NAS Applauds Wisconsin High Court Ruling in McAdams Case

National Association of Scholars

The National Association of Scholars applauds the decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 6 in favor of John McAdams, in his dispute with Marquette University. McAdams, a tenured political science professor at Marquette, had been suspended indefinitely without pay because he publicly criticized a graduate teaching assistant for suppressing dissenting opinions during a classroom discussion of same-sex marriage.  The court declared that in suspending McAdams on the basis of an “extramural comment protected by the doctrine of academic freedom,” Marquette University violated its own policies.

“This is a major victory for academic freedom,” said NAS president Peter Wood.  “Marquette had provided iron-clad guarantees of academic freedom to its faculty members, including McAdams. But Marquette dispensed with these guarantees the moment some faculty members and administrators took umbrage at Professor McAdams’ words. The university invented loopholes in academic freedom for the sole purpose of punishing McAdams. Today’s ruling forcefully and unambiguously vindicates McAdams’ freedom of expression.”

McAdams' troubles began when one of his student advisees complained that his philosophy instructor, Cheryl Abbate, would not allow a student to criticize same-sex marriage.  When Abbate brushed aside the student’s complaints, he took his concerns to Professor McAdams, who criticized Abbate on his personal blog.  Marquette promptly suspended McAdams, though it never held a hearing or lodged specific charges against him. The university also canceled his classes and barred McAdams from campus. 

NAS President Peter Wood wrote in support of McAdams in January 2015, at the beginning of the case, and later served as an expert witness on McAdams’ behalf in his suit against Marquette.  In February 2018, NAS submitted a brief amicus curiae to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in support of McAdams’ appeal.

Wood observed, “Marquette repeatedly changed procedures and pretexts over the course of this dispute. Initially, McAdams was suspended without any due process. Later Marquette created a special faculty committee to make recommendations and staffed the committee with several of McAdams’ known critics. Marquette University President Michael Lovell accepted the committee’s recommendations but added further stipulations that would have compelled McAdams to say things he did not believe to be true. Because McAdams refused to comply with Lovell’s demands, he was effectively dismissed from his tenured position.”

Wood added, “McAdams’ victory in this lawsuit has implications for all faculty members in the state of Wisconsin and may well influence the national debate over efforts by colleges and universities to impede the freedom of faculty members to criticize their own institutions. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s ruling is a complete vindication of McAdams’ claims. The National Association of Scholars is delighted with this outcome.”

Photo: By Daderot - Own work, CC0

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