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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Anon
Anon
6 years ago

This is an absolutely chilling attack on academic freedom, and I hope the philosophy community will condemn it as such.Report

In Support of Marquette
In Support of Marquette
6 years ago

The real chilling attack on academic freedom is the misogynist abuse that Cheryl was subjected to as a direct, foreseeable consequence of John McAdams’s false and defaming statements that he *repeatedly* spread about her (not just on his blog, but to any right wing news source that would listen). She has shared the horrifying emails and online mob attacks against her on her blog: https://ceabbate.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/gender-based-violence-responsibility-and-john-mcadams/. To say that Marquette’s decision to fire McAdams is an “attack on academic freedom” is to imply that tenured faculty have the “right” or “freedom” to spread false and defaming statements about graduate students at their own university (which predictably will lead to violent responses). I hope we can all agree that strong action should be taken against tenured faculty who act as McAdams has and that “academic freedom” should be limited when a graduate student’s reputation is wrongly jeopardized and her safety is threatened. Thankfully, there is at least one university that is taking the safety of women graduate students seriously. Good job Marquette!Report

Way to go Marquette
Way to go Marquette
6 years ago

I hope other university admins follow Marquette’s lead.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

I think we should always be a bit wary when a tenure revocation comes up as academic freedom (and extra mural activities) deserve and require considerable latitude.

However, the case seems pretty prima facie reasonable and is hitting the right bits: 1) he published stuff that was factual yet false (about multiple people and situations), and knowably so by him, 2) his publication of the falsity had predictably harassing effects on a student, 3) it was part of a pattern for which he’d been warned in various ways about before, and 4) there’s no attempt to mitigate the harmful effects of his publication or to effect his “criticisms” in other ways that would be less damaging.

Given that the behaviour was severe enough to cause a student to leave, that seems to meet a severity status sufficient to raise tenure revocation. Since it’s part of a pattern which he robustly defends, it seems like alternative measures are unlikely to be effective to curtail the behaviour or mitigate the effects thereof. So, sadly, if the elements are shown (which it’s hard to see how they won’t be from the public and admitted record alone), it seems like a revocation will happen and be justified.

Which is sad, but good.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

This is pretty shocking.

I can see that a case compatible with academic freedom could be made for firing McAdams, on fairly narrow and specific grounds. Academic freedom doesn’t license intentional and harmful dishonesty, and possibly also doesn’t license intentional incitement of behaviour by others that collectively amounts to harassment, though I think that’s a more difficult case. (That it’s wildly immoral to incite that behaviour is of course not a difficult case.)

Fragments of that case are contained in Holz’s letter. But it’s wrapped in an overall framework that mixes a cavalier disregard for academic freedom with an Orwellian reconstrual of it. Right at the top we have:

“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… you chose to shame and intimidate with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for others’ opinions, and appropriate restraint.”

Accuracy, maybe (though it had better be understood in a narrowly factual sense). But respect for others’ opinions? The exercise of appropriate restraint? Competence? Last time I looked these weren’t part of any sensible construal of freedom of speech.

Then later we’re told that “you wrote your story without first checking with any of your colleagues about what the student had told them”. I don’t think there are any pre-clearance requirements for exercising academic freedom.

Then this: “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.” Which sounds quite correct, and pretty reprehensible on McAdams’ part, but there’s no “using people as means rather than ends” exemption in usual definitions of academic freedom.

And then we finish with two quotes from the AAUP’s “On Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes”, used to justify Marquette’s action

– “[the Faculty’s] actions may set examples for understanding, making clear to their students that civility and tolerance are hallmarks of educated men and women.”
– 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.”

Both quotes are indeed from the AAUP statement. They’re both calls for speech, not coercion. And they’re items in the list that immediately follows this sentence:
“Moreover, banning speech often avoids consideration of means more compatible with the mission of an academic institution by which to deal with incivility, intolerance, offensive speech, and harassing behavior”. Interpreting the AAUP statements this way is either culpably careless or intentionally dishonest.

I don’t see how it’s possible to read this letter carefully without concluding that Marquette’s administration doesn’t know what academic freedom is, and/or doesn’t care. Remind me never to work there.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

First of all, I have read the university’s letter, and -respectfully – it does not make a strong case for libel against the professor – it is a kitchen sink document that will definitely come back to haunt the school because it will have to live with every word in court as will the various professors and administrators who supplied the factual claims recited therein. Particulalrly problematic is that the tape which is the only unassailable item of evidence appears to have been accurately reported upon by McAdams. Second, particularly slimy is the effort to defame the undergraduate student involved, including by featuring his failing grade, etc. The sliming tactic is particularly dumb, since the entire thesis of the letter is that putative students – even those who look and act like professors – require eztraordinary solicitude and reputatational coddling, even when and if they make grave errors. Third, while I hold no brief for the Prof’s political views, I think the university has established a strong case for libel against itself by making absurd claims including to the press that the professor is a potential physical threat to students. Finally, it was a stupendously bad idea to invoke AAUP standarda in support of the employment action, since those standards expressly protect the “extramural” expression at issue. Personally, I question the substantive merits those standards in some respects. They are the reason Salaita would have been potebtially been protected – at least under the AAUP standards if not law – to engage in personal and group libels if he had in fact been an academic employee. Here Marquette is implicitly conceding that the standards apply, even as it audaciously violates them.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi David,

“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… you chose to shame and intimidate with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for others’ opinions, and appropriate restraint.”

Accuracy, maybe (though it had better be understood in a narrowly factual sense).

I think it was. But even there, it’s possible to take an acceptable academic position which is anti-factual honesty. It’s just hard to so so well without straying into academic malpractice.

But respect for others’ opinions? The exercise of appropriate restraint? Competence? Last time I looked these weren’t part of any sensible construal of freedom of speech.

Respect for others’ opinions is a tricky one, but appropriate restraint and esp competence seem related to academic freedom (though not necessarily freedom of speech). Incompetence at teaching, admin, or research is not itself protected by academic freedom, though it’s best to construct competence in a very restricted way. E.g., clearly never showing up for class is a strong form of incompetence. But we have to allow for SOME content related judgements of content. If I *can’t* correctly integrate a formula that is a first year calculus textbook easy problem, I don’t get to claim academic freedom as a defines of that inadequate per se (I might claim that my interests have shifted, but if I use integration in my research or teach calculus, then I’m in trouble).

Then later we’re told that “you wrote your story without first checking with any of your colleagues about what the student had told them”. I don’t think there are any pre-clearance requirements for exercising academic freedom.

I think you misread this: It’s not saying “pre clear” but “do due diligence”. Check with colleagues about *what the student told them* instead of presuming it or going with what the student told you. That seems unexceptional.

Then this: “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.” Which sounds quite correct, and pretty reprehensible on McAdams’ part, but there’s no “using people as means rather than ends” exemption in usual definitions of academic freedom.

Er…research on human beings has to be cleared with an IRB and past ethical muster. As just one example. In any case, I don’t think that alone would suffice but 1) he (potentially) had mentorship duties or other duties of care toward any student, 2) he was factually careless, and 3) faculty have a general duty to promote a reasonable learning environment. Actually, I suspect there’s some FERPA issues involved.

As for the AAUP statements, I have to think so more. And read the whole letter (I didn’t realise we had more than excerpts).Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

This much is clear to me as a nonacademic observing events like: (i) Leiter’s and the AAUP’S anger at U of I administrators for denying Salaita a job opportunity after he blogged about Israel’s purported joy in killing children, (II) Leiter’s threat of legal action for a blog post that he viewed as an (extremely) veiled personal criticism of him, and (iii) now the solicitude of many academics, if not active endorsement, for the firing of Mcadams (not to be fair, by Leiter) for being a right wing gadfly and all around pain in the behind — well I guess consistency is the hobgoblin of . . . . For my (nonacademic) part, I am happy that the Salaita and Mcadams cases are going to head to the legal realm – simply because it will remove the cases from an academic echo chamber in which personal vocational concerns and political alleigances apparently (though to be fair somewhat understandably) have impaired the exercise of analytic abilities by many concerned . If the Mcadams and Salaita cases do go to federal court, they may end up before the very same appellate court on which the two greatest academic judges sit – U of C professors Posner and Easterbrook. It would be funny if either of them end up writing a decision in one of these cases. At least each of them writes very well.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer, surely one can have a split judgement between Salaita and McAdams without it being problematic. The cases differ quite a bit (e.g., Salaita’s were wholly extra-mural and whereas McAdams fall into some slightly odd area; Salaita has had no due process, while McAdams is being afforded due process, etc.).

