In November 2014, Marquette University professor of political science Dr. John McAdams criticized the instructor of a philosophy class (graduate student Cheryl Abbate) for allegedly shutting down discussion of a student’s negative opinion of gay marriage. Dr. McAdams wrote:
Abbate explained that “some opinions are not appropriate, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions” and then went on to ask “do you know if anyone in your class is homosexual?” And further “don’t you think it would be offensive to them” if some student raised his hand and challenged gay marriage? The point being, apparently that any gay classmates should not be subjected to hearing any disagreement with their presumed policy views.
Dr. McAdams opined:
Abbate, of course, was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed “offensive” and need to be shut up.
Abbate complained to the university and others, saying that the article written by Dr. McAdams was bullying. She apparently received offensive emails from third parties in reaction to the controversy.
So what did Marquette University do? Did the school stand up for free speech and the expression of an opinion on a legitimate and controversial topic? Of course not.
Marquette suspended Professor McAdams with pay, but didn’t call it a suspension. Rather, they said he was being “relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities.” All of Dr. McAdams’s classes for the winter semester were canceled. At the same time, Dr. McAdams was provided a copy of the school’s “harassment policy,” which suggests that writing about what happened during and after Abbate’s class amounted to harassment of her.
Note that Dr. Adams quoted from the harassment policy: “…“behavior is intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm.” He criticized the inclusion of mental discomfort. However, the policy online today at that link does not contain that language.
In January 2015, Dr. McAdams was notified that Marquette University had begun proceedings to revoke his tenure and dismiss him from the faculty. More than a year later, the sentence was handed down. The committee investigating Dr. McAdams issued a 123 page report along with a unanimous recommendation that he be suspended without pay from April 1, 2016 through the Fall 2016 semester.
Dr. Michael Lovell (university president) doubled down on the stupid. He took things one step further by requiring that Dr. McAdams make a statement about the situation, acknowledging (among other things):
…that your November 9, 2014, blog post was reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University and you express deep regret for the harm suffered by our former graduate student and instructor, Ms. Abbate.
Let me remind you that the “harm suffered” was not inflicted by Dr. McAdams. It was inflicted by third parties over whom he had no control, and does not appear to have encouraged in any way.
This is all terrible. By why stop there? Dr. Lovell doubled down on the stupid AGAIN. He published “A Call for Decency.” In that article, he provided screenshots of some of the social media messages that third parties published about Abbate and the situation. Dr. Lovell said:
But what’s at issue here is a professor inflicting this type of personal attack on a student. That is simply unacceptable.
Talk about intellectual dishonesty! Dr. Lovell completely mischaracterized Dr. McAdams’s role in the situation. He merely criticized what happened in Abbate’s class, and the criticism was well deserved. He merely offered his differing opinion on the issue of whether discussion of opposition to gay marriage is appropriate in a philosophy class, and he stated his disagreement with how Abbate handled the situation. Dr. McAdams didn’t ask anyone to attack her verbally or through social media.
Dr. Lovell went on:
I’m not asking for Professor McAdams to be responsible for all the vitriol from the lowest of the Internet. As the president of Marquette University, I am asking for common human decency toward members of our own community. Nothing more and nothing less.
Except he IS asking Dr. McAdams to be responsible for the actions of others by requiring him to apologize for those actions and by saying that Dr. McAdams “inflict[ed] this type of personal attack on a student.
Dr. McAdams has refused to issue the apology. To do so would be dishonest. Professor McAdams appeared on Fox News to defend his position on this issue.
So does the stupid stop now? Of course not. Yesterday Marquette doubled down yet again and issued an official “Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on personnel matter.” The school describes the situation:
Dr. McAdams disagreed with the way one of our graduate students led a classroom discussion. Instead of expressing those concerns through established internal channels, he chose to blog about our graduate student — publicly shaming her, questioning her values and including a link to her contact information. He sought opportunities to amplify his public shaming of her on cable news and talk radio. Through those actions, he exposed her to a constant stream of threats and hateful messages. At one point, Marquette had to station a public safety officer outside her classroom. She chose to leave the university. The university reviewed Dr. McAdams’ conduct.
So Marquette University now characterizes an act of journalism (writing on his blog) as a “public shaming.” Why is the exposure or discussion of a controversial act considered public shaming? Are bloggers and media guilty of “public shaming” every time it reports on controversial actions?
The school claims this isn’t about free speech or academic freedom:
No, this issue is about the professor’s conduct toward a graduate student. Dr. McAdams has been blogging for more than a decade, publishing approximately 3,000 posts, and the university administration has never disciplined him. He has the right to talk about controversial topics on his blog, and to disagree with and debate Marquette-related positions freely. Where Dr. McAdams crossed the line is when he launched a personal attack against a student, subjecting her to threats and hateful messages. Dr. McAdams continues to use the student’s name on his blog, even recently identifying where she is currently studying, leading to more hostile and threatening messages.
Yet again, the blog post is mischaracterized as a “personal attack,” and Dr. McAdams is being held responsible for the actions of others (the threats and hateful messages). Marquette is intent on repeatedly calling Abbate a student, and while that is accurate, the criticism was based on her actions as an instructor of an undergraduate class.
The longer this goes on, the more and more ashamed I become of the administration of Marquette University. I have a deep loyalty to the institution that awarded my undergraduate and graduate degrees. I have been a faculty member at Marquette since 2014. I will continue to do so, unless my criticism of the school’s handling of this situation leads me to be dismissed.
Earlier this year, Dr. Lovell referred to me in his Presidential Address as a “difference maker.” I don’t know whether my voice can make a difference on this issue, but I believe it is important to stand with Dr. McAdams and tell the administration that their response has been foolish, dishonest, and detrimental to the Marquette community.