Marquette University lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court case Friday when the court ruled in favor of a former professor whom the university will re-hire after, justices ruled, the school violated his free speech rights.
The university fired professor John McAdams nearly four years ago for a blog post that led to a student teacher "fearing for her safety" and leaving the university, the school contends.
Marquette released this statement after the Supreme Court's ruling. We have published it in full. In addition, scroll above to hear the full take of Marquette's attorney, Ralph Weber, from the Steve Scaffidi Show hosted by Tracy Johnson on WTMJ.
At Marquette University, we are proud that we have taken a stand for our students, our values and our Catholic, Jesuit mission.
Marquette 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. The professor used his personal blog to mock a student teacher, intentionally exposing her name and contact information to a hostile audience that sent her vile and threatening messages. Fearing for her safety, the former student teacher left the university, a significant setback to her academic career and personal well-being.
To us, it was always clear that the professor’s behavior crossed the line. This was affirmed by a seven-member panel of the professor’s peers, and by a Wisconsin Circuit Court judge. However, in light of today’s decision, Marquette will work with its faculty to re-examine its policies, with the goal of providing every assurance possible that this never happens again.
This case has never been about academic freedom or a professor’s political views. Had the professor published the same blog without the student-teacher’s name or contact information, he would not have been disciplined. Marquette has been, and always will be, committed to academic freedom. Marquette welcomes a wide variety of views and perspectives and is a place where vigorous, yet respectful, debate happens every day.
This case has been watched closely by the local and national business community because of its emphasis on private employers’ rights to maintain behavioral standards for employees. This is why the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers filed briefs in support of our case. As a private employer, Marquette must have the right to set high standards for conduct and ensure that this never happens to another one of its students. As a university, we will do whatever we can to ensure that this decision does not erode that right.
This case also is significant to every institution of higher education in the country. The balance of rights and responsibilities of tenured faculty members is a tradition that goes back more than a century. By discarding a contractually established disciplinary process when a professor crosses the line, this decision may significantly harm institutions’ ability to establish and enforce standards of conduct. This is why the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities filed briefs in support of our case.
Academic freedom must include responsibility. Unfortunately, Marquette can’t undo the significant harm that he caused to the former student teacher’s academic career. We must, however, ensure that this doesn’t happen to another student. Marquette will continue to uphold its values and protect its students.
Additionally, Marquette president Michael Lovell shared this message with students.
Dear members of the Marquette community,
Recently, the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued a decision [news.marquette.edu] in a case brought by a Marquette University political science associate professor.
In this case, we stood up for decency and for the rights of our students, and we remain committed to upholding those values as a community.
Our values do not change when they are challenged. They become stronger.
I want you to know that I will personally continue to pledge ourselves to the holistic development of students. We will continue to educate students who are men and women for and with others throughout the world. Our Catholic and Jesuit mission calls us to live in the spirit of cura personalis, care for the whole person.
We will continue to live as servant leaders with a commitment to the Jesuit tradition and Catholic social teaching for all people, beliefs and faith traditions. And we will continue to nurture an inclusive, diverse community that fosters new opportunities, partnerships, collaboration and vigorous yet respectful debate.
Too often these days, our conversations and disagreements become degraded and toxic. The environment found on social media often reflects the overall level of social discourse in our country. Pope Francis recently warned about the dangers of digital communication in Gaudete Et Exsultate (see 115.).
At Marquette, we need to help create pathways for people of all political perspectives to have real conversations with each other. No more talking past one another. We can do better when it comes to raising the level of our public discourse. I’m optimistic as I meet our next generation of students, we will do better.
Michael R. Lovell