I’m prepared to believe that revoking McAdams tenure would be incorrect either on the direct merits of the case or because of chilling, but the case isn’t entirely bonkers on its face, as far as I can tell.Report

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

I have so far seen at least four distinct ways of framing this situation, each leading to very different ethical and legal implications:

1. This is a matter of free speech: Under the U.S. Constitution, and all else being equal, McAdams ought not to be constrained from writing or saying whatever he wants.
2. This is a matter of academic freedom: In order to foster open, critical inquiry, McAdams ought not to be constrained from writing or saying whatever he wants.
3. This is a matter of civility: Those engaged in free intellectual inquiry or in deliberation in the public square ought to treat one another with respect and decorum.
4. This is a matter of professional responsibility: Someone in a position of power and authority is obligated to be mindful and careful of those within the same institutional structure who are subordinate or vulnerable.

I have a feeling I’ve missed a few, including some subheadings under one or another of the above.

My own take on the McAdams case is still forming, as I discover more about it. My current inclination is to cast this as a matter of professional responsibility, above all: I wonder whether McAdams has been culpably reckless in his treatment of a graduate student at his institution, in relation to whom he is in a position of power. I am also inclined to think that, if he can indeed be held to have been reckless and unprofessional, it would trump any claim to academic freedom, just as it would in the case of other kinds of unprofessional conduct, such as plagiarism.Report

Eric Winsberg
Eric Winsberg
6 years ago

I think David W nails it, and I share his concerns: Its possible there is a case to be made against McAdams here, but the letter is pretty shocking in its disregard for academic freedom, and we all ought to be damn careful about rejoicing in this.
I also agree that one could have a split judgment between Salaita and McAdams, but not on the basis of that letter. If all the presupposition of the letter, that “respect for the opinion of others and appropriate restraint” are relevant standards, then Salaita is SOL.Report

No One of Consequence
No One of Consequence
6 years ago

Look closely at the letter:

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.

This part of the letter is supposed to be a central example of what the professor did wrong. But, it doesn’t demonstrate any falsehood on McAdams’ part. McAdams claimed the student was dropping the class, which the student did. McAdams’ other claims in the first paragraph and the information in the second paragraph are quite compatible. The student could have been lectured for inappropriate comments and been invited to drop the class, but also had been failing the class and chose to drop the class due to his performance. There is no contradiction here. Where’s McAdams big lie? The University better have a good lawyer, because they need to make a better case than this.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Ye, one can split hairs. Heck, I do that for a living.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

One thing though, if you think Mcadams has received due process to date, your definition thereof accords with that of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities.Report

IANAL
IANAL
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer @9: on what grounds do you think McAdams might sue, and if he sues, might prevail?Report

Carnap
Carnap
6 years ago

Why must termination be the penalty for McAdams’ conduct rather than some less draconian punishment? Those of us who support tenure and academic freedom ought, I think, to support termination only as a last resort. I realize that, according to Holz’ letter, McAdams has been “warned” in the past about publishing students’ names. However, (a) I cannot see why that activity is, in itself, objectionable, (b) even if it were morally objectionable, it seems pretty clearly within McAdams’ academic and free speech rights, and (c) no formal adjudication of the previous events occurred.

I hope it goes without saying that I am not defending McAdams’ conduct nor unconcerned about the abuse to which Ms. Abbate was subjected by the more unhinged of McAdams’ readers.

(It is, by the way, worth reading the letter from Holz in its entirety. The transcript of the recorded conversation reveals that Abbate’s conception of the bounds of appropriate philosophical discussion is depressingly narrow.)Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

One of the reasons Marquette gives in moving to fire McAdams is that he had been warned before about the sort of thing

Page 14 of the Dean’s letter (https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4jS38HQ3f8dSDhNX1FQRnlpcTQ/edit?pli=1) mentions this 2011 blog post, in which he PRINTS THE NAME OF THE UNDERGRADUATE WOMAN he emailed (with signature line “Department of Political Science / Marquette Warrior blog”) and then CALLED AT HOME about her role in the MU Vagina Monologues. And then BLOGS ABOUT HOW TO FIND HER PHONE NUMBER. http://mu-warrior.blogspot.com/2011/03/marquette-warrior-blogger-harassed-by.html

So is this academic freedom or harassment? You could say here that the phone call was harassment it seems to me.

But what about the misogynist emails Abbate received? McAdams didn’t write them. I have to say I find that pretty thin gruel in the age of internet misogyny. I daresay commenters who claim only direct responsibility holds here would not themselves enjoy the experience of having their female friends virtually doxxed in a way that reasonable predicts the sort of treatment McAdams’ targets received.

Despite all this, I would have preferred punishment of McAdams short of beginning the firing process.Report

In Support of Marquette
In Support of Marquette
6 years ago

1. Anonymous Lawyer writes that: “particularly slimy is the effort to defame the undergraduate student involved, including by featuring his failing grade”; I am not sure why Anon Lawyer believes that Marquette meant to “defame” the undergraduate student, given that the letter from the Dean was meant to be a *private* document that John McAdams took it upon himself to share with the public. In case anyone else is confused: defamation requires 1) that the “defaming” statement be false, and 2) that the statement be made in order to damage one’s character. First, the statement about the student’s grade presumably is not a lie. Second, since the identity of the student is unknown, I am not sure how his reputation can be damaged. As a side note, the information about the student’s grade is completely relevant given the student explicitly told someone from the Marquette administration that the reason *why* he dropped Abbate’s class is because of his grade. On his blog, McAdams clearly insinuates that the reason the student dropped the class was because Abbate is “intolerable” because of her so-called “uber-liberalness.” That, anon lawyer, is defamation.

2. Anonymous Lawyer adds: “{Marquette] has established a strong case for libel against itself by making absurd claims including to the press that the professor is a potential physical threat to students”; yet, it’s clear that McAdams IS a physical threat to Marquette students given the history he has of inciting misogynist violence against both women undergraduate students and graduate students at Marquette. If you think that the rape threats that Ms Abbate received, which were a direct, foreseeable consequence of McAdams’s inaccurate reporting and defaming statements about Abbate, do not constitute a real threat then… shame one you (for lack of better words). I am just astounded and deeply troubled that there are academics and lawyers out there who continue to act as though the safety of Ms Abbate was not jeopardized because of McAdams’s actions, especially when she has taken the time to provide the public with numerous examples of the misogynist violence she was met with. It is no wonder that violence against women is so widespread in our society when there are presumably “informed” and “educated” individuals dismissing the reality or seriousness of it when it is right in front of their faces.

I will close by saying this: when I see comments such as the ones from the first commenter “This is an absolutely chilling attack on academic freedom, and I hope the philosophy community will condemn it as such” (and the 17 “likes it has at this point), it makes me truly appalled to know that I am part of a profession whose members are willing to prioritize a tenured male’s freedom of speech over the safety of women graduate students and their reputation.Report

M
M
6 years ago

I have mixed thoughts about this. But one thought that is not mixed is that people should quit jumping up to laud Marquette. Marquette had the opportunity when this broke to support Abbate against McAdams in a public way that enabled her to continue at Marquette and made clear that McAdams’s shenanigans were vile. This does not look like anything near the best way for universities to deal with cases of this sort.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi Bob, I think your categories are pretty good. One twist is that the letter asserts that McAdams is somehow damaging other people’s academic freedom by engaging in mob harassment. I’m not sure what to think about that, but something seems off about it.

Eric, there are several things in the letter that support a split judgement: Salaita’s comments were whole extramural and independent of his campus role; Salaita didn’t target any individual member of campus; there was no mob attacking any individual as a foreseeable result of the tweet (except perhaps Salaita himself); the locus of concern (teaching) has counter evidence; finally, you could think that Salaita ought to removed, but clearly his due process rights were ignored. Also, apparently McAddams has made factual errors and been warned about naming students. Salaita may have expressed strong opinions, but, afaik, there’s nothing factual in dispute.

I think the letter isn’t awesome, but I don’t think “respect for the opinion of others and appropriate restraint” are the foundation of the case.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi Carnap:

“Why must termination be the penalty for McAdams’ conduct rather than some less draconian punishment? Those of us who support tenure and academic freedom ought, I think, to support termination only as a last resort.”

I think a less draconian punishment should certainly be considered (as does John). I do think there’s a prima facie case for revocation, but I’m not sure there’s a good all things considered case.

