National Catholic Register | Wisconsin High Court Hears Academic-Freedom Debate in ‘Marquette v. McAdams’

The National Catholic Register on the McAdams v. Marquette case currently being reviewed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court:

The Jesuit university suspended McAdams, a tenured professor with 40 years of teaching experience at Marquette, indefinitely without pay over a blog he wrote about a graduate student-teacher’s alleged suppression of a student’s opposition to “gay marriage” in her classroom. 

Hearing the case of John McAdams v. Marquette University, several Wisconsin justices grilled Marquette about the integrity of the process used to sanction McAdams and prohibit his return to the classroom pending his writing a confidential apology letter admitting guilt. The justices raised questions over trying McAdams with a faculty hearing committee, without it being an explicitly-agreed-upon mechanism in the contract and faculty statutes; the faculty hearing committee process including a tenured faculty member that had already sided against McAdams; and Marquette’s tenure contract including explicit protections from dismissal for exercising U.S. constitutional rights, even though it is a private institution.

Marquette attorney Ralph Weber argued before the court that the university had a mutually-agreed-upon process that involved both the administration and tenured faculty, and its findings are subject to judicial review. He explained the faculty hearing committee’s findings met the “clear and convincing evidence standard,” with a 123-page report and 300 findings of fact behind its recommendation to sanction McAdams, who, he argued, did not enjoy the First Amendment protections afforded at public universities.

The justices will have to confirm or reverse a circuit court ruling that sided with the university’s disciplinary judgment. In May 2017, Judge David Hansher deferred to Marquette, ruling that “Dr. McAdams’ actions are in direct conflict with Marquette’s foundational values as a Jesuit university of cura personalis — care for the whole person.”

The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s upcoming decision may hinge on Marquette’s faculty statutes, which state, “Dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”

Rick Esenberg, president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, told the Register that Marquette freely chose to go beyond academic freedom to guarantee that McAdams would not be dismissed for exercising constitutionally protected free speech.

“They need to honor that commitment,” he said.

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