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.

Sincerely,
The Harvard Philosophy Department Graduate Student Organization
December 16, 2014

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p
p
6 years ago

It is somewhat paradoxical that she moves to the Colorado program, but I think Colorado has taken very significant steps to improve and it might now well be the most careful department in this respect! So, hopefully, this will in the end turn out to have good results for her. The behavior of the McAdams’ character, however, is something so appalling, it is hard to believe it is a professor at all. I have been thinking about it in connection to the recent controversies surrounding Brian Leiter’s behavior which many, but not all, thought unprofessional, objectionable, or perhaps threatening. But even if one agrees with such assessment (I do not quite do myself), it is useful to compare it to what McAdams does – just so to see what a real unprofessional and morally objectionable behavior looks like: a sheer personal, hate-motivated attack on a person that he not only does not know, but in fact does not even know anything about what her views, opinions, or actual conduct was to even have something like disagreement. This is a zealot who attacks blindly and with unyielding fervor and persuasion and without any empathy. It’s astonishing to me to see it (well, as it is to see the also quite similar propaganda machines on Fox News or occasionally on other media). It reminds me of the fanatical (or opportunistic?) “academics” involved in the purges of academy of “subversive bourgeois” intellectuals in the 50’s in my country.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

I wish nothing but the best for Cheryl. And I mourn the fact that an excellent junior scholar and teacher was effectively chased out of her program by a tenured white dude with an axe to grind.Report

Kassey David
Kassey David
6 years ago

Both Leiter and McAdams are part of the multifaceted problem squeezing women and minorities out of the profession. Let’s not forget Leiter recently called his critics “miscreants” and”haters”, as well as accusing SPEP of being a “circle jerk.” He’s also known to threaten people so I am troubled by any attempt to downplay his crazytown malice. But to the matter at hand, it is completely unfair that Abbate should have to uproot herself and start anew in a different program because Marquette and its administration were too pathetic to stand up for her. Nonetheless, I am sure she will do great at Colorado, and I hope she knows many of us will *not* forget that this happened. And we won’t stop making noise about this and other injustices women face in philosophy. Solidarity, Abbate!Report

Alastair Norcross
6 years ago

Although I deplore the circumstances that led her to leave her program at Marquette, I am delighted to welcome Cheryl to Boulder. I have known her for several years, since she was in the excellent MA program at Colorado State, and have been increasingly impressed with her. She will be a wonderful addition to our already outstanding community of graduate students.Report

Alison Jaggar
Alison Jaggar
6 years ago

You are so welcome Cheryl. We are delighted you have chosen to join us.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
6 years ago

Cheryl was a very active member of the Milwaukee Area Women in Philosophy group we have here in Milwaukee and we will miss her very much. Given the complete absense of support, however, from the Marquette administration, it is not surprising that she has chosen to go elsewhere. I hope pressure will be continued to be placed on Michael Lovell and the rest of the Marquette administration to do something about the egregious behavior of McAdams.Report

Kimberly Engels
Kimberly Engels
6 years ago

Cheryl will be greatly missed at Marquette. She was an exemplary student and member of the philosophy department. She will be an excellent addition to Boulder’s program. We will miss her.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

A paid leave of absence sounds less like a punishment and more like a free unearned sabbatical.Report

ejrd
ejrd
6 years ago

I should add, less sarcastically, that I hope the university investigations gives them something to take actual action on against McAdams.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

If only McAdams had instead taken up anti-Semitic tweeting, we all could have defended his freedom of expression. Wrong cause, buddy.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Excellent analogy, buddy! Except for the facts that McAdams hasn’t been fired, that Marquette is following its procedures and not making things up as they go along, that McAdams targeted an individual graduate student in another department at his university over a classroom judgment instead of raging at a government conducting a war, and that Marquette is a private school so there are no First Amendment rights involved, you’ve really hit the nail on the head, there, Plouffe: both cases involve words on the internet!Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

If, indeed, these are the only differences that explain the differential support for freedom of expression, then I stand corrected.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

If you would care to propose alternate or supplemental explanations, please by all means, be my guest.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

I’ll just say this: sometimes it is harder to muster the energy and courage to defend–on moral grounds–someone’s freedom to speak when we and our friends regard their speech as beyond the moral pale.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

I would like to quote what the two Open Letters hosted at my site said with regard to McAdams:

1) I hope that you will offer your support to Ms Abbate and take steps to ensure that Professor McAdams learns the rudiments of professional behavior in the future. http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/11/open-letter-in-support-of-cheryl-abbate.html

2) As for the behavior of Professor McAdams, I hope that members of your administration, such as Dean Holz or Interim Provost Callahan, will find the time to discuss with him what obligations a decent respect for the trust placed in us as faculty members entails with regard to mentoring graduate students, rather than using them callously and carelessly as a pawn in his political fulminating. http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/11/open-letter-to-dr-michael-lovell-president-of-marquette-university.html

I am very concerned with free expression and academic freedom, hence my two letters did not propose any specific sanction but instead recommended that Professor McAdams be somehow apprised of his duties and responsibilities as an academic. Indeed, should he feel that Marquette’s actions here mean that his academic freedom has been infringed, I would encourage him to ask for the aid of the AAUP.