“(It is, by the way, worth reading the letter from Holz in its entirety. The transcript of the recorded conversation reveals that Abbate’s conception of the bounds of appropriate philosophical discussion is depressingly narrow.)”

I did read the whole thing, and I don’t think that’s fair at all. If you look how the student started, it’s easy to see how one might not be at one’s best (it was rather hostile and confused and confusing).

Second, her considered reaction, even after the student taped her then lied about it then said they were taking it to here “superiors”, was to have a class discussion about the issue which seemed perfectly reasonable and, indeed, laudable.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

David Wallace says:
“Accuracy, maybe (though it had better be understood in a narrowly factual sense). But respect for others’ opinions? The exercise of appropriate restraint? Competence? Last time I looked these weren’t part of any sensible construal of freedom of speech.”
This isn’t a free speech issue, for the same reason that Duck Dynasty being taken off the air for a while was not a freedom of speech issue. Marquette’s relationships with it employees is not governed by the same rules that the relationship the state must keep with its citizens. This is an academic freedom issue.
The AAUP says:
“College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”
http://www.aaup.org/report/1940-statement-principles-academic-freedom-and-tenure#6
Now the footnote to that section does raise doubts about how this section applies to the case at hand (it says that in general extramural activities should not reflect on their competency), but respect for others’ opinions, exercise of appropriate restraint and competence have been part of the standard account of demands placed on academics since 1940.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Mayer:

On “academic freedom” vs “freedom of speech”, I could say something about the intimate relation between them and the use of First Amendment jurisprudence in interpreting contractual academic-freedom clauses, or about how academic freedom and first-amendment rights are special cases of a general principle of freedom of speech – but to be honest I was just varying usage for stylistic reasons, probably unhelpfully.

The AAUP’s material seems to me to make it crystal clear that this would not be the sort of thing they regard as justifying action (and judging by the various correspondences and essays on their blog they seem to agree – http://academeblog.org/tag/john-mcadams/) but as a UK resident I don’t really know anything much about AAUP so I won’t press the point – other than to stress again that Holz’s letter radically misconstrues the point of the AAUP document that he quotes from.Report

Carnap
Carnap
6 years ago

Bijan Parsia,

Thanks for the reply.
[1] I suppose I wouldn’t want my own “conception of X” characterized on the basis of a few comments I might make about X, especially if I were flustered or felt under attack when making the comments. Abbate did clearly suggest that certain views ought not be raised if they might be found offensive and *that* suggestion is what I was concerned about. It may not (and I hope it does not) represent her considered view.
[2] I’m not sure I agree with your second claim. From the text of the letter, it doesn’t appear that Abbate had *a discussion* with the class about the issue, but rather that she “explained to” her class why the student’s concerns were irrelevant to the topic at issue and to be based on a dubious factual claim. (I don’t mean to suggest that she was mistaken in either of these.)Report

Anon non-lawyer
Anon non-lawyer
6 years ago

“Second, particularly slimy is the effort to defame the undergraduate student involved, including by featuring his failing grade, etc. The sliming tactic is particularly dumb, since the entire thesis of the letter is that putative students – even those who look and act like professors – require eztraordinary solicitude and reputatational coddling, even when and if they make grave errors.”

Can you say more about how this is slimy or defamatory on the university’s part, considering that this is a private letter to McAdams and not to the general public? This section doesn’t seem like it would be defamatory if it was only serving its initial purpose – to remind McAdams of information that he purportedly already knew. It only becomes defamatory to the student when the information is made public to people who didn’t already know it, and McAdams was the one to make it public. Isn’t the problem that McAdams failed to redact that portion of the letter when making it public?Report

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell
6 years ago

I’m with John @ 18 (if I’ve understood him correctly): I would also have preferred a substantial punishment of McAdams short of beginning the firing process. Not so much because of any supposed violation of ‘academic freedom’ (of which there is none), but because I think that, if McAdams pursues a civil suit, he will probably win a large settlement, money which Marquette could have better used elsewhere.
That having been said, McAdams is a cyber-bully, and it sounds like he had been warned about just this sort of thing before. Clearly he’s used up whatever patience the administrators had.Report

Bob Kirkman
6 years ago

Thanks, Bijan. The question of whether McAdams’ conduct might itself have a chilling effect on academic freedom may fall between points 2 and 3 in my earlier comment, with the idea that some basic level of civility is necessary to open academic inquiry.

It occurs to me that there is another way of framing the situation:

5. This is a matter of procedural justice: before serious accusations are made or drastic penalties imposed, the accused has the right of due process, or at least due diligence.

This one cuts both ways, though. McAdams is accused of not exercising due diligence in his posts about the Ms. Abbate’s alleged conduct, and Marquette is effectively being accused of penalizing McAdams without due process.

Has anyone looked into Marquette’s own policies regarding grounds for dismissal of tenured faculty? What would constitute due process in that particular institutional context?

Whatever may be said about academic freedom in general, my understanding is that tenure is a specific set of contractual obligations and/or shared understandings between a particular institution and a particular member of the faculty, though perhaps informed and supported by a wider set of professional norms and practices.

In reviewing some aspects of my own institution’s faculty governance, I’ve recently been reminded of our local procedures in such cases: a tenured member of the faculty who is subject to dismissal due to some alleged misdeed or other is entitled to a pre-dismissal hearing before a panel of peers. But that’s just the way we do things here.

Again, what’s the standard practice at Marquette?Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi Carnap:

“Abbate did clearly suggest that certain views ought not be raised if they might be found offensive and *that* suggestion is what I was concerned about. It may not (and I hope it does not) represent her considered view”

As was discussed, I think, in an earlier DailyNous story, it’s actually part of Marquette’s policy that “The university is committed to maintaining an environment in which the dignity and worth of each member of its community is respected, it will not tolerate harassment of or by students, faculty, staff and guests or visitors…. Harassment is defined as verbal, written or physical conduct directed at a person or a group based on color, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, veteran status, age, gender or sexual orientation where the offensive behavior is intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm.”

Now, I don’t think the mere discussion of gay marriage or the arguments against it would necessarily violate this policy, but if a student came to me with something like that in a pretty clear off topic and weird manner, I might be concerned about their behaviour. I don’t think that interaction was the smoothest, but I also think that it would be reasonable to say, “This class and topic are not about gay marriage per se so since that could be distracting I think we should move to a different topic that allows us to focus on the issue at hand.”

Re how she handled it. Well, it may have been a lecture. It may have been a discussion. This I don’t know. But either way seems to have been perfectly acceptable and respectable way to handle the issue. I don’t see she was required to hold a discussion per se, esp. when, frankly, the students weren’t esp. equipped to handle it (e.g., no pertinent readings, etc.)Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi Bob,

“This one cuts both ways, though. McAdams is accused of not exercising due diligence in his posts about the Ms. Abbate’s alleged conduct, and Marquette is effectively being accused of penalizing McAdams without due process.”

How is McAdams being penalised without due process? They’ve started the process for revoking tenure, but that *is* the process due, right?Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Bob Kirkman at 28: I would think that Marquette is at the beginning of its due process. It has notified McAdams of its intent, and outlined the steps it will take; it also indicates to him the options open to him; further, it CC’ed his lawyer.Report

IANAL
IANAL
6 years ago

Daniel O’Connell, what grounds do you think McAdams has for filing suit?Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

I think you are probably right about the overall issue. I want this guy punished but I am not sure that revoking tenure is appropriate. My point is more limited. Respect for opinions of others, failure to exercise appropriate restraint, are demands that academic freedom does not shield us from. I thought it was worth bringing up this detail because there is a sentiment, common to places like the comments at the Leiter Report and the meta-blog, that the right to be disrespectful to our opponents is central to sustaining academic discourse. I thought it was worth pointing out that being respectful to people we disagree with is not so extreme a burden, and a demand that most of us are already under.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

I apparently cannot put together a coherent thought today. My comment should read “…The demands that we respect the opinions of others, that we not fail to exercise appropriate restraint, and that we show competence, are not demands that academic freedom shields us from…” I am sure there are other mistakes in my comment, but that one was glaring.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

Both FIRE and the AAUP support McAdams.Report

Cassidy
Cassidy
6 years ago

“Particulalrly problematic is that the tape which is the only unassailable item of evidence appears to have been accurately reported upon by McAdams.” Right…contrary to the inaccurate reporting on this website. In any case, you can’t fire a professor for being wrong or for being inconsiderate in his manner of expressing opinions on academic matters in public. A high level administrator I know at another university has observed that Marquette will make McAdams a wealthy man.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

I hope this does go to court. Here is the central legal question: Do graduate student teaching assistants lose their student protections upon occupying a teaching role? McAdams alleges that by virtue of Abbate’s position as instructor, she becomes effectively a public face of the university and is therefore subject to public scrutiny. If this is so, then McAdams will have a legitimate claim. If, however, a court finds that graduate instructors do NOT lose student protections, then Marquette’s actions were appropriate and necessary because McAdams betrayed his duty of care to a student (outing a student publicly and subjecting them to public humiliation, abuse, disparagement etc). It’s a fundamental question because universities justify substandard wages for graduate instructors on the grounds that they’re additionally compensated via scholarships and an education. Basically, the reason graduate instructors are paid so poorly is because THEY ARE STUDENTS. If those protections are revoked, the basis of exploitation is undermined. Universities can’t have it both ways. They can’t pay students peanuts to teach because they are students, but then on the other hand suggest that their status as student is revoked upon occupying a teaching role.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

: I do and don’t agree. I do think that we should usually respect the opinions of others, and I do think that we should usually be restrained and civil in our interactions (I guess that’s what “appropriate restraint” means). And I agree that if I’m just unnecessarily rude, people should call me on it, and “academic freedom!” isn’t a good excuse.

