Fate of Marquette prof. could hinge on opinions of adversaries

A well-known conservative professor at Marquette University will soon face a hearing that could determine his professional future, and he worries that two of the committee members who will help decide his fate may have axes to grind.

John McAdams, a political science professor who also maintains an independent blog that takes a “skeptical view of events at Marquette,” has been on paid suspension since December while the university considers whether to terminate his tenure in relation to a blog post in which he criticized another instructor, Cheryl Abbate, for telling students not to dispute the propriety of gay marriage.

The post attracted national attention from both the Left and Right, and on December 16, McAdams received a letter from Dean Richard Holz informing him that the university was investigating his conduct, and that he would be suspended from teaching and banned from Marquette’s campus “until further notice.”

Nine months later, McAdams will finally receive that notice when the university’s Faculty Hearing Committee meets on September 21 to decide whether to revoke his tenure. If they vote to dismiss the charges against him, McAdams told Watchdog it might give Marquette “a good excuse to step back off the ledge” and restore him to teaching. If they decide against him, though, he predicts that, “Marquette will surely fire me and then, of course, a lawsuit will follow.”

Marquette’s faculty grievance procedure stipulates that the committee is responsible for investigating the claims and issuing a report giving the findings and recommendations of the majority. The report, along with a minority report of dissenting members wish to submit one, is then sent to the university provost, who makes a final determination as to how the university will respond.

McAdams, however, believes he may not get a fair hearing from the committee, claiming “there are two people on the hearing committee who shouldn’t be there” because they have been adversaries of his in the past, and so should recuse themselves from the process.

“In one case, it’s a communications professor who signed a letter condemning me,” he asserted, adding, “in other words, she’s already made up her mind.” McAdams identified the other individual as “a former provost I’ve blogged about and have been critical of,” who he said “clearly has skin in the game.”

Marquette’s grievance procedure addresses potential conflicts of interest by stating that any committee member “whose impartiality might be compromised by participating in the processing of the grievance ought to recuse himself or herself from consideration of the grievance.” Notably, the policy does not require recusal, leaving individual committee members to judge their own impartiality.

Only two individuals currently serving on the Faculty Hearing Committee come from disciplines related to communications, and just one of the two—Dr. Ana Garner—is found among the signatories to an open letter published by Marquette Wire accusing McAdams of violating the university’s policy on academic freedom by blogging about the Abbate controversy.

The letter claimed that “Prof. McAdams’ actions … have harmed the personal reputation of a young scholar as well as the academic reputation of Marquette University,” arguing that blogging about Abbate’s refusal to permit discussion of diverse opinions on gay marriage made McAdams guilty of “claiming the protection of academic freedom while trying to deny it to others.”

When Campus Reform contacted Dr. Garner for comment on the potential conflict of interest, she responded that, “I am not on the committee,” but declined to elaborate further or to offer any other comment on the McAdams case.

Uncertain as to whether Dr. Garner meant that the list of committee members on the school’s website is inaccurate or was perhaps obliquely referencing a private decision to recuse herself from this particular case, Campus Reform contacted Marquette for clarification, but the university declined to comment on an ongoing issue.

“Until the process runs its course, this is a personnel matter and we have no further elaboration,” wrote Brian Dorrington, Senior Director of University Communication, in an email to Campus Reform.

A verbatim copy of the letter was also published by Daily Nous, a site for professional philosophers, where it attracted the signature of another member of the Faculty Hearing Committee, Dr. Owen Goldin.

Dr. Goldin told Campus Reform that he recused himself from the committee “long ago, prior to its taking on the McAdams case.” He also added that McAdams was aware of the recusal, explaining why Goldin was not among the potential conflicts mentioned in the Watchdog interview.

The other individual to whom McAdams referred in the Watchdog interview was Dr. John Pauly, who confirmed the fact in an email exchange with Campus Reform.

A post on McAdams’ blog from 2011, when Pauly was still Provost, offers insights into why McAdams is concerned about Pauly’s involvement.

In the post, McAdams acknowledges that while he has “been pretty critical of various Marquette officials on this blog … we’ve been particularly critical of Provost John Pauly.”

McAdams points out that Pauly “was the key figure behind the attempt to hire activist lesbian dean candidate Jodi O’Brien,” and also “initiated a policy of putting more classes at 8:00 a.m.” Both efforts were vigorously opposed by the Marquette Warrior blog, which may have contributed to their ultimate defeat.

McAdams goes on to infer that those episodes played a role in Pauly’s decision to request a meeting to discuss “ongoing potential conflicts between your role as Marquette professor and employee, and independent blogger-journalist.”

Dr. Pauly told Campus Reform that he has recused himself from the case, but that his decision was not influenced by McAdams’ comments.

“My decision came after I read the response from John’s lawyer to a letter from the Faculty Hearing Committee that, among other things, invited comment upon the recusal question,” Pauly explained, “I did not automatically recuse myself from the beginning because I consider myself a fair-minded person committed to evaluating the evidence presented to me on any question.”

Pauly noted that his recusal was also influenced by the realization that he might someday be called as a witness in relation to his tenure as Provost, saying, “I wanted to avoid my involvement on the committee coloring anyone’s opinion of the hearing process.”

Dr. McAdams could not be reached for comment.

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