I’d also like to append the following considerations:

1) McAdams violated Abbate’s academic freedom (which involves teaching / class management).
2) He violated Abbate’s right to mentorship by professors.
3) He should have realized Abbate would get hate mail; he’s a professor of political science who lists “public opinion” as a speciality, so he should know the foreseeable effects of his actions would be hate mail directed to Abbate.
4) His claiming academic freedom for his blogging entails the freedom of the academic community (in this case the 415 signatories of the first Open Letter) to condemn his actions.Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
6 years ago

Anonymous commenters are not in much of a position to point to others lacking courage.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

It is extremely problematic for the university to punish him–which they’ve done–or to call for that punishment. The letter states that it is a “one-sided” attack, but nothing prevents Abbate from responding with her own public criticism of McAdams or defense of herself. He’s being railroaded because he takes a moral position you don’t like; personally, I have been pro-gay marriage since almost nobody else was (and that includes the vast majority of progressives who support it now) but I think is nonsensical to think that it has somehow become beyond debate.

Abbate had every right to direct the conversation in the classroom. It was inappropriate for her to say, however, that somehow gay marriage couldn’t be debated because people would be offended. If you were to take every debate out of a philosophy class that would offend a fundamentalist Christian you would have a very short term. I doubt, however, that if this policy were applied to close off debate on atheism or evolution (or gay marriage) because fundamentalist Christian students might be offended, the reaction would be any way similar. Marquette has a very problematic approach to regulating speech on its campus, and it is heartbreaking that the academic left (who I consider myself part of) is so eager to ditch centuries of dedication to open debate and anti-censorship.

I have seen suggested that somehow graduate students are too delicate to engage in public debate or be held up to public scrutiny, and that somehow academic freedom should take a backseat to protecting their emotions but as a graduate student I find that infantilizing and offensive.

Regarding your addendum:

“I am very concerned with free expression and academic freedom, hence my two letters did not propose any specific sanction but instead recommended that Professor McAdams be somehow apprised of his duties and responsibilities as an academic.”

A “reminder” from a governing body tends to have from both a legal and a moral standpoint an aspect of sanction or threat. What is this reminder? A warning in his file? Mandatory sensitivity training? Public censure? What possible “reminder” would not be a sanction?

“1) McAdams violated Abbate’s academic freedom (which involves teaching / class management).”

He absolutely did not violate Abbate’s academic freedom. He criticized, that’s all. He did not stop her from teaching or managing her class in any way. She could have done the same exact thing and said the same exact thing to that student in the next class and the next and the next and he couldn’t do anything to stop it. To make mere criticism (by a private individual) of how you exercise a right into a violation of that right is just unsupportable.

“2) He violated Abbate’s right to mentorship by professors.”

There is no “right to mentorship.” It would be nice if all professors considered all graduate students to be someone they should endeavour to mentor at some level, but there is absolutely no right on the part of a non-advisor or committee member or department member to take on the burden to mentor. There is certainly no way that such an ambiguous normative suggestion trumps free speech rights.

“3) He should have realized Abbate would get hate mail; he’s a professor of political science who lists “public opinion” as a speciality, ”

He is not responsible for actions taken by third parties. Public critique always risks hate mail. The answer is not to proscribe public criticism of individuals. You criticize individuals on your blog; do you really think that you should be held accountable if someone takes it on themselves to send hate mail to them based on reading that blog?

“4) His claiming academic freedom for his blogging entails the freedom of the academic community (in this case the 415 signatories of the first Open Letter) to condemn his actions.”