But not everything should be respected, and civility is not always appropriate. Since the assessment of what should be respected and when I should be civil depends on content, whereas academic freedom needs to be content-neutral, academic freedom does mean that I should not be coerced, or punished (other than through more speech), if I don’t show respect and restraint. So in that sense academic freedom does (or should) shield me from the demand that I be restrained and civil, even though I *should* be restrained and civil most of the time.

Put another way: I think the right to be disrespectful to our opponents *is* important (I wouldn’t say central) to sustaining academic discourse. But it is a right that should be exercised with great caution.Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

This is Marquette protecting academic freedom. He deliberately posted factually inaccurate info on his blog, in full knowledge of the fact that it would sicc a torrent of abusers on the grad student. I have a genuinely hard time seeing how anyone could think McAdams is protected by even the barest semblance of academic freedom; I understand that people posting so here believe it earnestly, but I can’t see even the prima facie plausibility of it. Academic freedom, like all freedoms of speech etc., doesn’t mean freedom from any criticism or consequence for one’s speech. Not to make a bad pun, but the freedom to lie about and bully grad students in a consequence-free way is not a freedom worth wanting.Report

Phil Mc
Phil Mc
6 years ago

HK Anderson @39: no one has claimed that McAdams should be free of all criticism or consequence. Several people have said that his speech, shameful though it is, is protected by standards of academic freedom. From the AAUP blog [http://academeblog.org/2015/02/04/marquette-to-fire-john-mcadams-for-his-blog/]:
“One can conclude that McAdams is a terrible journalist, and a terrible person, and that changes nothing about the threat of academic freedom created by this dismissal, and the lack of any basis for it under Marquette’s policies.”

“McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.”

Of course one can disagree, but I’m not seeing why this is a crazy view.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Thinking some more, I do wonder whether *merely* having foreseeable consequences of what might be seen as a sort of protest (as awful as it was) is itself either grounds for opening the question of tenure revocation or an exacerbating consideration. For example, if McAdams organised campus rallies to protest the existence of some course he thought was incompatible with Catholicism, it seems that that would be pretty strongly protected. Not infinitely protected of course: If he disrupted the class physically, I think there’s a threshold which would be grounds for various actions by the university (e.g., having him arrested, if it rose to that level). Similarly, it’s not a violation of academic freedom per se to say that some class or topic is worthless (though it is funny ground; note that it seems that some of what let the UNC fake courses continue for 20 years were appeals to the idea that respecting academic freedom means not critiquing a course design). So the question is when do actions which have structural similarity to highly protected activities turn into non protected activities.

I think I prefer bright lines that are way on the permissive side. Otherwise the potential for abuse and chilling is really high.Report

Patrick Mayer
Patrick Mayer
6 years ago

As with most quantifiers, I think the one implicit in ‘respect the opinions of others’ is restricted. I agree that we should not be respectful and civil to white supremacists. It seems to me though that I have never known a fellow academic who held a view so noxious that they didn’t deserve to be treated respectfully while being told they were wrong. And when I have run into students who have idiotic beliefs (like the one who yesterday told me about how fluoride in water calcifies the pineal gland making us more docile) I have never been in a situation where ‘There isn’t any evidence of that’ worked worse for the purpose of educating them than ‘You are a nitwit’ even when the latter was true. So perhaps we just implicitly restrict this general demand to one that covers the people who we interact with professionally. I don’t think there is a problem saying that Ron Paul is a racist scumbag for example. In this case McAdams was talking about someone with whom he had a loose professional relationship, which makes me think the standard of respect ought to have applied. That it was on a blog makes me a bit uneasy. I don’t like the idea of administration taking what is said in such venues as relevant to our jobs, despite the fact that we can cause harm with what we say in such venues. I think he needs to be punished somehow, though.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Phil Mc,

I agree. I think there’s cases either way. Though the AAUP blog is pretty unambiguous that his action was extramural and strongly protected. The suspension certainly seems completely unjustified, which makes me less confident that the University will proceed with a tenure revocation case properly.

Hmm. Ok, I find the AAUP case pretty convincing. The part I’d like to see addressed is whether this is really perfectly extramural. I see a case that it is and also that critique of the university should be especially protected. I agreed with “Obviously, if any professor could be fired for any kind of alleged inaccuracy in any sentence, public or private, then tenure would be meaningless.”, but presumably this doesn’t entail that *every* kind of alleged inaccuracy is protected. Plagiarism isn’t, for example. I think plagiarism in an extramural activity (e.g., a CS professor ripped off someone else’s novel for their movie treatment) might count against you? This was a big quick by the AAUP, I think.

Interesting.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

I feel the need to respond specifically to the message from “Defending Marquette” above, precisely because it is arguments like theirs which are specifically, and in my view wrongly, calculated to shut down debate.

First of all, the fact that there is much discrimination, whether based on race religion, gender or otherwise, in our society does not make it impossible for a white, male, right wing professor to be treated uunjustly. Neither does the existence of such discrimination in the world mean that we – and I mean all of us, but particularly those who have limited institutional power and therefore are particularly vulnerable to injustice – should care only when members of particular groups are the victims of injustice.

Second, I emphatically disagree with the wilfull conflation of publications of words and physical acts. The distinction is foundational to civil society, and giving it up is just not ok. Mcadams wrote a post on a blog, he did not hit anyone. Furthermore, while the law does sometimes allow for punishment of, for example, libelous speexh or harrassing speech in the workplace, that is most certainly not what we are dealing in Mcadams case. And trying make that the case here by attributing anonymous emails that Ms.Abatte received to Mcadams is just fallacious.

Finally as a matter of law: The letter to Mcadams is a publication by the university for defamation purposes, which is what is required to make out a defamation claim. Now I don’t know whether it says untruths about the student, since I don’t know all of the facts. But that is really not the point, at least in my view. The school adminatrators and faculty members who are targeting Mcadams have grounded their attack entirely an the proposition that students need to be protected even when they stumble. Now the undergraduate here is clearly not being protected, he is being quite viciously attacked by his own school. It turns my stomach, and leads to the inextricable conclusion that this is really about protecting professors and professors in training, not students.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Last thing, I am surprised that philosophers have not remarked on the irony that this particular instance of identity politics in the academy arose from a class discussion. On Rawls I am no philosopher, and I have not read Rawls for a couple of decades. But it does seem to me that he would have a real and deep problem with the proposition that whether an act is just or unjust depends largely on the race or gender of the victim.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
6 years ago

To expand upon what several others have said: the letter from Marquette very clearly mixes potentially legitimate bases for disciplinary action (e.g., harassment of another university employee and lack of due diligence/misrepresentation of the facts) with the same sort of rhetoric regarding civility that was present in the UIUC dean’s letter regarding the decision not to hire Salaita. Flat-footed endorsement of Marquette’s response will thereby serve to legitimize the latter form of rhetoric. Because of this, I think even the people who do think that McAdams should be fired should still refrain from such flat-footed endorsements.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer,
Well, the student is at least partially protected by not being named. If Marquette named the student, that’d clearly be way over the line.

I’m not clear that the letter between Marquette and McAdams was public or intended to be public. Surely, administrators can discuss frankly things about students without it being a vicious attack. If the student was dropping the course because they were struggling that is a very different situation than if they dropped it because they were shut down. (Of course, it could be both! That would matter.)

But yes, care should be taken to protect the student.

