Type of Case: Free Speech; Academic Freedom

Court: Milwaukee County Circuit Court; Court of Appeals; Wisconsin Supreme Court

Case Number: 2016-CV-3396 (Circuit Court);  2017-AP-1240 (Court of Appeals & Wisconsin Supreme Court)

Filed On: 05-02-2016

Current Status: Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that Marquette breached its contract by punishing McAdams

John McAdams was a conservative professor at Marquette University, teaching political science. When he blogged criticizing a liberal graduate instructor who refused to permit debate about gay marriage, claiming that any opinion against gay marriage was homophobic and would not be permitted in her class, Marquette administration threw the book at McAdams. He was suspended from his teaching duties and banned from campus as if he were a dangerous criminal – all in violation of his teaching contract, which requires various procedures be followed before a suspension may be imposed.

Marquette then moved to formally fire McAdams. The university convened a “faculty hearing committee” that failed to provide McAdams his contractual due process rights, such as unbiased members and the right to access all of the university’s evidence and witnesses. After a weeklong hearing, the committee issued a convoluted report that created new rules it could then claim McAdams violated. The committee recommended he be suspended without pay for one or two semesters.

Marquette President Michael Lovell went beyond that recommendation, however, not only suspending him but giving him a few days to issue a Soviet-style admission of wrongdoing or be fired. McAdams refused to engage in such coerced speech, and has been indefinitely suspended without pay – effectively terminated.

McAdams sued Marquette for breach of his employment contract.  The trial court ruled in favor of Marquette, concluding that it had to defer to the faculty hearing committee and adopting all of its findings of fact and conclusions of law, despite McAdams proving that Marquette had withheld key information from the committee.  We appealed and the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to bypass the Court of Appeals.

By a 4-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that Marquette had breached its contract with McAdams by punishing him for exercising his academic freedom.  Marquette was ordered to immediately reinstate McAdams with his full rights and privileges as a tenured professor.  Commentators nationwide hailed the decision as a victory for free speech and beleaguered conservative professors on progressive campuses.

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