And they had the freedom to write and sign it, but it is pretty clear the signatories were asking the university not just to support Addabe but also to sanction McAdams in some way. Which they have done.Report

Alastair Norcross
6 years ago

I just glanced at his blog (linked above). This is slightly off topic, but I notice that he consistently refers to himself as “we” or “us”. Or perhaps I should say that they consistently refer to themselves as “we” or “us”. I thought only the Queen did that. Or is this a common thing with right-wing bloggers? Like athletes and (some) politicians referring to themselves in the third person. Anyway, Alastair Norcross thinks it’s a bit weird. We certainly do.Report

Gee
Gee
6 years ago

12/19 update: It’s not a suspension, says Marquette; see, again, jsonline.com

Also, as for the excellent analysis in the 12/18 update above on this blog, I would argue one point in the concluding sentence, that “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.” The “norms” are not just what admins “believe apply” to the Marquette faculty, because those norms also are known as their “Faculty Rights and Responsibilities” policy. The faculty themselves “believe” it, because they were involved in writing it, and they approved it. (The importance of that document, sent to McAdams with the letter advising him of the investigation, may be underscored by McAdams too obviously avoiding discussion of that document. He prefers, on his blog, to ignore it and deflect to discussion of another policy.)Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

You have no evidence of Update 5, point 2 (or 3 for that matter, but let’s focus on point 2). On the contrary, Inside Higher Ed acquired a copy of the recording, and their account basically supports McAdams’ version of events. He may be slimy and/or underhanded, but the fact of the matter is that Abatte clearly told the student with the tape recorder that it is homophobic to be against SSM.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

I read the IHE article very carefully and fail to see how my reading is incorrect. Care to elaborate?Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

Onion Man, you should read this report of the events. http://dailynous.com/2014/12/02/response-to-mcadamss-attack-on-abbate/
It explains, in some detail, what was actual said (and why it was said) vs. what John McAdams is falsely saying.Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

Justin, CA did not “tell” the student it would be homophobic to oppose gay marriage, but wasn’t there a conversational implicature to that effect? She did tell the student that she would not allow homophobic comments in her class–that’s on the recording. How would that statement be relevant to the student’s insistence on discussing gay marriage unless it was homophobic to oppose gay marriage? And surely in this context, it’s pedantic to insist she didn’t tell if she did implicate.

Now it might be that CA’s conversational intentions were different. Maybe she thought opponents of gay marriage just tend to make homophobic remarks, as opposed to thinking their very opposition to gay marriage is homophobic. That’s conceivable, but there’s a very natural reading of her remarks on which she does implicate that it’s homophobic to oppose gay marriage. It wouldn’t be malicious for the student and McAdams to interpret her that way. Even if they misunderstood, it’s an understandable misunderstanding, and that undercuts your allegation that McAdams was lying when he said #2.Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

I’m not ignoring the distinction between existential and universal claims. The student said he wanted to be able to voice opposition to gay marriage. CA said, among other things, “I don’t allow homophobic comments in my classroom” (roughly). There is an apparent irrelevance there. The student didn’t say he wanted to make homophobic comments, he said he wanted to voice opposition to gay marriage. So he has to figure out what she’s trying to communicate. You propose he should think she believes that some arguments against gay marriage are homophobic. But then why would she disallow the entire discussion just to prohibit the half (or whatever) that’s homophobic? It’s very natural for the student to surmise that she doesn’t just think some of the arguments are homophobic, but that opposition to gay marriage is inherently homophobic. Analogous case: Suppose a conservative student would like to express opposition to affirmative action. After class he complains that he didn’t have a chance to do so and the teacher says “I don’t allow racism in my classroom.” The most natural thing for the student to think is that the teacher believes all opposition to affirmative action is racist. Otherwise, “I don’t allow racism” isn’t a coherent explanation for not allowing a student to express opposition to affirmative action.

I didn’t say (or implicate!) that it was pedantic to care about the difference between existential and universal claims. What I called “pedantic” was caring about the difference between “telling” and “implicating”. I think it’s fussy to complain that McAdams said “tell” if CA only implicated that opposing gay marriage is homophobic–and I think she either did or can be non-maliciously, non-stupidly construed as doing so.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Jean, while it is true that there is a distinction between telling and implicating, what is implicated also relies on context. This DN post provides the context for Abbate’s remark: http://dailynous.com/2014/12/02/response-to-mcadamss-attack-on-abbate/

“When Ms. Abbate explained to the student why his so-called “objection” was misguided given the philosophical principle under discussion, the student responded with the following statement: “Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.’ ”

The author of the post later remarks on the significance of this move by the student:

“The fact that the complaining student completely dismissed Ms. Abbate’s explanation as to why his “objections” to gay marriage were not philosophically founded (especially given the context of the class) and then consequently demanded to voice whatever objection to gay marriage came to his mind most likely triggered a warning sign to Ms. Abbate that this student very well might be determined to make offensive and homophobic comments during class. What we should expect from any instructor to say in response to a student who insists that he has a “right” to object to gay marriage, without any philosophical reasoning to support his position, is exactly what Ms. Abbate did say: certain comments, such as the ones expressed in the above e-mails, are homophobic, inappropriate, and will not be tolerated during an ethics class.”

