The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled July 6 that the Catholic University was wrong to suspend the tenured professor over his 2014 post exposing a Marquette graduate instructor’s efforts to quash one of her undergrad students’ speech in defense of marriage in her class. The state's Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision.
The case gained national attention because of its free speech implications. McAdams has been out of the classroom for seven semesters over the matter, unpaid after an initial suspension period.
'Marquette has just flat out lied'
While Marquette continues to claim McAdams violated professional responsibility toward Cheryl Abbate, causing Abbate direct, irreparable harm with his blog post, McAdams maintains he did nothing of the sort, telling LifeSiteNews the blog post is a pretext, and that Marquette has wanted to get rid of him for a long time.
Despite Marquette’s claims that its actions against McAdams have not been about academic freedom or free speech – it is these issues that have brought the case the attention it has had, with nearly a dozen groups having weighed in with amicus briefs.
Marquette also still asserts that McAdams “doxed” Abbate, she got threats because of his blog post, and that she left campus because of the post.
Asked what people should know about the case, McAdams told LifeSiteNews, “That Marquette has just flat out lied about several things.”
McAdams has said from the beginning that he linked to Abbate’s blog in his post, and that there, after a series of clicks; readers could find another page containing her email address.
McAdams said it is true that Abbate received hateful messages after the story went national, “But “threats” is an entirely different matter. Threats are a matter for law enforcement.” His suit argued the blog post contained no call to action and he should not be held responsible for third-party response to the issue.
The University’s leadership insists that it “lives by its Guiding Values,” which refers to care for the whole person and that it “cannot and will not stand by” when McAdams “needlessly and recklessly harmed” Abbate.
'Marquette’s pious rhetoric'
The vindicated professor doesn’t buy this from the Jesuit University either.
“Marquette’s pious rhetoric about “guiding values” sounds pretty hollow given the behavior of top officials,” he said.
Some details did not garner as much attention in media reports as others.
The undergrad approached McAdams about the matter after trying to get it addressed with University officials and feeling as though he’d been rebuffed.
Abbate did not respond to McAdams’ inquiry to her about her exchange with the undergrad student prior to publishing his blog post, court documents say, instead going to others at Marquette about it and referencing McAdams with nasty names.
Abbate had also drafted a formal letter of complaint insisting that Marquette discipline McAdams for his blog, and she also threatened to sue Marquette and expose the University to negative publicity unless it gave in to her demands to fire McAdams, punish the undergrad graduate student whose speech she’d shut down, and pay “reparations” to her.
“The undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract …”
McAdams was in his lawyer’s office at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) when the July 6 decision came down; his legal team had been thinking it possible the case could be remanded for a trial.
One of the lawyers was reading the decision, McAdams recounted, and started whooping and hollering with joy in reaction to it.
What went through McAdams’ mind at that moment?
“Wow!” McAdams said. “This is great!”
The ruling reads, “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.”
Marquette was ordered to immediately reinstate McAdams “with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits,” the damages to include back pay.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck a major blow in favor of free speech,” WILL President and general counsel Rick Esenberg had said in a statement regarding the ruling.
McAdams’ lawyers say he is de facto restored to faculty status now, though it’ll be official when the Circuit Court orders it, as it has been ordered to do by the state’s Supreme Court. This fall he will take a sabbatical, one that he missed while suspended, and he’ll be back teaching in the spring.
“I love it,” McAdams told LifeSiteNews, sharing his thoughts on teaching.
“I like teaching because I like making students aware that things are a lot more complicated than they think,” he said. “I want them to be aware of the complexity of issues, and more sophisticated ways of thinking about them.”
In the days following the court victory, McAdams spent time responding to media inquiries because of the case’s academic freedom and free speech implications.
Since his suspension in December 2014, he has continued blogging, and worked on getting a publisher for his next book, while also attending to family needs.
McAdams told LifeSiteNews the ordeal has been harder on his family than for him.
But it’s not an option for him to cease the blog he’s maintained for more than a decade.
“It would make no sense to fight and win this battle and then decide I don’t want to use the rights I have vindicated,” McAdams said.
A faculty review of the situation begun in September 2015 ended with the recommendation in January 2016 that McAdams be suspended without pay for up to two semesters. His suit contends he was denied a fair review process.
But in March of that year Marquette President Michael Lovell sent McAdams a letter informing him of the suspension – and going further to tell McAdams he had until April 4 to provide Lovell and Abbate with a written statement expressing “deep regret” and admitting his blog post was “reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University.”
McAdams responded to Lovell that he would not make such a statement, since he did not believe it to be true. He sued May 2, 2016, arguing that Marquette broke its contractual agreement of academic freedom and free speech protected under the U.S. Constitution.
The case went before the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in February 2017, and then that May Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge David Hansher ruled in favor of Marquette. McAdams appealed the Circuit Court ruling last November (2017), and in January 2018 the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, bypassing the Court of Appeals.
McAdams has been a professor of political science at Marquette University since 1977; he received tenure in 1989.
He has written the Marquette Warrior blog for more than 11 years, and acknowledges in his lawsuit that his writing is counter to politically correct sensibilities at Marquette.
Since McAdams’ victory before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the Jesuit-run University has dug in with its stance, stating, “we are proud that we have taken a stand for our students, our values and our Catholic, Jesuit mission.”
Responding to the July 6 court decision, Marquette asserted in a statement also posted on its “Facts About McAdams Case” page that the professor used his blog to mock Abbate, still maintaining that McAdams “intentionally exposed her name and contact information to a hostile audience that sent her vile and threatening messages.
Marquette said it would comply with the terms of Supreme Court decision, but that this “does not change the university’s commitment to the safety and well-being of its students.”
“To us, it was always clear that the professor’s behavior crossed the line,” Marquette’s statement says. “This was affirmed by a seven-member panel of the professor’s peers, and by a Wisconsin Circuit Court judge.”
“However, in light of today’s decision, Marquette will work with its faculty to re-examine its policies, with the goal of providing every assurance possible that this never happens again.
A colossal error
“Lovell is stonewalling,” McAdams said. “He seems unwilling to admit he made a colossal error.”
“I have long wondered whether he was simply pandering to leftist faculty on campus, or was fanatically sure that I should be fired,” he said. “The statement seems to show the latter.”
McAdams then added, “The scary part is that he seems to promise restrictions on speech on campus so it can’t “happen again.”
To the question of whether he can be made whole returning to Marquette, McAdams told LifeSiteNews, “I’ll consider it a triumphal return!”
“The environment at Marquette is a lot more than the bureaucrats at the top of the hierarchy,” he said. “It’s students, faculty — some of which are leftists who are unhappy with me, but others are supportive, and probably most who don’t care much — and staff. All in all, not a bad environment.”