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Ricochet readers familiar with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE’s) work may have taken note of the long and drawn-out battle Marquette University professor John McAdams has been waging to keep his tenure—a battle that Marquette seems dead set on making him lose.
To briefly catch readers up, McAdams was suspended without due process and banished from the Marquette campus in December 2014 following the controversy over a post on his blog, Marquette Warrior. The post in question criticized an instructor’s suppression of a student’s opinions against same-sex marriage in the course of a class discussion, on the grounds those opinions might be offensive to other students. McAdams criticized the instructor, Cheryl Abbate, by name in his post, resulting in public criticism for Abbate, as well as, allegedly, threats and harassment from unidentified third parties.
Marquette responded with a process that was an affront to free speech, due process, and academic freedom. First, Marquette suspended McAdams without a hearing or outlining specific charges against him. Then, it insinuated in public statements that McAdams had violated the university’s harassment policy and was a danger to the campus, and even effectively held him accountable for the alleged threats and harassment made by third parties against Abbate. Finally, in January 2015 Marquette announced it would seek to revoke his tenure.
McAdams has remained in professional limbo—and banished from campus—for the last 16 months, with his appeal to Marquette’s Faculty Hearing Committee dragging into 2016, until Marquette president Michael Lovell formally endorsed its recommendations last week. According to a statement from McAdams’s attorneys, the faculty committee faulted Marquette’s disregard for due process and disagreed that termination was a suitable punishment, though it nonetheless recommended suspending McAdams for one to two additional semesters.
McAdams’s attorneys also state, however, that Lovell went beyond the committee’s recommendations and demanded that McAdams apologize and admit guilt, stating that Marquette will terminate him if he refuses. This comes as no surprise to McAdams, who wagers that Marquette made this demand knowing full well he would refuse to do so.
My FIRE colleague Nico Perrino called this latest move from Marquette “an age-old inquisitorial tactic used to violate freedom of conscience through compelled speech.” At the Catholic institution that has become a perennial resident of FIRE’s list of the nation’s worst schools for free speech, the metaphor is apt.
Update, April 4: Professor McAdams has responded to Lovell’s demands.