Thus the context of Abbate’s remark is *the student’s implying* that it was his right to say *anything* he wanted; in this context Abbate reminded him that he could not use homophobic remarks in a putative discussion of gay marriage.

I would further remark that our discussion here occurs in a context of bitter debate focused on the blog denunciations by a tenured professor of the on-the-spot classroom decisions of a graduate student. Thus I am surprised and disappointed that you would not yourself have tried better to reconstitute the immediate classroom context of Abbate’s remarks.Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

John, It’s disappointing that you don’t give me more credit for having tried to imagine the context and for having read the relevant posts. Yes, tenured professors shouldn’t denounce on-the-spot decisions of grad students, but let’s also not (as professors, tenured or not) be uncharitable about the on-the-spot statements of undergrads. The undergrad said “regardless of why” he took his position, he shouldn’t be discredited and stopped from speaking in class. Your reading is that he thought he could make objections “without any philosophical reasoning to support his position” but another reading is that he though he should be able to make arguments in class even if those arguments were considered flawed by the instructor. On that reading, his “regardless of why” statement would not have been a warning of offensive homophobic slurs to come. I would imagine the student thought of himself in the charitable way I’m suggesting, and therefore would have reasoned about CA’s conversational implicature in the way I’m suggesting. (Then again, I don’t have all the facts–if the student had a past history of making offensive statements in class, that’s another matter, but if I recall, he didn’t even speaking during the class in question.)Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Jean, I think it is a reasonable interpretation of the implicatures of my comment that I did not criticize you for not having “imagined” the classroom context prior to composing your comments; rather I criticized you for not having “reconstituted” the context in your comments.

Further, I am disinclined to follow your reading of the statements of an undergraduate student attempting, by surreptitiously taping a conversation he initiated, to provide a “gotcha” moment that would then expose one of our colleagues to the right-wing hate machine. His actions I think show that your reading is strained and overly — not to say naively — charitable.

To come back to the larger context: at this point, December 20, this is not some seminar room discussion of implications; this is a case of a Fox News, rightwing blog, and hate mail campaign against one of our junior colleagues.

In that context the duties of charitable reading you claim we have to the UG student — that wannabe James O’Keefe — and his wannabe Breitbart, McAdams — run the risk of further emboldening those elements (“see, even some professional philosophers think that Abbate was wrong”) and thus entail that our junior colleague Abbate will be paying the price of continued harassment while we safely — and in your case anonymously — debate the fine points of implicatures and duties of charitable reading.

Call me anti-intellectual, but basta with all that. This is not a seminar room; this blog is one of the nodes of defense of a junior colleague in the face of a vicious attack, and rather than asking for strained and overly charitable readings of the UG student (ensconced in the anonymity provided him by FERPA), I call for giving the benefit of the doubt to Abbate.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

1) I think the semantic hair-splitting over whether Jean “imagined” or “reconstituted” the context of the discussion obscures the very good point Jean is making, which is that it is by no means unreasonable to interpret Abatte’s recorded comments as strongly implying–if not necessarily outright declaring–that opposition to SSM is ipso facto homophobic.

2) On that note, Justin, even if you’re right, i.e. that CA’s statement that “certain” comments “come across” as homophobic is not the same thing as saying those comments are homophobic, what about this part of the conversation? (quoted from IHE):

“She said the class discussion was centered on restricting the rights and liberties of individuals, but said that making arguments against gay marriage in the presence of a gay person was comparable to telling Abbate that women’s professional options should be limited.”

That seems pretty open and shut on the question of whether CA stated/implied that it is intrinsically homophobic to oppose SSM, particularly in light of her having lumped racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks together in the immediately preceding (transcripted) passage.

Again, I’m not defending McAdams’ behavior here at any level, but from where I’m sitting it certainly looks like he is, at the very least, correct in his assessment that CA told the student (or “strongly implied” to the student) that opposition to SSM is homophobic and would not be tolerated in her classroom.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Onion Man, how noble of you to want to pursue your commitment to inquiry at the cost of forgoing your duty to defend a colleague from vicious attack. You might say that you are willing to fight to the last drop of Abbate’s blood. In this case, I’ll just repeat what I said to Jean:

“In that context the duties of charitable reading you claim we have to the UG student — that wannabe James O’Keefe — and his wannabe Breitbart, McAdams — run the risk of further emboldening those elements (“see, even some professional philosophers think that Abbate was wrong”) and thus entail that our junior colleague Abbate will be paying the price of continued harassment while we safely — and in your case anonymously — debate the fine points of implicatures and duties of charitable reading.”Report