(With respect to hair splitting: I don’t see it’s a hair split, but that there’s a lot of differences between the cases. OTOH, it seems like they both might be on the violation of academic freedom side.)

Finally, I don’t see what irony you’re trying to claim. Whether gay marriage should/can be legal seems to be something you can straight forwarded evaluate on Rawlsian principles (I also think that it’s pretty hard to argue against it from the original position; you’d need something like what is factually unsupported (gay marriage harms straight marriage) or irrelevances (gay marriage doesn’t imply gay adoption; plus gay adoption is fine)). So?Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

They did name the student, Mcadams redacted the name before republishing the letter.

My point re Salaita is clear. Saying they are different cases is, well, hair splitting. It is what I say to a judge when I have nothing else to say about a case that goes the wrote g way.

On Rawls, if I was being abscure, I apologize. I was not apeaking to whether gay marriage would properly be permitted by rules established from the original position. I think there is a good argument that it would (and maybe that is why Abatte should have welcomed addressing the topic). No I was speaking to the argument that has been advanced by many – including “In Defense of Marquette” that rules of justice should be different, depending upon the race, gender, etc of the accused.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Correction (of myself): the school redacted the name. But that hardly eliminates the sliminess (or to use a legal term, potentially defamatory nature) of their statements about himReport

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer, you say at 45: “On Rawls I am no philosopher, and I have not read Rawls for a couple of decades. But it does seem to me that he would have a real and deep problem with the proposition that whether an act is just or unjust depends largely on the race or gender of the victim.”

Yet at 48 you say: “No I was speaking to the argument that has been advanced by many – including “In Defense of Marquette” that rules of justice should be different, depending upon the race, gender, etc of the accused.”

Those are not at all the same thing. Let’s stick with 45 for now. I am happy with saying that degrees of badness can depend upon the status of victims. Drawing the attention of Stormfront to the name of a black person is worse than drawing the attention of Stormfront to the name of a white student. Do you not agree with that?Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

MU’s letter is not defamatory/libelous because it wasn’t published. wtfReport

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

I find you contrast of two substantively identical statements I made ineffective. In fact, and I have had an opportunity briefly to refresh myself on Rawls, it should not matter which classification the victim belongs to. In fact — and now I am sounding like a philosophy professor — that is what the entire useful fiction of the original position is all about. The author of the rules does not belong to any classification precisely so as to ensure their neutrality. As for your hypo re neo-Nazis, I respectfully don’t understand it, sorry.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Sorry, in defamtion, published means being communicated to another person, not published on a printing press or in a blog.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Anonymous lawyer, you think the terms “victim” (45) and “accused” (48) are interchangeable?

Further, in 45 you claim the status of a victim is irrelevant to judging the act of which he or she is the victim. I gave a perfectly easy example in which the status of a victim is relevant to judging the action. What is so hard to understand in that example?Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
6 years ago

I don’t know the details of Wisconsin law, but I thought for A to defame B, they had to say something that C hears; A can’t defame B by talking to B. So contra @53, it would matter if Marquette’s letter went to McAdams or was more widely circulated by them.

Is the thought perhaps that they’ve defamed McAdams by cc’ing his lawyer? That would be odd, but perhaps that is the letter of the law.Report

johnny_thunder
johnny_thunder
6 years ago

Holz’s letter gives us the transcript of the conversation between Abbate and the student. Previously, we only had McAdams’s account of events; he would provide quotes, but always surrounded by context that he would provide. I hate to admit it, but McAdams gave an accurate account of the conversation after class between Abbate and the student. While I previously suspected McAdams of misrepresenting an entirely innocent instructor, I now have to say that this is more a case of his reaction being disproportionate to the offense.

Clearly, Abbate told the student that he was homophobic for opposing gay marriage, and she even suggested he drop the class if he couldn’t accept her ban on his view. This is a major pedagogical (and moral) mistake. (I don’t see how, as Holz seems to suggest, delivering a prepared in-class rebuttal of the student counts as addressing his views.) But we should expect graduate students who are relatively new to teaching to make mistakes. So she shouldn’t be vilified and exposed to harassment for making one. In fact, McAdams’s overreaction may prevent this from being a learning moment for Abbate, who may understandably take a very defensive posture about the events.

One final thing: as things were presented on this blog and other venues supporting Abbate, Abbate didn’t want to spend class time discussing gay marriage because it wasn’t really relevant to Rawls’s equal liberty principle. Maybe that’s the justification Abbate gave during class for not discussing the issue (we don’t know). But it’s not at all what she said after class. Again, it turns out that she made a more serious mistake than her supporters had previously acknowledged.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer, it seems to me that you are misreading some of your interlocutors, but just on the point about Rawls, while I’m not sure what Rawls would think, given his work has been critiqued from both the perspective of gender and critical race theory, it wouldn’t surprise me if you were right. But, for precisely that reason, I’m not sure why it’s surprising that no one had suggested this earlier–his work in ideal theory doesn’t give clear direction on how to respond to inequality of liberty in the actual world. I don’t think it would be totally implausible to read his difference principle as suggesting that where there are actual significant and unmerited power differentials, a corresponding difference in consideration may be just.Report

Marquette Philosopher
Marquette Philosopher
6 years ago

@ Johnny Thunder: I am baffled by the fact that you claim to have read the transcript of the conversation and still decided to write that “Clearly, Abbate told the student that he was homophobic for opposing gay marriage.” If you did read the transcript, you would know that she did not say this. In fact, her student asked her: “Are you saying that if I don’t agree with gays not being allowed to get married, that I am homophobic?” …. To which she responded with: “I’m saying that it would come off as a homophobic comment in this class.” If she really believed the student was homophobic, why, then, didn’t she respond to him by saying: “yes! you are homophobic!”? Here is what I can tell happened: Abbate attempted to tell the student, a number of times, that his “objection” was off-base, given that the policy that came up in class was gay marriage, not gay adoption or parenting. And just an FYI, in case anyone is interested who read the transcript, all of the “….” after Abbate’s claims refer to the student *cutting her off* (I have been told this by a respectable source who has actually heard the tape). Keeping this in mind, let’s review this crucial part of the conversation:

Abbate: So, gay marriage isn’t granting people license to have children, it has nothing to do with that[.] Do people have [people?] a right to marry someone of the same sex …

In the middle of her sentence, the student cuts her off and asserts……

Student: Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.

So, after Abbate goes back and forth with the student for a few minutes about the relevancy of his “objection” he evidently became frustrated and unsatisfied with her response that his objection was off-base, cuts her off, and states an entitlement to make *whatever* objection he wants (presumably, even if it’s not relevant to the class material). That is when Abbate moved from a discussion about the relevancy of his objection to the offensiveness (“Ok, there are some opinions that are not appropriate that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual?”). I think that her response is absolutely appropriate given the student’s (1) unwillingness to accept that his “objection” was misguided, and (2) his sense of entitlement to take over class to go on anti-gay tirades. His response would signal to me, and hopefully any other instructor, that he needs to check his sense of entitlement. Abbate was merely reminding the student that he does not have an absolute right to say *whatever* he wants.
I feel as though we have been over this discussion multiple times on this blog; it’s baffling that it keeps coming up and that some people continually make the obviously false statement that “Abbate called her student homophobic” or said “any objection to gay marriage is homophobic.” At no point did she say either of these things. And, the fact that Marquette provided a typed out account of the transcript in their letter to McAdams is a good indication that the administrators, i.e. those who heard the tape (I could imagine that the tone of the student and his interrupting Abbate might impact one’s assessment of how Abbate responded ), believe that McAdams inaccurately described what transpired after class.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

To those invoking academic freedom here, it does not appear that McAdams is being punished for having unpopular opinions about pedagogy or gay marriage in that way that, for example, Salaita’s hiring was allegedly revoked because of political statements some people found outrageous. McAdams allegedly has published false claims about a number of people, including a student he named without permission while discussing classroom performance that is a component of her evaluation as a student, and he allegedly refused to make corrections even once it became clear that his statements were false. Moreover, he allegedly had a pattern of doing the same thing in the past. Academic freedom demands that we tolerate very unpopular opinions McAdams may have about pedagogical practices or gay marriage, even if he is wrong and even if a whole cadre of other researchers are insisting that what he’s saying is false. It does not demand that we tolerate the deliberate publication of false claims about students and colleagues or the repeated violation of restrictions on publishing the names of students without permission. If it does, I would like to know what sort of public comment McAdams could make about a student on his blog that wouldn’t be protected by academic freedom. Can he publish the student’s address? Social security number? Grades? Any other judgments he might make about her academic or pedagogical performance?

