In 2007, Dr. Mike Adams sued the University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) after being unfairly denied a promotion.
Seven years later, the federal jury has ruled in Dr. Adams’ favor.
When Dr. Adams first presented his case, he cited emails and statements from faculty and colleagues who disapproved of his outspoken views which are conservative, Christian, and often pro-Republican. According to Inside Higher Ed, he provided evidence that his colleagues liked him when he was an atheist Democrat, but expressed concerns when he changed his perspective.
The verified complaint records how Dr. Adams received excellent annual reviews from Drs. Steven H. McNamee and Cecil Willis, who served as chairs of the Department of Sociology and Criminology at UNCW from 1993-2004. In 1998, the university granted tenure to him. Dr. Adams received the Faculty Member of the Year Award in both 1998 and 2000, and converted to Christianity in 2000 at around the time when he received the second award.
According to the university’s mission statement, UNCW “is committed to diversity, international perspectives, and regional service,” and according to the Code of the Board of Governors, UNCW recognizes that it can only fulfill its mission by protecting academic freedom. Nevertheless, an analysis of email correspondences with Dr. Adams reveals a clear instance of discrimination.
During the summer of 2000, Dr. Adams commented on the lack of ideological diversity on campus. Because of this comment, Dr. Lynn Snowden, the Faculty Senate President at the time, removed Dr. Adams from the Faculty Senate mailing list. When questioned about this decision, she wrote that she had removed Dr. Adams from the mailing list because he was “campaigning for Bush.”
In 2001, Dr. Adams received an email from Ms. Rosa Fuller, a UNCW student and daughter of Philosophy Professor Patti Turrisi, the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at UNCW. Ms. Fuller’s email was titled “In Dedication to an Undivided Humanity” and blamed the attacks of September 11 on the foreign policy of the United States. She sent the email to students and faculty and asked readers to “forward this email to friends and acquaintances both on and off campus.”
Dr. Adams forwarded the email to six friends and wrote to Fuller saying that “[her] statement is undeserving of serious consideration. Your claimed interest in promoting rational discussion is dishonest. It is an intentionally divisive diatribe.” He continued by stating that, nevertheless, “The Constitution protects your speech just as it has protected bigoted, unintelligent, and immature speech for years.”
Three days later, Dr. Adams received a phone call from Dr. Turisi which stated that he and his daughter would initiate an investigation of Dr. Adams for “verbally abusing” Ms. Fuller. The investigation involved a lengthy and unwarranted invasion of Dr. Adams’ email records, which Dr. Adams later described as “a truly psychotic act of retaliation over nothing more than a petty difference in political opinion.” During that same year, he was also falsely accused of tear gassing a colleague’s office.
In 2002, Dr. Adams launched his career as a columnist for Townhall and throughout the next several years received criticism for his opinions and for his publications. Dr. Willis, the chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology said that his writings made her “uncomfortable” and asked him not to speak about them openly.
In spite of these quarrels, Dr. Adams received superb teaching evaluations every year, and in his 2003 evaluation was told that “he remains, by all indications, one of the most skilled and popular instructors in our department and university.” In addition, he received “excellent” teaching scores and prepared “good” to “outstanding” course material.
In spite of these positive reviews, when he applied for promotion to full professor in 2006, he was told that “[his] record does not merit promotion to professor at this time.”
Dr. Kimberly Cook, the new chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology said that he was deficient in all three areas of consideration: teaching, scholarship, and service.
Upon her arrival at the college, Dr. Cook said to her teaching committee, “My image of a perfect job candidate is a lesbian with spiked hair and a dog collar”—an image to which Dr. Adams certainly could not measure up.
Having received an inadequate explanation for the denial of his promotion, Dr. Adams filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Raleigh office. He claimed that the university discriminated against him based on his religion and denied him of his First Amendment rights.
Seven years later, on March 20, 2014, the court ruled in his favor in what it deemed a clear case of discrimination.
Travis Barnham, the attorney representing Mike Adams, was quoted in an interview with a local news channel as saying, “They concluded that the University of North Carolina Wilmington retaliated against Dr. Adams by denying him a promotion in 2006 and they retaliated against him because they did not like the views he expressed in his books and columns and speeches. Basically, they didn't like what he said in his own time.”
NAS president Peter Wood commended Dr. Adams for “a rare and vitally important victory for intellectual diversity in higher education.” He added the following:
Colleges and universities in the United States frequently discriminate against faculty members who are perceived as conservative. Those who are seen as conservative Christians or evangelicals appear especially subject to abusive treatment. George Yancey’s 2011 study, Compromising Scholarship, provided hard social scientific evidence of how widespread and strong these prejudices are in the academy. But faculty members and administrators are usually very good in covering their tracks. The victims of these prejudices seldom can provide smoking-gun evidence of why they were denied appointment, tenure, promotion, or other rewards. What Professor Adams has given us is an extraordinary opportunity to see such biases documented—and acted on. His victory will hearten all of us who are concerned that American higher education is becoming a closed circle of people who hold one political view and who ruthlessly enforce that view against any who might have different opinions.
The UNCW mission statement claims that the university protects academic freedom, inclusion, and diversity of perspectives. The Adams’ case shows that the university failed to live up to those values.
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