ON Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court delivered a clear victory to Marquette University professor, Dr. John McAdams. McAdams was indefinitely suspended by Marquette for a controversial blog post e published nearly four years ago.
McAdams was represented by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. The Institute fought to have Marquette University reinstate McAdams.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Dan Kelly, found that Professor McAdams’ blog post in defense of an undergraduate student – and criticizing a graduate student instructor – could not possibly have shown him to be unfit as a member of Marquette’s faculty, and Marquette’s decision to fire him violated its contractual promise to protect his academic freedom.
In addition, according to the Court, a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for his or her position. The Court rejected the notion that disciplinary decisions regarding free speech by faculty members should be made by administration or faculty.
The Institute argued that the concept of academic freedom is worthless unless it protects expression which is opposed by the institution and is unpopular with most of the faculty.
The decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to the Institute, relies on one of the simplest rules of fairness – you cannot punish somebody for violating a rule that did not exist when it was supposedly “broken.” Universities are free to create rules – even strict rules – about what their tenured professors can and cannot say publicly. What they cannot do is make up rules after the fact to punish a professor they want to get rid of.
“We sincerely hope Marquette University learns from its mistakes and takes the utmost care at preserving free speech on campus. Unfortunately, the response today from Marquette gives us some pause. Marquette’s statement hints at curtailing academic speech for all their professors, which should alarm students and professors across the political spectrum,” the Institute stated in a press release. “They repeat the claim– first made by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) – that private employers must have the right to set their own standards for employees. Their attorney declared that today’s decision “should be of grave concern to private businesses.”
Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote in her concurrence, “the doctrine of academic freedom has no application within private enterprise, unless of course a private entity incorporates the doctrine into employee contracts.”
Marquette issued a combative statement saying that it “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.”