McAdams defeats Marquette in WI Supreme Court
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of professor John McAdams on Friday, ordering Marquette University to “immediately reinstate” the academic with “tenure, compensation, and benefits.”
According to the decision, the court ruled that the university violated its contract with McAdams, which included an academic freedom clause.
“The undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom,” the court wrote.
“Therefore, we reverse the circuit court and remand this cause with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Dr. McAdams, conduct further proceedings to determine damages (which shall include back pay), and order the University to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits,” the court added.
As previously reported by Campus Reform, McAdams was put on paid suspension in December 2014 after he penned a blog post criticizing another instructor, Cheryl Abbate, for telling students not to question the propriety of gay marriage.
In March 2016, Marquette University President Michael Lovell announced that the professor would be suspended until January 2017, and would be required to issue a public admission of “guilt” for expressing his views.
The Milwaukee County Circuit Court initially ruled against McAdams, arguing that the school was justified in its move to suspend the academic. The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) challenged the ruling in 2017, taking the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
“The University must identify which part of the blog post is supposed to have been responsible for eliciting the offensive remarks,” the court explained in the ruling. “It did not even attempt to do so. Our review of the blog post reveals that it makes no ad hominem attack on Instructor Abbate, nor does it invite readers to be uncivil to her, either explicitly or implicitly.”
WILL President Rick Esenberg told Campus Reform that “the Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck a major blow in favor of free speech,” arguing that “the only thing Professor McAdams wanted to do was to teach students without having to compromise his principles.”
“Yet Marquette refused to honor its promises of academic freedom and now, thanks to the Supreme Court, he will be able to teach again,” he continued. “Make no mistake about it, this is a major day for freedom. It is our sincere hope that Marquette University appreciates and learns from this episode and takes care to guard free speech on campus.”
“We sincerely appreciate all the work that Campus Reform has done to highlight our case and the issue of free speech at Marquette University,” Esenberg added. “Academic freedom is under assault on campuses all over the country which the work of Campus Reform all that more important.”
In a press release on Friday morning, Marquette University spokesman Chris Jenkins wrote that the school “will comply with the terms of this decision,” stressing that “it does not change the university’s commitment to the safety and well-being of our students.”
“This case has never been about academic freedom or a professor’s political views,” Jenkins added.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), praised the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, calling it a “win for academic freedom.”
“This ruling rightly demonstrates that when a university promises academic freedom, it is required to deliver,” Robert Shibley, the executive director of FIRE, said in a statement.
Marquette University did not immediately respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment.
--Grace Gottschling contributed to this report.