Marquette: An Update (several updates)

The Marquette University administration continues to figure out what to do in response to associate professor of political science John McAdams’s unprofessional and harassing conduct towards philosophy graduate student Cheryl Abbate (previously), the abusive hate mail and commenting it led to, the media attention it generated, the visit by Westboro Baptist Church, as well as the misconduct of the undergraduate who started it all.

In the meanwhile, Ms. Abbate has made a decision. She is leaving.

Ms. Abbate will be transferring to the philosophy Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado, Boulder, effective this January. She had long known one of the faculty there, and has gotten to know several others as a result of presenting her work, twice, at their annual Rocky Mountain Ethics (RoME) Congress. The department’s strengths in normative and applied ethics matches up well with her interests and led her to apply; she was recently admitted through an expedited version of the normal process.

In correspondence to me, Ms. Abbate notes that several faculty members at Marquette, including Philosophy Department chair Nancy Snow, have been very supportive of her during the past several weeks.

She passes on the following message:

 “Although the past month has been a very difficult and distressing time for me, the support and encouragement I have received from philosophers around the world has made this all the more bearable. I would like to thank each and every individual who sent a personal message to me, sent a letter to the Marquette administration on my behalf, and/or signed one of the online statements of support. I have tried my best to keep up with the messages of support, but I received an overwhelming number and was unable to respond to every e-mail. Please know that your messages made all of the difference to me and I am truly touched and inspired by the concern and kindness demonstrated by those who took the time to reach out to me.”

One last thing. Yes, clearly, there is an irony here. A woman graduate student is fleeing a harassing environment and finding safe harbor at Colorado? Yes, she is. I suspect that says something about the current climate at Colorado. But in any event, there you go: irony noted. No need to belabor it.

UPDATE (12/16/14): It looks like Marquette is starting to take some action. McAdams has been barred from campus. From a letter McAdams received from his dean: “The university is continuing to review your conduct and during this period—and until further notice—you are relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff…. You are to remain off campus during this time, and should you need to come to campus, you are to contact me in writing beforehand to explain the purpose of your visit, to obtain my consent and to make appropriate arrangements for that visit” (posted at McAdams’s blog).

UPDATE 2 (12/17/14): There’s an article in the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel about McAdams’s suspension. The university’s press release about it is here.

UPDATE 3 (12/18/14): Inside Higher Ed reports on the suspension. In response to commentary elsewhere, let me remind readers that McAdams: (1) made use of and publicized an illicitly recorded conversation between an instructor and a student, (2) repeatedly and knowingly made false claims about what happened during Abbate’s class on his blog and to various news outlets, (3) falsely inferred from Abbate’s statement to her student that homophobic comments were unwelcome in class that she thought that opposition to same sex marriage was necessarily homophobic, and then repeatedly spread this falsehood across the world, harmfully portraying her as dogmatic, (4) libelously stated, on his publicly accessible blog, that she has “antipathy towards males,” i.e., that she is a man-hater, (5) claimed that were Abbate to contest what her student reported she would be “in fact lying,” attempting to ‘poison the well’, and (6) prioritized political point-scoring over any concern for Abbate’s welfare or future academic career. Certainly this is enough for Marquette University officials to step in and investigate whether McAdams is acting professionally and in accordance with the norms they believe apply to their faculty members.

UPDATE 4 (12/19/14): Marquette University says it’s not a suspension.

UPDATE 5 (12/19/14): Since the falsehoods continue to be spread (most recently on “Fox & Friends” this morning), I feel compelled to restate these facts in a succinct, media-digestible format:

  1. The instructor, Cheryl Abbate, did not shut down a classroom discussion of same-sex marriage.
  2. Ms. Abbate did not tell the undergraduate that it is homophobic to be opposed to same-sex marriage.
  3. John McAdams knows 1 & 2 but has repeatedly lied about it on his blog and in the national media.

UPDATE 6 (12/21/14):  The Harvard Philosophy Graduate Student Organization earlier this week sent a letter to Dean Richard Holz of Marquette University. They have passed on the text, which I reproduce below:

Dear Dean Holz,

This is an open letter on behalf of the Harvard Philosophy Department’s Graduate Student Organization. We were very concerned to learn about the public attacks by Marquette Professor John McAdams against Marquette graduate student Cheryl Abbate.

Anyone who teaches ethical theory will have to manage conversations involving politically sensitive topics, and in doing so, it is impossible to express agreement with every student on every occasion. Indeed, part of the point of an ethical theory course is to equip students to examine critically even their most deeply held views on moral issues.

However one may characterize Cheryl Abbate’s way of managing a discussion of same-sex marriage inside or outside the classroom, she ought not to have been subject to the public attack orchestrated by Professor John McAdams. As a foreseeable result of this attack, Cheryl Abbate has been subject to an overwhelming volume of hate mail and threats, as well as negative attention in national media. In initiating this flurry of attacks, we believe that Professor McAdams exploited the power differential between a professor and a graduate student.

Universities owe their graduate students—who are among the most vulnerable members of their communities—a guarantee of protection from this kind of treatment. But at Marquette, we were recently disturbed to learn, Cheryl Abbate was put in a position where her best option was to transfer out of her doctoral program.

We call on Marquette to articulate a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community.

The Harvard Philosophy Department Graduate Student Organization
December 16, 2014

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