In a major victory for academic freedom and free expression on America's campuses, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that John McAdams, the Marquette University professor who was fired for criticizing a graduate student instructor should be fully reinstated.
In its 4-2 ruling, the court said Marquette University had breached its contract, which protects his academic freedom, with McAdams and ordered Marquette to fully reinstate the tenured professor, with back pay, full benefits and no loss of standing. The high court sent the case back to a lower court that had ruled against McAdams for a determination of damages.
The ruling is expected to have a consequential impact on conservatives' efforts to protect campus free speech that has increasingly been under assault by the left.
The tussle between McAdams and Marquette began when the professor criticized the graduate instructor for refusing to allow any discussion of gay marriage in her ethics class. She told a student who sought the discussion that it would "homophobic," even though the Catholic Church is opposed to gay marriage. McAdams supporters, including myself, found it odd, it not repressible, that opposition to same-sex marriage, which has been restated by Pope Francis, is ruled out-of-bounds at a Jesuit-run Catholic University.
Of course, Marquette president Michael Lovell was unapologetic in a statement "reaffirming" the school's commitment to the "whole person." He wrote, "We will continue to live as servant leaders with a commitment to the Jesuit tradition and Catholic social teaching for all people, beliefs and faith traditions."
From this, we can assume that Lovell gives not a damn a slice of Catholic teaching should be outlawed at a Catholic university. He and a faculty advisory committee defined the case as not one of McAdams' contractually guaranteed freedom of speech. Rather, they said, McAdams had victimized the graduate teaching assistant because his criticism of her on his blog "invited" nasty emails. In fact, court documents filed by McAdams revealed that the university exaggerated the emails' volume and gravity.
For Marquette, it was a question of whether a private university or, by extension, a private business can discipline its employees because the First Amendment protections apply only to government suppression of free speech. Okay, the court said, we'll focus only on that employment contract and when doing so, concluded that Marquette had violated terms of that contract that included, among other protections, his academic freedom. In other words, his contractural rights weren't subservient to the instructor's bad feelings engendered by nasty emails.
Marquette was so insistent that it could interpret the contract any way it wanted that it challenged McAdams right to challenge his dismissal in court--a stupefying assertion. Marquette should learn a lesson from this sorry, long-running and costly dispute. But even as an alumnus, I doubt it.
Here’s how to subscribe to the Barbershop so that you’ll be notified when I post: Type your email address in the box and click the "create subscription" button. My list is completely spam free, and you can opt out at any time.
Filed under: Uncategorized