Suppose an undergrad told you that his grad student instructor was a drug dealer who made no secret of this in class. Suppose you posted an outraged article about this, naming the instructor without giving her a chance to respond to the accusation. Suppose you claimed she “airily” referred to her drug dealing schemes during lecture, said the undergrad’s complaints were blown off by the department, and implied that the student was going to drop the class because she said he could do so if he didn’t like her comments about drugs. If you refuse to correct your article after learning that these claims are false, are you protected by “academic freedom”? Would academic freedom permit you to write a letter of recommendation in which you repeated these claims, knowing that they were not accurate? May faculty write up teaching reviews containing factual descriptions of the in-class teaching of grad students even if they have not observed the class? Or would we consider this “dishonorable, irresponsible, and incompetent” conduct, which is the grounds for termination? Do those who claim that no professional relationship exists here because the professor was not in the grad student’s department also believe that grad students cannot have faculty outside their departments serve as committee members or writers of recommendation letters?Report

Cassidy
Cassidy
6 years ago

This response tells one a lot about the character of the commentary on this site. A lot of ideologically driven frothing at the mouth. Not much attention to facts or specific issues. “It is nothing of the kind,” followed by name calling. No attention to the devastating criticisms of Marquette’s positions by AAUP or FIRE.Report

johnny_thunder
johnny_thunder
6 years ago

Marquette Philosopher,
You’re right, she explicitly said the student’s comments would “come across as homophobic”, not that that they were homophobic. Let’s focus just on the semantic content of those statements first. I’m not sure that this is a significantly better response on her part. If the comments were in fact homophobic, she might be justified in banning them. If they might merely “come across” as homophobic, without being such, then I don’t see that she’s provided any justification for banning his comments. Discussing atheism might “come across” as anti-Christian to some Christians. Should we prohibit students from raising those concerns?

One can make much better sense of what she’s doing by attending not just to semantics, but to the implications of her statements. The reason I now read her comments as implying that the student’s opposition to gay marriage was homophobic is precisely the argument you mention. She tells him he can’t discuss gay marriage because it would offend people, just as genuinely sexist or racist remarks would (she draws an analogy between his view and the claim that women should be barred from certain positions). The analogy is perfectly clear, and the accusation of homophobia thus clearly implied. If I say Blah blah gays blah blah and someone responds “you can’t say that because it would offend people, just as you can’t say blacks are inferior because that would also offend people”, it’s pretty natural to infer that they think my comments are homophobic. The relevant bits of the transcript are on pp. 5-6 here: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B4jS38HQ3f8dSDhNX1FQRnlpcTQ/edit?pli=1

But whether she was accusing him of homophobia or not isn’t the real issue; what the transcripts clearly show is that the statements she barred the student from making in class–that gay marriage is wrong, that the children of gay parents are worse off–are not the kinds of statements that should be banned, as misguided as they are. I had held out for the possibility that the student had given a more offensive reason for his views, and that Abbate barred him from raising those more offensive reasons. McAdams’s use of quotations even encouraged me in thinking this. But the transcripts now show that that’s not the case.

Was the student a jerk? That’s the impression I get from the transcript.

Would that have made it harder to keep her composure and control of the situation? Yes.

Should Abbate have discussed gay marriage with the student in class? No. She could have explained that it’s not relevant to the equal liberty principle (and this might be what she did during class).

Did she say that “any objection to gay marriage is homophobic”? No.

But all that is consistent with her badly mishandling the situation after class.Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

If he had posted his own views about gay marriage on his blog, that would be extramural utterance. He posted on the blog about specifically University matters, in particular, about the teaching of a graduate student. It is actually related to his position at the University, not extramural.

And to clarify: McAdams is not the only person for whose academic freedom Marquette is responsible. *Abbate also has a claim to academic freedom*, and they are protecting hers.Report

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell
6 years ago

To respond to the question above at 32, I do think McAdams can file a civil suit once his tenure is revoked. Grounds are unjustified revocation of tenure. Clearly. I’m not taking McAdams’ side here. But I think he’ll have a good case. Prediction: Once he does sue, Marquette will make a financial settlement out of court.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

Frankly, Justin, I think you and those supporting Marquette’s actions are on the wrong side here. Scott Lemieux puts it correctly (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2015/02/todays-attack-academic-freedom):
***
“The clause that Marquette is using to justify the firing — “should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others” — would render academic freedom a nullity. It’s essentially a “civility” firing, and given the language it’s even worse than that. Any professor who ever made a mistake — even an honest mistake — in a public forum would be subject to revocation of tenure. Any remotely controversial statement could be a violation of the requirement to “exercise appropriate restraint.” Revoking McAdams’s tenure on this basis is unjustifiable in itself and would set an extremely dangerous precedent.
***

The academe blog has been linked here by previous commenters; I think it is also very convincing, and shows in more detail how Holz’s letter blatantly misuses AUUP principles. A particularly cogent passage (http://academeblog.org/2015/02/04/marquette-to-fire-john-mcadams-for-his-blog/):

***
While there is some reason to question Holz’s critique (as McAdams does on his blog), none of that debate is relevant to the attempt to fire McAdams. Abbate was not a student of McAdams, and he was under no obligation to choose more private criticism of her teaching methods. Nor did McAdams have any obligation to contact everyone involved for comment before writing a blog post.

One can conclude that McAdams is a terrible journalist, and a terrible person, and that changes nothing about the threat of academic freedom created by this dismissal, and the lack of any basis for it under Marquette’s policies.

McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.

Holz’s letter declares: “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.’”

This is a complete distortion of the AAUP’s statements. Tolerance requires that a university not fire professors for their expression. Marquette is perfectly free to condemn McAdams for an alleged breach of civility, but not to punish him. And although some faculty might legitimately fear being criticized by McAdams, no one has a right to be free from criticism, or to punish McAdams for their own decision to self-censor.”
***Report

Ira Allen
Ira Allen
6 years ago

@AL 3:40 – You keep suggesting the undergraduate student is being potentially defamed by Marquette, and insist also that the undergraduate in question is not only “not being protected,” but furthermore is being “viciously attacked.” These are silly positions, and leave me wondering whether you actually practice law. Marquette–unlike McAdams with Abbate–has not published the undergraduate student’s name, has not smeared his character *as a specific individual* in any way. There are no identifying markers of the undergraduate student in the Dean’s letter (and cannot be, because of FERPA). Many undergraduate students receive Fs and withdraw from classes; and many undergraduate students hold anti-gay positions, for the airing of which they feel entitled to class time.

It is very difficult to “viciously attack” an anonymous entity in an actionable way. So, for instance, if I were to respond to you here by strongly impugning your capacity to practice law, while you might feel hurt, upset, (un)surprised, and a host of other affects–and while this might be an especially unpleasant thing for me to do–there’s no reasonable construal in which I would be viciously attacking *you* in your particular character. To do so, I would need also–as McAdams did and Marquette did not–to identify my abuse in some way with your stable social identity.

But that’s not even close to being the situation, since the University has not at all been heaping abuse upon the student, even anonymously. Marquette took sincere steps, as detailed in the Dean’s letter, to address the undergraduate student’s concerns, steps to protect and work to ensure his development and general welfare. In the course of those steps, through their version of due diligence, the University arrived at an interpretation of the situation and acted accordingly. The firing letter reports on that, and does so with minimal identifying information of the undergraduate student. You can certainly rationally disagree with Marquette’s decision (I obviously will think you are wrong, but I cannot say you are irrational), but if you try to present the Dean’s letter as an attack (and a vicious one, at that!) on the undergraduate student, you depart from the realm of rational interlocutors. You simply cease to be a person with whom conversation can be had, at that point, because you affirm (repetitively) positions that can only be affirmed by rejecting a wide range of fundamental, shared definitions and uses of language.

Furthermore, the whole issue is, in fact, not (yet) a legal question in the way you seem to assume. That is to say, Marquette is not bringing action against McAdams for libel or harassment, and nor has Abbate (though she perhaps could). McAdams clearly and demonstrably failed to fulfill his basic professional obligations. He is in dereliction of duty, and firing procedures have been initiated. Good. And And it would be just as good if the political polarity were reversed. If I were to very publicly and unapologetically heap scorn on a graduate instructor in Economics at my university for his or her failure to give class time to an undergraduate’s (tangentially related) commitment to Marxism, with substantial negative results for that student and after having done nothing to attempt to aid in the student’s development as a teaching member of the profession, my University would be well within its rights as an employer to sanction me. Sanction me, that is, with regard to my contractual obligations to the University, not with regard to the court system.

