At Marquette, Expect the Inquisition

 
John McAdams

Prof. John McAdams of Marquette University

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.

Ricochet readers can visit FIRE’s site for our latest on the case and the rest of our collected coverage. As always, comments and questions are welcome.

Update, April 4: Professor McAdams has responded to Lovell’s demands.

There are 26 comments.

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  1. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Greg, I so admire your work. It must be difficult, day after day, to have to deal with these outrages. What I especially liked was the last paragraph of Lovell’s letter:

    In closing, I want to sincerely thank the seven faculty members who served on the Faculty Hearing Committee.  They provided substantial service to the university through their extremely thorough, objective and diligent approach throughout this process.

    I don’t think he’s in any position to judge objectivity based on his own bad behavior. Thank you for this post.

    • #1
  2. Robert McReynolds Inactive
    Robert McReynolds
    @RobertMcReynolds

    How can tenure be lost once earned? I thought the whole idea of tenure was to ensure that you couldn’t be fired for holding unpopular intellectual views?

    • #2
  3. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Another “Catholic” university (in the Jesuit tradition) disgraces itself. On their “about” page is this:

    A Catholic and Jesuit education at Marquette is marked by the active intersection of the Gospel with culture and the intellect, as well as a deep commitment to the well-being of the whole human family.

    After events like the one you describe, I am surprised they keep this on their website.

    As is typical, looking at their “diversity” page, it seems the emphasis is all about sex and color – nothing about ideas other than this one:

    Marquette seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice.

    Do you know if the archbishop has weighed in on any of this?

    • #3
  4. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Lovell is Marquette’s first lay president.  Nothing in his professional background suggests any strong commitment/exposure to Catholic education, and his principal accomplishments are in the field of engineering.  Whoever greenlighted his hiring bears a measure of responsibility for this fiasco, as do any alumni who are staying on the fence. Private colleges get the presidents that they deserve–unfortunately sometimes to the detriment of free speech.  It’s worth noting that a decent portion of McAdams’ blog was critical of the university atmosphere, and went beyond a critique of the particular professor.  Thin skins prevail.

    • #4
  5. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Robert McReynolds:How can tenure be lost once earned? I thought the whole idea of tenure was to ensure that you couldn’t be fired for holding unpopular intellectual views?

    Yeah, how can that be? I recall other situations, such as the Ward Churchill affair, in which tenure (and academic freedom) was cited as the reason that prevented any penalties.

    • #5
  6. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Robert McReynolds:How can tenure be lost once earned? I thought the whole idea of tenure was to ensure that you couldn’t be fired for holding unpopular intellectual views?

    “Hate Speech isn’t Free Speech”. Expect endless variants of that, especially in situations like this (tenure for me but not for thee… for Great Justice!).

    • #6
  7. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Scott Wilmot:Another “Catholic” university (in the Jesuit tradition) disgraces itself. On their “about” page is this:

    A Catholic and Jesuit education at Marquette is marked by the active intersection of the Gospel with culture and the intellect, as well as a deep commitment to the well-being of the whole human family.

    After events like the one you describe, I am surprised they keep this on their website.

    Peter Kreeft likes to say the BC in Boston College really stands for “Barely Catholic”, and that he considers BC to be a mission field. I get the impression this is pretty much the case at just about every Catholic college today.

    As is typical, looking at their “diversity” page, it seems the emphasis is all about sex and color – nothing about ideas other than this one:

    Marquette seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice.

    Do you know if the archbishop has weighed in on any of this?

    Why would the church take a stand for Catholicism at this college when they won’t do it at BC, Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc? Most “quality” Christian colleges have long been colonized and assimilated by faculty hostile to Christianity. Christianity took a back seat to “academic excellence”, and is now being hunted down and killed off. Same for Protestant schools… Wake Forrest, most of the Ivies, TCU, even BYU. All created for religious purpose, all conquered (or in the process of such) by leftism.