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

Sure, it’s not a seminar room, but some of the things we study in a philosophy of language seminar rooms are useful for thinking through whether McAdams was lying when he said CA “told” the student it was homophobic to oppose gay marriage. Taking account not just what she “told” him but also what the student might reasonably have taken her to conversationally implicate, I think it’s very possible both the student and McAdams really did believe CA communicated that message. That doesn’t acquit them of a host of other ethical errors, of course. I was only commenting here about the lying business.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

Hi Onion Man. Have you heard or read an entire transcript of the conversation? Or are you just going off of the snippets that you found online that, for the most part, do not give us any indication of what prompted Ms. Abbate to say what she did? For the most part, we only have snippets of what Ms. Abbate said, and not what the student said, besides the important quote John Protevi has called attention to where the student makes clear he is determined to argue against gay marriage whether or not he has any philosophical reasoning that underpins his position. There were more than one points of discussion in the after class conversation, so we should be careful not to lump them all together. The conversation seemed to turn from a philosophical discussion about the relevancy of the student’s objection (given the context, i.e. John Rawls) to a discussion about the offensiveness of the student’s sense of entitlement to make any arguments against gay marriage in class “regardless” of the justification he has for his position. Clearly, when Ms. Abbate made the analogy to how she, as a woman, would experience comments that seek to disparage women, she was encouraging the student to take serious the possibility of offending a protected group in class. And, the point is not that Ms Abbate assumed that “any” objection to gay marriage would necessarily offend gay people. What would offend gay people are ill informed comments that stem from either ignorance or flat out homophobic commitments. Ms Abbate was worried about offending gays in the class because it seemed as if the complaining student felt entitled to make ANY objection to gay marriage (remember, he dismissed her explanation as to why his so-called objections weren’t appropriate given the context of the class) that he might have. Ms Abbate is *required* to be concerned with offending gay students, given Marquette’s very clear policy which makes very clear that if two people are publicly opposing gay marriage, in conversation, on Marquette campus, and someone overhears and is offended, then that is harassment. You might try googling “marquette harassment policy gay marriage” (and if you don’t like Marquette’s policy, please don’t take this out on Ms Abbate- she didn’t write it). Yet, this in no way “implies” that Ms Abbate thinks that ALL objections to gay marriage constitute homophobia. Rather, it shows that she did her title IX training and is aware that it is her responsibility to create a safe learning environment for her students.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

Hi MarquettePhilosopher, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

I do not have access to anything other than the snippets that have surfaced online, which obviously leaves a lot to be desired in terms of both the overall context for and the understanding of exactly what was said. But (and this goes for Justin too) given what we do have online, to quote Jean, I think it is a non-stupid non-malicious interpretation of Abatte’s recorded comments to understand her to have said that expressing an opinion against SSM is inherently homophobic.

On that note, Justin, you state that Abatte’s comparison between arguing against SSM and arguing against having women in the workplace “does not itself imply anything about the permissibility of arguing against gay marriage or arguing that women’s professional options should be limited.” That’s certainly a viable interpretation, but to me, it’s not the most obvious interpretation–to me, the most obvious interpretation (given what I’ve seen of the rest of the conversation, as well as the state of contemporary discourse) is that arguing that women’s professional options should be limited is the kind of opinion that Abatte won’t tolerate in her classroom, precisely because it is inherently sexist and offensive to women. The implication here is that by analogy Abatte won’t tolerate arguing against SSM in the classroom, because it’s inherently homophobic and offensive to homosexuals. Again, reasonable people can disagree over how to interpret this turn in the conversation, and in the lack of a more complete picture of the comments it’s impossible to know for sure. Actually it might be impossible to know for sure even if we had the whole recording. But, again, it’s one thing to argue over how to interpret a partial transcript of a surreptitiously recorded conversation, quite another thing to accuse someone else of lying about the contents of the recording.

