marquette University?  And Marquette University is attempting to reign in the ability of its professors to speak freely.

    Anyone want to give an over/under on how long it takes for the Drive-By Media to do a hit piece on Scott Walker’s attempting to muzzle the free-speech rights of college professors because Marquette University?  Bonus points for predicting whether Mother Jones, Vox, New York Times, or Daily Beast posts the expose first.


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  2. Ricochet Moderator

    Unfortunately Marquette is just one of many Catholic colleges and universities that is CAINO (Catholic In Name Only).

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  3. Ricochet Inactive

    As a member of the MU class of 2000 I can attest that it’s not all cheese, beer, and attacks on free speech at Marquette. OK, it is mostly those things, but there is some good…..I met my wife there and we were married on campus. Had to reserve Gesu before I was engaged and was still an undergrad because only students and parishioners could reserve it.

    McAdams taught a class there on the Kennedy assassination. I never took it but heard it was really good. I think Milt Rosenberg interviewed him about a book he wrote on the subject

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  4. Ricochet Member

    Pleated Pants Forever:As a member of the MU class of 2000 I can attest that it’s not all cheese, beer, and attacks on free speech at Marquette. OK, it is mostly those things, but there is some good…..

    Are you saying that cheese and beer aren’t good, or that they aren’t enough to make up for the attacks on free speech?

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  5. Ricochet Inactive

    Matt B – good point. To be clear…….

    Cheese = good
    Beer = good
    Attacks on free speech = really really bad

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  6. user_86050 Inactive

    Marquette is one of the largest Jesuit colleges in the United States.

    St. Ignatius weeps. I know I do.

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  7. kylez Member

    KC Mulville:Marquette is one of the largest Jesuit colleges in the United States.

    St. Ignatius weeps. I know I do.

    Faculty/Admin (except McAdams) should be forced to drag a heavy suit of knight gear uphill in the rain.

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  8. Charlotte Member

    Marquette ARSC ’96.

    Although McAdams certainly shouldn’t have his tenure revoked over this, I must point out that no one in this story comes off well at all: not McAdams (who didn’t bother trying to get the rest of the story before he started blogging about the incident), not Abbate the graduate instructor (who unfairly calls the student’s opinions homophobic), and not the undergraduate student (who clearly wanted to pick a fight and lied about recording the conversation). They all seem like jerks.

    Which, again, shouldn’t be grounds for termination.

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  9. Charlotte Member

    Pleated Pants Forever:

    Cheese = good

    Beer = good

    In future please do not omit perhaps the most important of the Milwaukee trifecta: sausage.

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  10. ConservativeFred Member

    I graduated from Marquette University almost 25 years ago, and at that time it was solidly Jesuit.  It was also a great experience in free speech.  Many of the professors were old school liberals, that were not threatened by debate.  In our classes we could, and would, take many conflicting viewpoints.  I never felt threatened for expressing a conservative position.

    When I attended graduate school in the mi-90’s at another institution I had to ask a classmate to define “PC.”  My graduate school experience was an exercise in avoiding any meaningful discussion to avoid being labeled racist, sexist, etc . . .  It was a completely different experience from Marquette university.

    My heart weeps for my Marquette.  A few other points:

    • My understanding is that Marquette made a decision around 2000 to pursue the mantle of an “elite” institution, and there is obviously a lot of PC baggage that goes with being deemed elite.
    • The school no longer has a Jesuit as President.
    • The number of Jesuits teaching has significantly declined.

    Say what you will about the liberal Jesuit order (in the interest of full and fair disclosure, I am struggling with the current Pope), but they valued a free exchange of ideas.  The decline in vocations had a definite impact on the quality of education at Roman Catholic Colleges and Universities.  There are not enough Jesuits to maintain the market place of ideas central to the college experience.  It is now a school run by administrators committed to uniformity before knowledge.

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  11. Ontheleftcoast Member

    Mr. Barry was mistaken about the atmosphere on campuses in the 1960s. My mother was a grad student at Cal, and was at the Greek Theater when Mario Savio interrupted Clark Kerr’s speech. There is a quasi-official account here:

    My mother remembers a different sequence of events. Kerr was speaking, someone from the crowd yelled “shut up” and, in what seemed to her to be a prearranged sequence of events, Kerr’s microphone was cut and Savio moved up with his speech in hand.

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