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Wisconsin Supreme Court sides with fired Marquette conservative professor

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Updated: 8:25 a.m. on July 6, 2018

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court says Marquette University shouldn't have fired a conservative professor over his blog post criticizing a student instructor he believed shut down discussion about opposition to gay marriage

The ruling Friday sides with former professor John McAdams. It concludes Marquette breached its contract with him guaranteeing academic freedom. The court says McAdams should immediately be reinstated in his same position, his tenured status retained and given back pay for the three years he missed.

McAdams sued the private Catholic school in 2016, arguing that he lost his job for exercising freedom of speech.

Marquette says McAdams wasn't fired for the content of his 2014 post, but because he named the instructor and linked to her personal website that had personal identifying information. The instructor later received a flood of hateful messages and threats.

The ruling has been eagerly awaited by conservatives who see universities as liberal havens and by private businesses that want control over employee discipline.

After the ruling, John McAdams said, "It will pretty much be the way it was, with the same students who were pretty good students, and some administrators who don't like me much, but they didn't like me much before they tried to fire me."

McAdams said he is not sure when he will return to school because most of the fall semester is already set.

Marquette University released a statement saying in part, "This case has never been about academic freedom or a professor's political views. Had the professor published the same blog without the student-teacher's name or contact information, he would not have been disciplined."

The statement goes on to say that the student left the university, fearing for her safety and that it was clear to Marquette that McAdams behavior crossed the line. Marquette says they will now with faculty to "re-examine its policies, with the goal of providing every assurance possible that this never happens again."

Here's the full statement:

At Marquette University, we are proud that we have taken a stand for our students, our values and our Catholic, Jesuit mission.

Marquette will comply with the terms of this decision, and it does not change the university’s commitment to the safety and well-being of our students. This is inherent in our mission as a Catholic and Jesuit university. This case has always been about Associate Professor John McAdams’ conduct toward a student teacher. The professor used his personal blog to mock a student teacher, intentionally exposing her name and contact information to a hostile audience that sent her vile and threatening messages. Fearing for her safety, the former student teacher left the university, a significant setback to her academic career and personal well-being.

To us, it was always clear that the professor’s behavior crossed the line. 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.

This case has never been about academic freedom or a professor’s political views. Had the professor published the same blog without the student-teacher’s name or contact information, he would not have been disciplined. Marquette has been, and always will be, committed to academic freedom. Marquette welcomes a wide variety of views and perspectives and is a place where vigorous, yet respectful, debate happens every day.

This case has been watched closely by the local and national business community because of its emphasis on private employers’ rights to maintain behavioral standards for employees. This is why the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers filed briefs in support of our case. As a private employer, Marquette must have the right to set high standards for conduct and ensure that this never happens to another one of its students. As a university, we will do whatever we can to ensure that this decision does not erode that right.

This case also is significant to every institution of higher education in the country. The balance of rights and responsibilities of tenured faculty members is a tradition that goes back more than a century. By discarding a contractually established disciplinary process when a professor crosses the line, this decision may significantly harm institutions’ ability to establish and enforce standards of conduct. This is why the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities filed briefs in support of our case.

Academic freedom must include responsibility. Unfortunately, Marquette can’t undo the significant harm that he caused to the former student teacher’s academic career. We must, however, ensure that this doesn’t happen to another student. Marquette will continue to uphold its values and protect its students.

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Posted: 5:10 a.m. on July 6, 2018

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court is set to rule on whether Marquette University was correct to fire a conservative professor who wrote a blog post criticizing a student instructor whom he believed shut down discussion against gay marriage.

John McAdams sued the private Catholic school in 2016, arguing that he lost his job for exercising freedom of speech.

Marquette says McAdams was not fired for the content of his 2014 post, but because he named the instructor and linked to her personal website that had personal identifying information. Afterward, the instructor received a flood of hateful messages and threats.

The ruling expected Friday has been eagerly awaited by conservatives, who see universities as liberal havens, and by private businesses that want control over employee discipline.

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