Finally, I had heard of Marquette’s harassment policy, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Abatte might have been primarily concerned with staying on the right side of that policy (which, yes, I do think goes too far).Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

Onion Man, why do you think that John McAdams didn’t just explicitly quote what Abbate said? He has the recording, so he knows exactly what she said. Why doesn’t he just stick to saying that “Ms Abbate said that homophobic comments won’t be tolerated”? The fact that he continually refuses to quote her directly and instead chooses to attribute words to her that she did not say (“any objection to gay marriage is homophobic) is malicious and deceitful. I would be willing to be more sympathetic if it were the student who was misquoting Ms Abbate, but the fact that a *tenured professor*, presumably a professional who is well aware of the potential consequences of his actions, is publicly blogging about Abbate and commenting on national news outlets about her requires that he be ever so careful and diligent in how he reports so as to not misrepresent Abbate. He knows that these right wing websites follow his blog and that this story would be picked up by national news sources (it’s not the first time fox news has reported on one of John McAdams’s “breaking stories”) and he knows that this “story” has the very real potential of harming Ms Abbate’s academic future. Given this, he should have gone out of his way to ensure that he only reported what he has confirmed Ms Abbate said– it is not his place to make inferences about what Ms Abbate “thought,” “intended” or was “implying.” So my question for you is this: do you think it is acceptable for a tenured professor to go on Fox News and summarize what he thought a graduate student, at his own university, was “implying” in her conversation with her student? Or do you (hopefully) agree that the minimally decent thing for him to do would be to quote her directly?Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
Reply to  MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

“Do you think it is acceptable for a tenured professor to go on Fox News and summarize what he thought a graduate student, at his own university, was ‘implying’ in her conversation with her student?”

I think a neutral observer would acknowledge that McAdams is a bit of a blowhard and attention whore. No, he should not have gone on Fox News. Your question about his motivations for not releasing the whole transcript is a good one, but I’m hesitant to attribute it to malice. Because, as Jim Johnson’s reply below illustrates, I think we’re dancing around the very thin line that separates *in principle* (it is possible to argue against SSM without being homophobic) from *in practice* (most SSM supporters seem to think there is no such thing as non-homophobic opposition to SSM, and whether or not she said/implied as much–which remains unclear–Abatte very well might think this herself).

“Do you (hopefully) agree that the minimally decent thing for him to do would be to quote her directly?” Yes, but I’m not sure that would help his case, since in that scenario he’d be sharing the recording that was made without her consent… which might also (I don’t know) leave him open to a lawsuit or even criminal charges.Report

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson
6 years ago

Maybe I am missing something in all the philosophy-speak. But if racism (say) is a view that says people of one race are inferior and therefore undeserving of equal treatment, what is homophobia? Could it possibly be that it means people of a given sexual preference are inferior and therefore undeserving of equal treatment? From there it is a short step to thinking about marriage equality … and the undergrad student’s objection to marriage equality. His views quite straightforwardly fall under the category of homophobic – regardless of whether the instructor said so or otherwise.

All of the business about implicature and so forth and all the ipso factos simply obscure this.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

Right on, Jim! I would be interested to know what a nonhomophobic argument against gay marriage looks like.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

I fail to see why quoting her directly would be subject to greater liability. If quoting her would open him up to a lawsuit, then surely he is already legally exposed.

As to, “Abatte very well might think this herself,” irrespective of whether or not Abbate does think this, it would be completely and entirely reprehensible to aggressively attack a graduate student as McAdams has done because one believes she might represent some largely socio-political movement one finds objectionable. In other words, the fact that some people may think this is no defense of McAdams at all.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

@ The Onion Man: My question wasn’t “should McAdams play the tape”; my question was, should McAdams, when describing what Abbate said to her student, stick to relaying the direct quotes from Abbate. I am pretty sure he can relay the quotes from Abbate which he heard on the tape without actually playing the tape for the public.So, again, he should have had the decency to only attribute quotes to Abbate that she *actually said* in all of his blog posts and interviews with national news outlets. It’s pretty simple.Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

As a side note, McAdams has written that he has the tape and he specifically states that all of the quotes he attributes to her (from his original blog post) are from the tape (which by the way, is a lie in and of itself, since he attributes a quote to her regarding something that was said during the lecture itself– and it has been confirmed that she did not say what he said she did). So, no, McAdams is not worried about being sued for providing a transcript of the tape. It’s pretty clear that, in later blog posts and interviews, he exaggerates what Abbate said in order to stir up more resentment towards her.Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

Yes, that is a good point, and it’s true: why not give the direct quotes? A sordid mess…Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Many in the LGBTQ community have given arguments against gay marriage. Claudia card, for example, rejects marriage itself as being heteronormative. Are these people ipso facto “homophobic”? As Jennifer Frey remarked here months ago, we should stop pretending that these arguments do not exist.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22758434Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

MarquettePhilosopher said “Ms Abbate is *required* to be concerned with offending gay students, given Marquette’s very clear policy which makes very clear that if two people are publicly opposing gay marriage, in conversation, on Marquette campus, and someone overhears and is offended, then that is harassment.”

See, this is something that I think gets glossed over when focusing on parsing the minutiae of what McAdams, Abbate, and the undergraduate have said. I am continuously shocked by how little concern so many philosophers here have over such a broad and intrusive policy. I think some of us find the idea that the risk of emotional hurt can trump free speech as throwing away hundreds of years of progressive values.

