Marquette conservative prof. suspended, required to admit 'guilt' to keep job

A well-known conservative professor at Marquette University was officially suspended last week, and is also being required to admit “guilt” for expressing opinions critical of the university on his personal blog.

University President Michael Lovell announced in a letter to the school community Thursday that Professor John McAdams will be suspended—with benefits but without pay—until January 2017, though he added that the suspension would be extended indefinitely unless McAdams offers a public admission of guilt within two weeks.

McAdams was put on paid suspension in December 2014 over a blog post he wrote criticizing another instructor, Cheryl Abbate, for telling students not to dispute the propriety of gay marriage because it would be “homophobic” to express opposition to the idea.

“Marquette has explicitly said that they’re investigating me for violating Marquette’s guiding values, which are extremely vague,” McAdams told Campus Reform. “Imagine if the Constitution said you could be put in jail for irresponsible journalism.”

[RELATED: Marquette moves to fire tenured conservative professor for blog post]

A seven-member Faculty Hearing Committee met in September to consider whether his tenure should be revoked, and in January sent a 123-page report to Lovell’s office unanimously recommending a one-to-two semester suspension, which McAdams suspects represented a compromise between committee members who wanted him fired and those who felt his blog post was protected by the principle of academic freedom.

[RELATED: Fate of Marquette prof could hinge on opinions of adversaries]

“The Committee report looks like a series of clumsy compromises between people who wanted me fired and those who didn’t, which is why they recommended a suspension rather than firing or exonerating me,” he said.

According to the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), however, President Lovell also added another condition that was not included in the Committee’s report, saying McAdams would not be reinstated at the conclusion of his suspension unless he admits that his actions were improper.

“The Committee found that Marquette had improperly suspended Dr. McAdams in violation of his due process rights under the Faculty Statutes and disagreed with the University’s desire to terminate him,” the organization notes in a press release. “Today, the University ignored that its almost sixteen-month suspension of Dr. McAdams was improper … [and] while it followed the recommendation that he be suspended, it also imposed a requirement that, within two weeks, he admit his ‘guilt’.”

McAdams told Campus Reform that he has no plans to comply with that stipulation, nor with another requiring that he apologize to Abbate for his blog post, even though he believes both were included as a trap to give Marquette justification for firing him.

“I think this is a ploy on Lovell’s part to get me fired because he knows I won’t do any of that,” McAdams said. “This is reminiscent of the Inquisition, or the Stalinist show trials of the 1930’s. Basically, he added that on as a ploy to give him an excuse for firing him, and of course I’m not going to apologize.”

Going forward, McAdams told Campus Reform that he intends to follow through with a lawsuit against Marquette for violating its guarantee of academic freedom for faculty members.

“They’re a private university, but they say in their statutes that I have the same rights that are incorporated in the First Amendment,” he explained. “Every faculty member has a contract incorporating those statutes.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been sharply critical of “Marquette’s complete disregard for McAdams’ right to free speech and academic freedom,” noting that the situation would make it difficult for Marquette to shed its rating as one of the worst colleges for free speech in the country.

“The problem is, while I think I would win in the end, lawsuits can take a long time, and I think Marquette is willing to spend to fight me,” McAdams told Campus Reform. “I would expect a major lawsuit would be well into six figures for them, but they’re probably willing to spend it. My lawyers, on the other hand, are working pro bono.”

Rick Esenberg, one of the attorneys representing McAdams, told Campus Reform that while Marquette's faculty statutes are very clear about protecting academic freedom, the school is nonetheless punishing McAdams "for an accurate blog post about a matter of public and institutional interest," thereby violating ts contractual commitments.

"Those statutes say that 'discretionary cause' for dismissal 'cannot be interpreted so as to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action,'" Esenberg explained. "They say that 'dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guarantee to them by the United States Constitution.'"

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