This is what is happening with McAdams, and to act as though matters stand otherwise is either disingenuous or confused. If the latter, I hope this has cleared things up somewhat.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Replying to [email protected]:

1) For at least some of us “invoking academic freedom” here, the issue is not whether *any* case could have been brought against McAdams that doesn’t violate academic freedom; it’s whether *the actual case* brought against him violates academic freedom. That issue can’t be answered just by consideration of McAdams’ general conduct; it requires engagement with what Marquette is actually saying in its tenure revocation letter. (If I write a scathing opinion piece about a colleague, and then subsequently hack into their computer in search of dirt, and Oxford fires me for writing the opinion piece, it’s an infringement of my academic freedom even though I should be fired for the hacking.)

2) On a narrower point: you write “Do those who claim that no professional relationship exists here because the professor was not in the grad student’s department also believe that grad students cannot have faculty outside their departments serve as committee members or writers of recommendation letters?” That’s a non sequitur. I’ve written letters of recommendation, and served as a committee member, for students in different subjects in different universities on different continents. Actually doing so certainly generates a professional relationship (without prejudice to what the academic-freedom implications of that are), but I don’t have a professional relationship to every graduate student on the face of the Earth just because any one of them *might* ask me to enter such a relationship at some future time.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

dc @ 64, I have great respect for Scott Lemieux, but I think he’s wrong when he says:

“The threats that Abbate received were appalling, but McAdams cannot be held responsible for the actions of third parties.”

It just can’t be total lack of responsibility for McAdams here. I think we have to start coming up with a term for his actions here, something like “incitement to 3rd party harassment.” And that has to let us say McAdams is *partially* responsible for those 3rd party actions.

This too narrow a sense of responsibility is sometimes tied in with missing the practical effects of McAdams’s blogging in this case. He wasn’t *just* “expressing opinions”; he was (also) acting in a way that had reasonable results in provoking / inciting others, as both he and the university had acknowledged in 2011.

As I said above, I would prefer a step-by-step approach, I wouldn’t move to fire now, but would instead suspend and get an ironclad agreement from McAdams never to do this again, but the admin might consider the 2011 “acknowledgment” to be close enough to such an agreement, so they feel they are out of options faced with repeated detrimental actions.Report

Matt Weiner
6 years ago

No One of Consequence @13: “But, it doesn’t demonstrate any falsehood on McAdams’ part. McAdams claimed the student was dropping the class, which the student did. McAdams’ other claims in the first paragraph and the information in the second paragraph are quite compatible. The student could have been lectured for inappropriate comments and been invited to drop the class, but also had been failing the class and chose to drop the class due to his performance. There is no contradiction here. Where’s McAdams big lie?”

Here’s the passage of the letter to which you are responding, with a bit of emphasis added:

“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.'”

The University does not accuse McAdams of directly stating a falsehood, but of implying one, namely that the student chose to drop the class as a result of his performance. It seems obvious that he did imply this, even if each of his statements was technically true. (If I say “So-and-so took my financial advice, and now he’s a millionaire,” I’m implying that so-and-so a millionaire as a result of taking my financial advice, and if you find out that he started out a millionaire you’d be rightly annoyed.) And in the hypothetical you present, “[t]he student could have been lectured for inappropriate comments and been invited to drop the class, but also had been failing the class and chose to drop the class due to his performance,” McAdams’s implication is false. So there’s your contradiction.

This is not to say that Marquette is necessarily in the right here, but to say that his statements were technically true while creating a false impression is not a convincing defense.Report

Shocked
Shocked
6 years ago

Protevi’s comments are simply shocking. Nothing McAdams said incited or encourage harassment or threats. But in Protevi’s world, McAdams’s speech is to be suppressed and sanctioned because crazy people might read it and do crazy things. This is the totoleration instincts of academcis at their worst.Report

Shocked
Shocked
6 years ago

sorry for the typosReport

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Shocked @ 69: You are too easily shocked.

If you want to really be shocked, read this: https://ceabbate.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/gender-based-violence-responsibility-and-john-mcadams/Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

: I don’t find the comment shocking (I noted that I’m conflicted on this in my first post), and I’m well aware of the vile torrents of misogynistic abuse that women get on the Internet (I had read Abate’s post; I was shocked but not very surprised.) But I do think there are quite serious problems with this sort of policy.

Let’s stipulate that actively and intentionally inciting harassment is not protected. (I don’t think even the First Amendment protects it; incitement of lawless activities by others is one of the exceptions to not being responsible for third-party actions, isn’t it?) But that would be hard to prove, short of a post specifically on a site explicitly dedicated to harassment, or an actual blog post saying “please harass this person”. I don’t think there’s a smoking gun on McAdams’ website. (If I’m wrong, let’s imagine a parallel case where I’m not wrong; I’m more interested in the general case.)

The interesting case here seems to be more one where harassment is a predictable consequence of posting something but not (or not provably) the intent. As when a topic inflammatory to some bits of the conservative movement, discussing someone who’s not antecedently a public figure, is reported on Fox News. Given the number of crazy people who hang out on the comment threads of various news and social-media sites (by no means only on the right) it would have a seriously chilling effect to ban speech in this case. I’m fairly certain (as certain as an interested lay person can be, at any rate) the First Amendment wouldn’t permit that, so public universities couldn’t do so. But I’m pretty uncomfortable with a private university doing so too. (For a parallel case, imagine a report on a right-of-centre female lawyer defending the CIA’s torture record in strong terms, published on FireDogLake – I’m not at all confident that this too wouldn’t lead to misogynistic abuse.)

There is a perfectly honest response along the lines of “yes, there are serious freedom of speech consequences, but so be it; they’re trumped by the rights of people not to receive horrific online harassment”. That’s morally defensible (albeit I doubt legally defensible for public universities). Some commentators in the thread make this response; I’m not sure if you agree with them or if you think there’s a way forward here without academic freedom implications.Report

DC
DC
6 years ago

“It just can’t be total lack of responsibility for McAdams here. I think we have to start coming up with a term for his actions here, something like “incitement to 3rd party harassment.” And that has to let us say McAdams is *partially* responsible for those 3rd party actions.”

Ehh…I just can’t agree. Certainly there is a fairly sizable body of law distinguishing incitement from protected speech, and I think this would fairly fall within the protected speech category, from a legal standpoint. If you’re talking about moral responsibility, maybe, but maybe not, and the whole point of academic freedom is to protect people from moralistic censuring. To paraphrase the academe blog I quoted, you can think he’s a liar and a terrible person but that doesn’t justify getting rid of him.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

David,

But was there a substantive need to name the graduate student? Is it a big deal to say, “students may not be specifically named when it is likely to draw abuse down on them”? McAdams didn’t name the undergraduate (good thing!).

While I think his conduct would be quite reprehensible when directed toward a colleague, I also think his duties toward them are weaker and the strength of his right to specifically critique is stronger. (His critique should be factually accurate up to the level of appropriate diligence.)Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

David Wallace’s distinction (in 66, replying to me) between the actual case brought against McAdams and another hypothetical case that would not violate academic freedom is important, because perhaps worse reasons are being put forward or jumbled together with better reasons in a confusing way. I think what he did was wrong but not for all the reasons presented in that case. Faculty speech and writing should be afforded very broad latitude; harmless calls for voluntary civility can be readily twisted into a draconian demand for involuntary conformity by those who control employment. I don’t think that happened in this case; allegedly he has previously posted the names of students targeted for criticism on the blog, and I believe he knowingly tried to mislead readers about what happened. This is why I’m asking if academic freedom would cover other cases where a professor might deliberately try to mislead someone about a student he had named without permission. Most of us probably agree that academic freedom does not cover public discussion of a student’s specific academic performance without permission; I cannot under the banner of academic freedom name a student on my blog and discuss rude comments she made in class or her relative ability to comprehend arguments. I would like to know why academic freedom nevertheless permits a faculty member to publicly and without permission discuss performance of a grad student on tasks for which she will be officially evaluated by her professors.