Should an evangelical Christian who was offended because she overheard two people in a private conversation supporting gay marriage be able to get redress from the school? Can you have a viable philosophy department when nothing should be discussed that would possibly offend someone else?

Of course, my last comment has been pending moderation for many days, so nobody may see this…Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

DC, responding to your just-now appeared 17: yes, I think my number 1 is overstated, but I stand by number 2: I think we all have a duty of mentorship to students — and to junior colleagues for that matter. It’s not an indefeasible duty, but it does exist, and McAdams’s reasons for violating do not withstand scrutiny. I won’t be able to respond more fully however on these and other points until this evening. In the meantime, I ask you to consider this recent post at my blog: http://proteviblog.typepad.com/protevi/2014/12/further-points-on-the-mcadams-case.htmlReport

Jean
Jean
6 years ago

“In that context the duties of charitable reading you claim we have to the UG student — that wannabe James O’Keefe — and his wannabe Breitbart, McAdams — run the risk of further emboldening those elements (“see, even some professional philosophers think that Abbate was wrong”) and thus entail that our junior colleague Abbate will be paying the price of continued harassment while we safely — and in your case anonymously — debate the fine points of implicatures and duties of charitable reading.
Call me anti-intellectual, but basta with all that. This is not a seminar room; this blog is one of the nodes of defense of a junior colleague in the face of a vicious attack, and rather than asking for strained and overly charitable readings of the UG student (ensconced in the anonymity provided him by FERPA), I call for giving the benefit of the doubt to Abbate.”

John, I gather from your comment that you feel you have a duty of professional solidarity to defend a “junior colleague” against the right wing idiots who have descended upon her. I get that and applaud you for coming to her defense. However, I think there’s another legitimate standpoint. One of the roles of a philosopher is to step back and look at the issues in a non-partisan, ethically coherent way–and not be overly influenced by loyalty and politics. (“Dear to us is Plato but dearer still is truth” comes to mind.) In thinking about whether McAdams’ treatment by Marquette is just, surely it’s this second standpoint that one should be occupying. Trying to look at the whole picture more objectively, and without concern for loyalty and my political outlook (left wing and pro gay marriage), I’m skeptical that McAdams is lying when he says he believes CA communicated that it’s homophobic to oppose gay marriage. At least it’s likely McAdams does (or did) believe that, which clears him of the charge of lying. But again, I’m not faulting you for your stance. I’m only saying that it’s to be expected that some members of the philosophical community would have a different one.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Jean, I don’t understand why it’s significant to understanding Marquette’s decision to place McAdams under review whether he was lying or not. That seems tangential to the main issues with his conduct.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

Thanks, Justin!Report

RM
RM
6 years ago

I’d hope you’d still mourn the fact that an excellent junior scholar and teacher was effectively chased out of her program, even if it were by an untenured black woman with an axe to grind.Report

Aristodemus
Aristodemus
6 years ago

Am I the only one amused by the dangling modifier in the Harvard Philosophy GSO’s ‘letter of support’?Report

JD
JD
6 years ago

Alleged Non-homophobic Argument against Marriage Equality (or against marriage itself)

We have two options: (A) have a public institution of marriage, (B) have no public institution of marriage.

If B, then there should not be *any* kind of publicly supported marriage.

But most people think we should have legal marriage. Otherwise, the issue isn’t about allowing same-sex marriage as much as it should be about prohibiting marriage.

So, assume (A).

1. If (A), then the model of marriage must serve some public purpose.
2. The man-woman model serves the purpose of promoting social posterity (i.e. procreation).
3. The model of marriage that permits same-sex marriage serves no public purpose (or, at least, a purpose that wouldn’t also force us to permit polygamy or incestual marriage)
4. So, the same-sex marriage model should not be publicly supported.

This is Contemporary Moral Issues 101. I’m not sure how or why 2 would be homophobic.

The issue is about what the purpose of marriage could be that permits same-sex marriage that would also prohibit polygamous or incestual marriages. This is not homophobic. It assumes we want to prohibit the other types of public marriage and claims that whatever we offer to prohibit these other non-traditional types of marriage will also force us to prohibit same-sex marriage.