    • #7
  8. ToryWarWriter Thatcher
    ToryWarWriter
    @ToryWarWriter

    Gone on the days when people like my father would resign en masse from a University who behaved so stupidly.

    My father was involved in the 1958 Crowe affair in Canada.

    • #8
  9. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Douglas: I get the impression this is pretty much the case at just about every Catholic college today.

    There are still a few good and faithful ones. I had a son graduate from Franciscan University and one currently attending Benedictine College.

    Douglas: Why would the church take a stand for Catholicism at this college when they won’t do it at BC, Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc?

    This is unfortunate. I commented on another post re UND that the bishop needs to take away the Catholic accreditation for that university to make a point – that is the only way anything will happen. But I won’t hold my breath.

    • #9
  10. Peter Bonilla Contributor
    Peter Bonilla
    @PeterBonilla

    Robert McReynolds:

    How can tenure be lost once earned? I thought the whole idea of tenure was to ensure that you couldn’t be fired for holding unpopular intellectual views?

    Indeed, it’s generally thought of as being extremely difficult to lose once obtained, and that’s because it is. With few exceptions, my sense is that professors have their tenure stripped when they’re charged with or convicted of serious criminal activity, or else serious academic or research misconduct. McAdams would be the first to tell readers he wasn’t the most popular professor in the faculty lounges at Marquette, but that doesn’t change the fact that raising critiques of the kind he raised are overwhelmingly understood as falling within the bounds of one’s academic freedom protections. There’s no question that Marquette’s effort to strip McAdams of his tenure has dramatically weakened tenure as a whole at the institution.

    • #10
  11. Peter Bonilla Contributor
    Peter Bonilla
    @PeterBonilla

    Scott Wilmot: Do you know if the archbishop has weighed in on any of this?

    Good question. I do not.

    • #11
  12. Peter Bonilla Contributor
    Peter Bonilla
    @PeterBonilla

    tigerlily: Yeah, how can that be? I recall other situations, such as the Ward Churchill affair, in which tenure (and academic freedom) was cited as the reason that prevented any penalties.

    Churchill’s case was a very interesting one. He was stripped of his tenure when a committee appointed to review his publications found evidence of substantial misconduct (very good summary here), but the fact that the investigation was undertaken squarely in response to his expression doomed CU’s defense, and he prevailed on free speech grounds. Even then, though, the court declined to order CU to give Churchill his position back.

    • #12
  13. Douglas Inactive
    Douglas
    @Douglas

    Peter Bonilla:

    Robert McReynolds:

    How can tenure be lost once earned? I thought the whole idea of tenure was to ensure that you couldn’t be fired for holding unpopular intellectual views?

    Indeed, it’s generally thought of as being extremely difficult to lose once obtained, and that’s because it is. With few exceptions, my sense is that professors have their tenure stripped when they’re charged with or convicted of serious criminal activity, or else serious academic or research misconduct. McAdams would be the first to tell readers he wasn’t the most popular professor in the faculty lounges at Marquette, but that doesn’t change the fact that raising critiques of the kind he raised are overwhelmingly understood as falling within the bounds of one’s academic freedom protections. There’s no question that Marquette’s effort to strip McAdams of his tenure has dramatically weakened tenure as a whole at the institution.

    The AAUP is usually very loud about matters of tenure. Wonder what their take on this is? (Hint: I don’t really wonder, that was rhetorical. They’re a leftist Frankfurt School group in character and ideas, and are probably just fine with firing right wing apostates).

    • #13
  14. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Peter,

    At what point do these bogus “safety” violations become defamation?

    Have you successfully litigated a defamation claim in a case like this?

    • #14
  15. Pelicano Inactive
    Pelicano
    @Pelicano

    Tenure is not absolute and tenured faculty can be fire for violating their terms of employment.  In practice it’s very difficult and is usually easier to just wait it out until retirement.

