Education

Professor Sues After School Threatens His Job Over Conservative Blog

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Blake Neff Reporter
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A suspended professor at Marquette University has filed a lawsuit against the school, claiming it is illegally trying to fire him simply for expressing conservative views on a private blog.

Prof. John McAdams’s troubles began in the fall of 2014 when he posted on his blog Marquette Warrior about an exchange between an undergrad and Cheryl Abbate, a graduate student teaching a philosophy course. Abbate was leading a class discussion on John Rawls’s equal liberty principle and used various modern day issues, including gay marriage, to illustrate it.

After the class, the student complained to Abbate she had glossed over arguments opposing gay marriage, and said he would have liked the opportunity to push back. In response, Abbate said “homophobic” arguments would not be allowed in class and cautioned the student that opposing gay marriage would be hurtful to gay students who might be in the class.

The student, it turns out, was recording Abbate, and afterwards McAdams blogged about the affair, accusing Abbate of using “a tactic typical among liberals” to silence dissent in class. The post went viral and resulted in Abbate receiving a large amount of abuse and threats. She eventually transferred to the University of Colorado, a move she attributed to the attacks.

Subsequently, Marquette suspended McAdams, claiming his blog posts criticizing Abbate were improper harassment. The inquiry against McAdams took over a year to complete. Finally, in March, McAdams was given an ultimatum: He would be allowed to teach again after the fall 2016 term, but only if he apologized. If he refused, he would lose his job.

McAdams was defiant, and said immediately after the ultimatum dropped that he would never apologize and would rather sue the school.

Now, McAdams’s threat has borne fruit, with a lawsuit filed in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The suit, which was prepared by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), accuses Marquette of breaching contract with McAdams by illegally suspending him and maneuvering to fire him in violation of his tenure rights.

“For blogging and defending an undergraduate student, Professor McAdams is being suspended,” WILL president Rick Esenberg said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “But it is worse than that. He is being told that he will be fired unless, in the manner of a Soviet show trial, he confesses guilt and admits that his conduct was ‘reckless.'”

Marquette is a private school not subject to the First Amendment, but McAdams says the school’s policies provide tenured faculty with free speech guarantees comparable to those required at public colleges.

Marquette was dismissive of McAdams’s suit, saying a full court hearing would expose all of McAdams’s alleged wrongdoing and make it clear his termination is justified.

“We welcome this issue being addressed in court, where the public will hear a comprehensive account of Dr. McAdams’ mistreatment of our former graduate student, rather than the select details he has handpicked to promote his false narrative,” the school said in a statement given to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Once all the facts are made clear, Marquette fully expects that the decision to suspend him will be upheld.”

Marquette has extensively defended the decision to go after McAdams, publishing a FAQ on the school website explaining its actions and linking to relevant documents. The school says its decision to punish McAdams has nothing to do with his political views, a claim McAdams strongly disputes. McAdams told The Daily Caller News Foundation in March his years of blogging have created many enemies in the school’s faculty, and he suggested the school saw this controversy as a chance to get rid of him.

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