Dispute between Marquette and suspended professor up to Wisconsin Supreme Court

Posted at 8:20 PM, Apr 19, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-19 21:22:00-04

MADISON -- A dispute between Marquette University and a suspended professor has garnered national attention. Now it’s in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. 

John McAdams hasn’t been able to return to his job after he wrote a blog-post that criticized a graduate student serving as a philosophy instructor for her handling of controversy in the classroom. McAdams argues his blog-post is covered by what’s called ‘academic freedom’ in his employment contract. Marquette lawyers disagree. 

On Thursday, McAdams sat in the middle of the crowd as the Wisconsin Supreme Court heard his case. 

“If academic freedom means anything at all, he cannot be fired for writing that blog-post,” said McAdams’ attorney Richard Esenberg. 

Back in 2014, McAdams was indefinitely suspended by the university for writing a provocative post that slammed a student teacher for telling a student he didn’t have the right to voice opposition in a discussion about gay rights. McAdams considers himself a conservative professor. 

"A student made a comment after class saying the issue needed to be discussed,” Justice Michael Gableman read from the court documents.  “The graduate student says some comments are not appropriate and invited him to drop the class.” 

A board of tenured Marquette professors unanimously voted that McAdams broke the university's ‘guiding values’ which are listed in professors’ employment contracts. 

McAdams sued Marquette in 2016 arguing freedom of speech. Marquette attorneys said McAdams broke his contract, by putting a staff member in potential danger. McAdams named the student-instructor in his blog-post and provided a link to her personal website. 

"You don’t paint a target on the back of a student, put her out in front of a hostile audience so that she can receive vile and horrific threats,” said Marquette attorney Ralph Weber.  

McAdams’ first comments to local media after the hearing addressed concerns that he provided the student instructor’s work email and phone number. 

“I did not link to (her) contact information, I linked to a page on her blog,” he said. 

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on the case by July. McAdams said if he wins, he will return to Marquette.