The Silencing of John McAdams

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One of the most astounding cases I have ever written about is that of political science professor John McAdams. McAdams, a long-serving, tenured faculty member at Marquette University was fired because of a blog post in which he criticized a young colleague for the way she responded to a student who had asked why, in her course on contemporary ethical issues, they wouldn’t take up same-sex marriage.

She dismissed the student’s question by asserting that the issue was settled and to bring it up would be harmful.

After Professor McAdams heard about this dustup, he wrote about it on his own blog, criticizing the instructor, Cheryl Abbate. For having dared to do that, McAdams was first banished from the campus and then his employment was terminated.

The Martin Center has been covering this case from the beginning (see “When Political Correctness Collides with a Catholic University” by Professor Howard Kainz) and the still-unresolved case recently prompted this column by George Will. Early this month, the Wall Street Journal asked in an editorial if Marquette’s contract promising academic freedom is worth anything – and concluded that it isn’t.

That editorial provoked Marquette’s president, Michael Lovell, to respond. In his letter, Lovell argued that McAdams deserved his punishment because he “inflicted a public and personal internet attack on our student. Instead of expressing his concerns through established internal channels, he chose to blog about our graduate student—publicly shaming her, questioning her values, and including a link to her contact information.”

That response ignores the key fact that nothing in the contract between the university and its tenured faculty members says that they must raise pedagogical concerns they have through internal channels and face disciplinary action if they don’t. Even when faculty members become persona non grata because their views are at odds with the administration, the parties are still bound to their contract. Whether Marquette violated that contract is the issue in the suit McAdams has filed.

But the point I want to emphasize here is the untruthfulness of Lovell’s letter. McAdams pointed that out in a rejoinder published in the Wall Street Journal on January 16.

For one thing, while the university tries to make it seem as though this is an instance of a professor picking on a student, that is far from the truth. Ms. Abbate, 27 at the time, was the instructor of record in the course–hardly “our student.”

Furthermore, McAdams writes, “The claim that I linked to her ‘contact information’ is flatly false. I linked to her toxic feminist blog post . . . titled ‘Yes All Men Contribute to the Prevalence of Rape.’ Possibly people dug around on her blog and found her email address or simply used Marquette’s standard formula.”

As for the supposed “public shaming” of Abbate, all McAdams did was to express his disagreement with the way she handled the student who had asked about discussing same-sex marriage. This is nonsense; blogging that you think that a member of the faculty treated a student badly is just the kind of academic argument that goes on all the time.

At least, it used to go on all the time. If Marquette wins and rids itself of this meddlesome professor (I’m adverting to King Henry II’s desire to be rid of Thomas Becket), faculty members who hold views that are not popular with the administration will think twice before uttering them.

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