On April 19th, the Wisconsin State Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of McAdams vs. Marquette University. Rick Esenberg, director of the conservative legal organization WILL, who represents McAdams, will claim that Marquette suspended McAdams (a suspension that has since become a permanent condition) because of his posts critical of the university on the former professor’s Marquette Warrior blog. The suspension allegedly violates the McAdams’ first amendment rights under MU’s Faculty Handbook.
Marquette’s counter claim will be that McAdams violated university policies governing the faculty by calling out a graduate student by name on his blog. One of McAdams’ favorite targets is the purported liberal totalitarianism rampant at MU, and the instructor was said to have oppressed a conservative student by not giving him class time to air his opposition to gay marriage.
One factor that should work in the university’s favor is that McAdams has been blogging since the mid-nineties with Marquette as his most frequent target. And Marquette’s administration – though not necessarily its faculty – had been silent in response. Even the name of McAdams’ blog is a jab at MU, which changed its mascot from the Warrior to the Golden Eagle out of respect for Native American heritage, which McAdams views as political correctness run amok.
As Marquette’s attorney Ralph Weber points out, “John McAdams has done over 3,000 blog posts” since starting the Marquette Warrior. “It’s only the ones that Cheryl Abbate is named in that Marquette has a problem with.”
A random sampling of campus activities that have drawn McAdams’ curmudgeonly attentions:
In 2007, when Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was produced at MU, McAdams called it “Lesbian Pedophile Seduction.”
In 2010, Marquette was all set to hire openly gay Jodi O’Brien, a Seattle University sociologist, as dean of Arts and Sciences. In fact, the university had already made an offer to O’Brien. But McAdams’ blogs stirred up the MU’s conservative donors and alumni, and then-president Fr. Wilde rescinded the offer, saying that O’Brien’s published writings did not coincide with the university’s views on marriage and the family. That decision made national headlines and roiled the humanities faculty.
In 2013, FemSex, the Female Sexuality Workshop, was held on MU’s campus. The workshop originated at UC-Berkeley and drew McAdams’ scorn because, in his words, the goal was to “help women have better sex by telling them that men are evil exploiters.” The workshop was run by what was then the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, another McAdams’ target, and, because of his blog posts, drew the ire of conservative MU graduates like Ethan Hollenberger, a legislative aid for Wisconsin State Senator Duey Stroebel who wrote a letter to Marquette’s provost complaining that the group’s activities were contrary to Catholic teachings. FemSex was subsequently moved off campus.
The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center lost its director because of McAdams’ blogging and was split into two separate campus organizations with considerably lower profiles. And that was after his suspension.
McAdams was initially suspended, pending investigation, in early in 2015 because of a post about Abbate written in late-October 2014. His initial suspension included full pay and benefits. As a result of recommendations by the Faculty Hearing Committee, which was convened to investigate the matter, McAdams is currently suspended without pay. The former professor, who is in his early seventies, is suing Marquette to have his tenure re-instated.
The Faculty Hearing Committee issued its 161-page (including bibliography) report in January 2016. The seven-member committee was comprised of faculty members from across Marquette’s campus, including humanities faculty as well as faculty from engineering, communications, law, and dentistry. A confidential letter from Lovell to McAdams (emailed to me by Weber), summarizes the faculty’s position.
Lovell’s letter praises the faculty committee for recognizing the complexity of the issue, in which their goal was to examine the “delicate balance” between “academic freedom and a faculty member’s responsibilities to others.” As a result of McAdam’s posts, Abbate had received death threats. Campus police patrolled outside her classroom door in her last days at MU.
As the report states, McAdams aimed “to strike a blow at the . . . claimed phenomenon of liberal political correctness” and “Ms. Abbate was essentially a casualty in that wider battle, one that Dr. McAdams does not appear to feel much regret over.”
The committee’s sometimes scathing criticism of a fellow professor is unsurprising. McAdams was not especially popular with his fellow faculty members. In November 2014, a group of Klingler College department chairs – including the chair of McAdams’ own political science department – signed an open letter posted on the Marquette Wire (the Marquette Tribune’s online version) stating that they supported Ms. Abbate and that McAdams’ blogging had “led members of the Marquette community to alter their behavior out of fear of becoming the subject of one of his attacks.”
More than a year later, the Faculty Hearing Committee found McAdams’ actions in the Abbate matter to be “imprudent, unprofessional, and unwise.” The committee’s report asserted that “without corrective action, such conduct is likely to continue in the future.”
The decision by the committee was unanimous. They opted to suspend McAdams for two semesters and advised that McAdams should be terminated if the reckless behavior they detailed – which included misrepresentations of Abbate’s remarks and intentions – were to continue. But MU president Michael Lovell upped the ante. He decided to apply that “corrective action.” In his confidential letter of March 24, 2016, Lovell required that in order to return to teaching in Spring 2017, McAdams would need to acknowledge in writing that his behavior had been “reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University” and to commit that his future behavior would be compatible with the University’s standards as defined by the Faculty Handbook, the guiding document for the faculty hearing committee’s judgment.
Naturally, McAdams refused. Legal action followed.
Born and raised in Alabama, McAdams is a southern Protestant who declines to name his denomination but has had no qualms about pointing out areas where he thinks MU fails to live up to its Catholic and Jesuit mission. However, he has shown little interest in the social justice aspect of that mission.
McAdams’ syllabus for a Spring 2013 course called American Politics is one example. The theme of the class was to show how “public opinion translates into policy.” The readings include a 1989 article from WSJ called “The Media’s Typical Homeless are Anything But,” which criticizes “the media” for failing to point out in its coverage of homelessness that most homeless people, far from being innocent and deserving, are actually drug addicts and alcoholics.
And, while avowed campus conservatives were pleased with McAdams, other students posted on Facebook that most of his handouts “were published in the 70s and 80s. It was definitely propaganda for his personal agenda.”
Rick Esenberg has made a calculated move by bypassing the appeals process and taking McAdams’ case straight to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Given the high court’s distinct rightward tilt, the decision is likely to go in McAdams’ favor.
Esenberg appears to be confident. On April 17th, two days before the Supreme Court hearing, WILL is scheduled to hold a fundraiser billed as a “Preview of the Landmark McAdams vs. Marquette Lawsuit in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” Photos of both McAdams and Esenberg are prominently featured in the digital brochure. And it must be said, they look happy.