    • #15
  16. Pelicano Inactive
    Pelicano
    @Pelicano

    The bishop will not get involved as it is an internal personnel matter. McAdams has also behaved unwisely in the matter, and it’s easy enough for the university to sidestep the homosexual marriage issue to focus on McAdams. The bishop isn’t going to take on the university over him.

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    ToryWarWriter:Gone on the days when people like my father would resign en masse from a University who behaved so stupidly.

    My father was involved in the 1958 Crowe affair in Canada.

    Thanks for the reference. I see there is a wikipedia page for it.

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Pelicano: McAdams has also behaved unwisely in the matter,

    So? Who hasn’t behaved unwisely, in every action s/he takes?

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Scott Wilmot:

    Douglas: I get the impression this is pretty much the case at just about every Catholic college today.

    There are still a few good and faithful ones. I had a son graduate from Franciscan University and one currently attending Benedictine College.

    Douglas: Why would the church take a stand for Catholicism at this college when they won’t do it at BC, Notre Dame, Georgetown, etc?

    This is unfortunate. I commented on another post re UND that the bishop needs to take away the Catholic accreditation for that university to make a point – that is the only way anything will happen. But I won’t hold my breath.

    Also, if the Obama administration wants to keep for-profit colleges from getting money through student loans, it should also keep private colleges that violate academic freedom from getting money through student loans.

    • #19
  20. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Pelicano:The bishop will not get involved as it is an internal personnel matter. McAdams has also behaved unwisely in the matter, and it’s easy enough for the university to sidestep the homosexual marriage issue to focus on McAdams. The bishop isn’t going to take on the university over him.

    Are questions involving Catholic doctrine (in this case, “gay rights”) really “internal personnel matter(s)”?  They’re trying to fire McAdams for saying something in simple opposition to what someone else said that arguably contradicts Church doctrine.. Did the other teacher “behave unwisely in the matter” when she shut down debate in her own classroom?

    • #20
  21. Peter Bonilla Contributor
    Peter Bonilla
    @PeterBonilla

    Douglas: The AAUP is usually very loud about matters of tenure. Wonder what their take on this is?

    I don’t know AAUP’s take on the most recent developments, but I do know that AAUP was critical of Marquette’s disregard for McAdams’ due process, and wrote Marquette a letter to this effect. Marquette may be determined to see McAdams never teaches another day, but the AAUP’s input was definitely welcome, and they’ve been a good ally of ours on several other cases where due process and academic freedom are concerned. Ricochet readers might also be interested to see AAUP’s new, highly critical report on Title IX’s encroaching effects on academic freedom.

    • #21
  22. Peter Bonilla Contributor
    Peter Bonilla
    @PeterBonilla

    ctlaw:Peter,

    At what point do these bogus “safety” violations become defamation?

    Have you successfully litigated a defamation claim in a case like this?

    Good questions. I’m not an attorney so I couldn’t give a solid legal answer, but there seems little question McAdams’ reputation suffered some read harm as a result of Marquette’s characterizations of his behavior. It’s still a very high bar to clear to get from there to a winning defamation claim, still.

    • #22
  23. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Peter Bonilla: Ricochet readers might also be interested to see AAUP’s new, highly critical report on Title IX’s encroaching effects on academic freedom.

    Yes, that is interesting. Thank you.

    • #23
  24. Flyondawall Inactive
    Flyondawall
    @Flyondawall

    Upon reflection…deleted

    • #24
  25. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    It would be a very good thing if McAdams were to win his lawsuit and force the President of Marquette University to issue an apology for his conduct.

    I would bet that Marquette is an institution where anyone who publicly opposes same-sex marriage is treated as a pariah.

    • #25
  26. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Deep down those that wish to remove Professor McAdams see him as a threat to Marquette because they realize that the good professor has critical thinking skills they do not have.

    They have existed on spoon fed platitudes on their own academic journeys and the last thing they want is someone challenging students they are now spoon feeding platitudes.

    Marquette does not want a professor that can challenge students to ignite the fire of reason in their heads after years of being fed mush instead of meat.

    • #26

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