[Disclaimer: This may not be obvious, but this is *not* an endorsement of the argument.]Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

@ Plouff: In the link you shared, I don’t see anyone who believes both that straight people should have the right to marry and that gay people should not have that same right. Jonathan Soroff, the first gay man mentioned, simply thinks that gay marriage is not for him (or that it’s “weird”), but nowhere does he say that gay people should not have the right/the option to marry if they choose. In fact, he says “”I’m not saying that people who want that shouldn’t have.” The lesbians Claudia Card mentioned seemed to be against marriage in general, not just gay marriage (which seems to be significantly different from “being against gay marriage”). The others mentioned seem to think there are different priorities that gay people should focus on, but again, this is different from “being against gay marriage.”Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Jean, I really doubt you would be satisfied, were you a grad student besieged by misogynist hate mail, to have colleagues say, “oh, hey, good luck with all that, but I’m a philosopher, I can’t get involved with politics.” Is that really the kind of person you want to be? “Oh, you’re drowning, sorry, I’m a philosopher, we all got to go sometime, I’m not getting wet for you.”Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

@ JD: I would think that the argument you provided is in fact homophobic because not all man-woman models “serve the purpose of promoting social posterity (i.e procreation).” So, unless we are going to treat “like cases alike” and start banning individuals from marrying who are too old to procreate and women who cannot procreate due to having a hysterectomy, even the argument you provided appears to be homophobic (if we are defining homophobia as arbitrary discrimination against gay people).
I seem some similarities to what I have just argued and the standard arguments found in the discourse concerning speciesism. It is often assumed that all humans are entitled to strong moral protection on the basis of their supposed rationality. Yet, as we all know, not all humans are rational. So, if we grant all humans strong moral protection, regardless of whether or not they have the capacity for rationality, then we should also grant nonhuman animals this same moral protection unless we can cite a morally relevant difference between nonstandard humans and nonhuman animals. If we continue to give strong moral protection to all humans (while denying this same protection to nonhuman animals), then we would be speciesists.
Now consider this: we commonly assume that all heterosexual couples are entitled to marry on the basis of their ability to procreate. Yet, as we all know, not all heterosexual couples can procreate. So, if we grant all heterosexual couples the right to marry, regardless of whether or not they are able to procreate, then we should also grant gay people the right to marry unless we can cite a relevant difference between heterosexual couples who are unable to procreate and gay couples. If we continue to grant the right to marry to all heterosexual couples (while denying this right to gays), then we would be homophobic.
And yes, I do feel like this is a Contemporary Moral Issues 101 discussion.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

MarquettePhilosopher: The link I posted wasn’t meant to be any sort of treatise. But if you are curious about arguments from the queer perspective against extending marriage in this way, see Conrad’s edited collection, entitled “Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage.”

http://www.amazon.com/Against-Equality-Queer-Critiques-Marriage/dp/0615392687Report

MarquettePhilosopher
MarquettePhilosopher
6 years ago

@ Plouff: Thank you- I will try to check this out sometime. Out of curiosity, which article do you think provides the best anti-gay marriage article? Maybe I will start there.Report

JD
JD
6 years ago

MarquetPhilosopher
Right. Treat like cases alike. But I’m guessing the traditional marriage folks are aware of the easy sort of objection you raise.

The argument I tried to present (which, again, is one I reject) considers the “model” of marriage, not individual “cases.”

So while an infertile male-female marriage may not be able to procreate, they would fit the model.

Here’s the thought: the only way to have legal marriage confined to heterosexual couples is to treat marriage as a type and individual marriages are tokens.

And then it seems reasonable to ask if we are going to publicly endorse (e.g. with our tax dollars) a particular marriage *type*, what that type should be.

Here’s a sketchy dialectic of how I think “traditional” marriage folks take themselves to be going:

Anti-Marriage Equality Person A: So you want to publicly affirm some type of marriage?
Marriage Equality Person B: Yes
Person A: What type?
Person B: The type of marriage that would permit same-sex marriage.
Person A: What’s the basis of this marriage type? And would it allow us to also prohibit polygamous or incestual marriage?
Person B: ……..Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
6 years ago

Such arguments may exist, but one would have to be far more credulous than I to suggest that they were the ones this student had in mind.Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
6 years ago

(In case it doesn’t show up this way when published, my previous comment was meant to be a reply to Plouffe’s comment which, as I type this, is numbered 46.)Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Jean, I apologize for my 57. I went too far in that comment. That was wrong of me, and I apologize.Report

Colin MacWhirter
Colin MacWhirter
6 years ago

McAdams used his position of power from which to launch his attack. She shouldn’t have to descend to the same level, but even if she had, as a graduate student – and someone on the defensive – she would not have been arguing on a level playing field. Furthermore, his attacks were misleading, malicious, personal and false. It’s difficult to argue against such irrationality except to point out that it is intellectually and morally bankrupt. I’m not sure Fox News would pick up on such a rebuttal, however…Report