Marquette and the First Amendment
A political-science professor who says Marquette University violated his employment contract’s guarantee of academic freedom will get his day in court. Though a judge for a lower state court earlier ruled for the university, last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to John McAdams’s request that it bypass the appeals courts and take up his suit directly.
Professor McAdams is now in his seventh semester outside the classroom because of a November 2014 post on his Marquette Warrior blog. The post criticized a graduate instructor, Cheryl Abbate, for telling a student with more traditional views that she would tolerate no dissent on same-sex marriage in her class on ethics.
After the post Ms. Abbate received several ugly emails. Mr. McAdams was blamed and punished, though he had nothing to do with those messages. The university contends that Mr. McAdams’s offense is having identified a student by name—Ms. Abbate. The characterization is telling, because though Ms. Abbate was indeed a grad student she was also a paid employee of the university teaching a course. If any student was harmed here, it was the Marquette undergraduate who was told there was no room for his views in Ms. Abbate’s classroom.
No one forced Marquette to enter into an employment contract with Mr. McAdams. But it did. And that contract says he cannot be fired for exercising a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. By any reasonable standard that would include the First Amendment—even at a Jesuit university.
Appeared in the January 29, 2018, print edition.