A Marquette University professor was improperly suspended after he publicly criticized a graduate student by name on his politically conservative blog, leading to threats against her, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Friday, the Journal-Sentinel reported.
The court ordered the Jesuit university to immediately reinstate embattled political science professor John McAdams — who's been suspended without pay for the last seven semesters — and sent the case back to a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge to award damages, including "unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits."
McAdams argued he was targeted for exercising freedom of speech, which took the form of a blog post criticizing a student instructor he believed shut down debate against gay marriage, The Associated Press reported. But the private college argued it was all about him naming the instructor and linking to her website that contained personal identifying information, the outlet said.
“That’s not academic freedom; that’s cyberbullying,” Ralph Weber, Marquette’s attorney, told the AP on Friday.
More from the AP:
In the November 2014 blog post, McAdams described an interaction between a conservative student and a graduate student instructor of philosophy. The student claimed the instructor refused to allow discussion about opposition to gay marriage during a class and provided McAdams with a recording he secretly made of a conversation with the teacher after the class.
That formed the basis for McAdams’ post, in which he argued that the students’ experience was another example of liberals silencing people whose opinions they disagree with or find offensive. The post included the student-teacher’s name, a link to her personal website and her email address. [...]
The instructor ... later received a flood of hateful messages and threats, and at one point needed a security guard stationed outside her class. She eventually moved to another university where she had to repeat three semesters and revise her Ph.D. thesis.
McAdams published his post on his personal website, “Marquette Warrior,” in which he's condemned political correctness and the silencing of ideas that might be hurtful to protected classes for more than a decade, the AP reported, citing his lawsuit against the school.
He was offered a chance at reinstatement after his suspension — but there was a caveat: McAdams had to write a letter apologizing for his conduct, the AP noted, adding that the letter was to be shared confidentially with the student instructor. But McAdams refused, the outlet said.
What else came up in regard to the court ruling?
The court’s 4-2 decision was ideologically divided, with the conservative majority siding with McAdams, the AP said, adding that those justices said the faculty panel that recommended his discipline had an “unacceptable bias” because one member had publicly expressed support for the graduate instructor.
John McAdams in court (Image source: YouTube screenshot)
The liberal justices called the decision “far reaching” and said academic freedom “does not protect McAdams from discipline” if his peers concluded he acted unprofessionally, the outlet noted, adding that one justice didn’t participate in the ruling.
The court’s conservatives also said McAdams’ blog post can’t be blamed for harassment against the instructor, the AP reported. “Just because vile commentary followed the blog post does not mean the blog post instigated or invited the vileness,” the majority’s written opinion said, the outlet said.
The liberal justices disagreed, saying in their opinion that “McAdams indeed did ‘instigate’ or ‘invite’ the vileness that followed his blog post. He knew what would happen, and he actively ensured that it would happen,” the AP reported.
What could be coming next?
The university said it would comply with the court's ruling, and McAdams intends to teach again at Marquette, the AP added, although when that will take place isn't clear.
More from the Journal-Sentinel:
The case could set precedent for academic freedom and free speech protections at a time when universities are hotbeds of political turmoil.
It has become a cause cèlébre among those who believe liberal arts universities are liberal bastions that suppress conservative viewpoints.
McAdams' blog post hit on the hot-button topic of same-sex marriage, and whether the graduate student instructor limited a student's ability to speak against it in class.
McAdams argued the court case was as much about a student not being allowed to express an unpopular view in a classroom — in this case, a conservative opinion on gay marriage.
"The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck a major blow in favor of free speech," McAdams' attorney, Rick Esenberg, of the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, told the Journal-Sentinel.
"Make no mistake about it, this is a major day for freedom," Esenberg added to the paper. "It is our sincere hope that Marquette University appreciates and learns from this episode and takes care to guard free speech on campus.”