Marquette Seeks to Fire McAdams


John McAdams, the Marquette University associate professor of political science who posted demonstrably false and damaging statements about philosophy graduate student Cheryl Abbate and her teaching on his blog (see here, here, and here), has been told that the university is starting the process to revoke his tenure and fire him.

The Dean of Marquette’s Klingler College of Arts and Sciences, Richard Holz, sent a letter to McAdams explaining the decision and its basis, condemning his “unilateral, dishonorable and irresponsible decision to publicize the name of our graduate student” and his “decision to publish information that was false and materially misleading about her and your University colleagues.” He writes:

[Y]our conduct clearly and substantially fails to meet the standards of personal and professional excellence that generally characterizes University faculties. As a result, your value to this academic institution is substantially impaired.

Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations. In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy “at all times,” a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.

As applied in the current case, it is vital for our university and our profession that graduate student instructors learn their craft as teachers of sometimes challenging and difficult students. Great teachers develop over time; many benefit from experienced mentors who share hard-earned insights. Thus, graduate student instructors should expect appropriate and constructive feedback in order to improve their teaching skills.

Multiple internal avenues of review were available to you if you believed a situation had occurred between a graduate student instructor and an undergraduate student that called for a corrective response. Instead, you chose to shame and intimidate with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for other’s opinions, and appropriate restraint.

The University has called McAdams out on misleading his readers about what happened in Ms. Abbate’s class, her interactions with the undergraduate who secretly recorded her, and even in his claim that the undergraduate dropped the course. Holz continues:

Had you exercised due care and standards of professional responsibility in keeping with University faculty, you would have found that critical information was stated falsely and/or omitted in your blog post. By way of example, you implied that as a result of the exchange you had recounted the student had dropped the class. You wrote as follows in your November 9 blog post: “She went on: ‘In this class, homophobic comments, racist comments, will not be tolerated.’ She then invited the student to drop the class. Which the student is doing.”

That is false. As you knew or should have known [redacted], the student told the University three days after withdrawing that he had done so because he was getting an “F” at mid-term. He further specifically agreed that his grade fairly reflected his performance and had nothing to do with his political or personal beliefs.

Similarly, by leaving out any reference to Ms. Abbate’s follow-up class discussion in which she acknowledged and addressed the student’s objection to gay marriage, you created a false impression of her conduct and an inaccurate account of what occurred. You either were recklessly unaware of what happened in the follow-up class, or you elected not to include these facts in your Internet story.

Likewise, when you criticized the Department Chair for not taking action — “The chair, Nancy Show [sic], pretty much blew off the issue.” —  you once again either were recklessly unaware that the student did not give Dr. Snow the same information he gave you—namely a tape of the conversation—or again you elected not to include these facts in your Internet story. Further, in asserting that the Department Chair “pretty much blew off the issue,” you either were recklessly unaware of, or you ignored, the fact that two days after meeting with the Chair, the student wrote to thank her and the Assistant Chair for their time and attention to his concerns: “I would like to thank you for the time you devoted to my complaint on Tuesday, in both of our meetings. I would like you to know that I intend to heed your advice and stay enrolled in the course. Thank you again for your time, and I wish you nothing but the best of luck with your research…”

Moreover, you stated in your Internet story only that the College of Arts & Sciences “sent” the student to the Department with his complaint. Once again you either were recklessly unaware of, or you ignored, the fact that the student was expressly told he could come back to the College if he was “dissatisfied” with how the Department handled his concerns.

For these and other reasons that follow you have done a great disservice to Marquette, its faculty, students and alumni.

Interestingly, Holz recounts previous incidences in which McAdams disclosed the names of students on his blog to ill effect, and about which he had been reprimanded by the University, arguing that McAdams knew that by posting Ms. Abbate’s name, he would be encouraging an abusive campaign against her. He writes:

Instead of being an example of academic excellence and competence as a tenured, senior faculty member, your inaccurate, misleading and superficial Internet story lacked any measure of the due diligence we expect from beginning students.

Instead of being a mentor to a graduate student instructor learning her craft- including how to deal with challenging students -you took the opportunity publicly to disparage her, in a manner that resulted in her personal safety being put at risk, and you did so without knowing key facts surrounding the events about which you wrote.

Instead of respecting Marquette’s objectives to develop graduate student instructors and to process student complaints properly, you wrote your story without first checking with any of your colleagues about what the student had told them.

Instead of listening to Marquette’s repeated requests and cautions not to put student names on the Internet, you applied your own inconsistent rationalizations about whose privacy is entitled to protection. Based upon your years of Internet postings, you knew or should have known that your Internet story would result in vulgar, vile, and threatening communications to Ms. Abbate.

And instead of recognizing Ms. Abbate as a person to be treated respectfully and with dignity, you used her as a tool to further your agenda.

Your Department Chair recently detailed for the Dean of Arts & Sciences how your conduct has contributed to a culture of intolerance, threatened the practice of academic freedom, and often targeted women and those “in a lower position of power in academic standing at Marquette” than yourself. It thus is the consensus of your Department peers that you do significant damage to the University community.

While you claim simply to be ensuring the exercise of academic freedom, your irresponsible conduct has the opposite effect. The AAUP’s 1994 Statement on Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes stressed the faculty’s major role in preserving the freedom of thought and expression that is essential to any institution of higher learning: “their actions may set examples for understanding, making clear to their students that civility and tolerance are hallmarks of educated men and women.”

By contrast, your conduct creates fear in your colleagues and students that their actions and words will, at your unilateral “discretion,” be put on the Internet in a distorted fashion. Consequently, faculty members have voiced concerns about how they could become targets in your blog based upon items they might choose to include in a class syllabus. Your conduct thus impairs the very freedoms of teaching and expression that you vehemently purport to promote. Again, the AAUP has called upon University governing boards and administration to exercise their “special duty not only to set an outstanding example of tolerance, but also to challenge boldly and condemn immediately serious breaches of civility.”

For all of the above reasons, your value as a member of Marquette’s tenured faculty has been seriously and irreparably impaired.

There is a brief article about these developments at the Marquette Wire.

UPDATEInside Higher Ed reports on the story here.

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