The only counterargument I see so far is that they did not have a professional relationship, but I am not yet convinced of that. I would agree with David Wallace that he does not “have a professional relationship to every graduate student on the face of the Earth just because any one of them *might* ask me to enter such a relationship at some future time”, but I do think he has some sort of professional relationship with other students at his home institution. The relationship might be weaker than it is with students in one’s own department, or one’s own advisees, or undergrad majors, or undergrads in general, but it exists. Is it a strong enough relationship to make it a serious wrong to name the student publicly to criticize her performance as a teacher, especially when inaccurate or outright false things are said? I think so. I am open to rebuttal on this or any other point and would in fact like to hear it, because the issues in this case are extremely serious and have far-reaching implications. I don’t want to get it wrong.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Thanks, David, I think we have a fundamentally different way of going about things here. I don’t think it’s useful framing my comments here in terms of a policy recommendation, so I’m not interested in the general case. What I’m doing is looking at this case in its particulars and trying to balance numerous desiderata, among them protecting McAdams’s academic freedom (and that of others from a chilling effect) and protecting future Marquette students from the abuse that Abbate received.

So yes, it’s a difficult judgment call as to how much responsibility McAdams bears here (pace DC I don’t think sheer illegality need be the standard, nor do I think moving to punish him is mere “moralistic” censure); we would need careful examination of his posts in the Abbate case and in others. Abbate makes the case, in the post linked in 71, that he deliberately framed his remarks in a way that, by drawing in irrelevant terms (“feminist,” etc), increased the likelihood of her being harassed.

Another factor here would be the pattern of actions directed at female students (both statuses being relevant here, pace Anonymous Lawyer in 45) in the 2008, 2011, and 2014 cases. The Abbate incident is not a one-off, and judging the badness of McAdams’s actions in context, as part of a pattern, etc., against the rights of students to be protected and the strong desire we all have for academic freedom to be protected is not easy.

So, judging this case (McAdams vs Marquette, with 2014 being only one of the bad things McAdams has done) I’d say the 2011 incident (see #18 above) was by itself a firing offense. But having sort of kind of let him slide then, should the addition of the Abbate 2014 incident be enough to warrant beginning the firing process? Above I hedge my bets and advocate suspension and an ironclad agreement not to repeat. But I’ve been reading a lot of comments on other blogs on this case and that seems to unnecessarily expose future students to McAdams; he didn’t take the hint (or stronger) in 2011; why should he take the warning in 2014?

Anyway, somewhat scattered reflections due to fatigue (end of a long day of departmental business), but I hope they contribute to the discussion.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

@Bijan Persia:

I don’t know if there was a substantive need to name the graduate student. I do know that any academic-freedom principle that requires academics to prove “substantive need” for any part of their speech will in practice be contentless. (Was there a “substantive need” for Salaita to make the comment about necklaces of children’s teeth? Is that the grounds on which his speech should be defended?)

@anonymous 75: as a minor comment, I am inclined to agree (from an admittedly limited engagement with the evidence) that what McAdams did was wrong. But the distinction between what is wrong and what is sanctionable lies at the foundation of the rule of law. (He may in addition have done things that are sanctionable even when academic freedom is protected; that’s another matter.)Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

(Sorry, John and I posed in parallel, hence double-post)

: I may have misread the generality of your point. If you’re basically lust saying: “McAdams intentionally incited harassment against a student, and this is provable, and this is why he should be fired”, I don’t think I have a problem. And if Marquette’s revocation-of-tenure letter had just said “you intentionally incited harassment against a student, and we will prove it” I don’t think I’d have had a problem.

I do have a problem with a framework where academic freedom is just one desideratum to be weighed against others, rather than an absolute right. If we licence arguments like “this admitted violation of academic freedom is justified because it achieves XYZ”, in practice I think very quickly academic freedom will be whittled away to little or nothing. But I’m not at all sure that framework is what you have in mind.

Did McAdams *actually* intentionally incite harassment? I have no idea; I haven’t done the kind of close read of his blog I’d need to form even a provisional opinion.

(Similarly scattered; similar fatigue!)Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Hi David, I guess I would say this: McAdams produced actions A, B, and C in 2008, 2011, and 2014. For each of these he claims that academic freedom (AF) protects him. Now if we say that AF doesn’t protect actions that harass or incite to harassment, then the question is whether actions A, B, and C constitute harassment or incitement to harassment. If they do, then he has falsely claimed the protection of AF for what doesn’t deserve such protection, that is, harassment or incitement to harassment. That has to be the judgment call.

So I don’t think I’m calling for the balancing of AF against rights to non-hostile work and study environments, that is, right to be free from harassment, whether direct or incited; I’m saying that claims that certain concrete actions should enjoy the protection of AF have to be judged with our criteria for harassment and incitement to harassment in mind.Report

GoodRiddanceMcAdams
GoodRiddanceMcAdams
6 years ago

The bottom line is that McAdams’ blog isn’t simply sharing facts or expressing opinions, it’s motivating people to act and he knows this. If he didn’t know this when he posted about Abbate, he sure knows it now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with motivating action but he now knows that his posts can motivate acts that will certainly compromise the safety of faculty and students if he chooses to do so. Given the fact that, at his whim, he can create a firestorm around any individual to the point that they need bodyguards and the fact that he is explicit about his intent to do this sort of thing again if and when he chooses, it blows my mind that there are people expressing confusion about the implications the administration has made about him compromising the safety of students and faculty.

For the people who would say, “well he can still blog at home and he’ll be able to do the same thing. Firing him won’t stop that.” Correct, but now he won’t be doing it while on the dime of the very people he’s victimizing. If everyone at Marquette is going to be subject to possible violence at the whim of McAdams regardless of what they do, why should they be expected to pay him for it?

For the people who would say, “anyone could say something that could set off some random crazy person to threaten someone else.” Correct. However, we can do so knowingly and with the expectation or unknowingly and without the expectation. If I post on my blog that I found out Bob Johnson really likes some assumed-to-be-noncontroversial thing “X,” I have no reason to expect that my action will prompt a person with an axe to grind regarding people who like X to threaten Bob’s life. Also, I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t be allowed to post about certain subject matter. I’m suggesting that, if we have very good reason to believe that a specific individual’s life may be in danger as a result of our action, we might want to consider whether that individual’s life being threatened is appropriate given what we perceive to be their wrongdoing or if we might go about expressing our views in a way which doesn’t threaten people’s lives. Given McAdams intent to continue putting people’s, particularly students’, safety in jeopardy whenever he sees fit, his actions strike me as significantly different from a person expressing controversial views without knowingly threatening the safety of others. Yes, we can probably come up with farfetched scenarios in which it might be okay to do something threatening the safety of certain individuals, but this is clearly not one of those scenarios given that McAdams could easily get across the substance of his views without doing so.

For the people who would say, “their physical safety isn’t actually at risk though.” Apparently the people at Marquette don’t have such omniscience.

For the people who would say, “you’re so infantile!” Too bad.Report

David
David
6 years ago

Did you even read the blog post for which he is being pilloried? It is shot through with McAdams’ political views. He “used” descriptions of events which occurred, referencing a legally-recorded conversation to bolster his political arguments. The fact that the grad student teacher made clear statements of intolerance, for views opposing same sex marriage, on that tape – and then was harassed by Neaderthals on the basis of McAdams’ reporting is unfortunate. That does not make it ‘reckless’ or ‘libelous’, any more than reporting on Sarah Palin’s serial stupidities, and concomittant threats to her safety, are the responsibility of the NYT.Report

David
David
6 years ago

You’re thinking isn’t infantile. It’s fascistic.
The proposition that utterances must be filtered through the cheesecloth of ‘will someone potentially act on this in a negative matter – if so, I must be silent’ is completely inimical to the concept of free speech.

Under your framework, those speaking out to encourage protests in Ferguson should have been silenced. There was clear evidence that many of those efforts degenerated into violence. And many of those speaking out were political office holders – like McAdams, on the ‘public dime’.
Under your framework, those who encourage protests after the Stonewall arrests should have been silenced. The Stonewall riots resulted in significant violence, and no small number of injuries

Most disturbing is the lack of humility in your imputation of motive to McAdams. “Given McAdams intent to continue putting people’s, particularly students’, safety in jeopardy whenever he sees fit,..” is a non-provable assumption on your part. It is also the favorite tool of the oppressor throughout history – slurs against Jews and money one prominent example, as means to rob the target group, or person, of normal grants of rights, by an assumption placing him outside the conversation.Report

David
David
6 years ago

I have read McAdams’ posts. It’s not pleasant reading, because I find the guy’s political views obnoxious. But there is nothing- NOTHING – in there, that could be construed as an incitement to go forth an harass this student.

What there is, is McAdams holding up to ridicule the spectacle of a teacher, in an ethics class, walling off some points of view as beyond the pale because of *potential* offense to some individuals there.

Frankly, I don’t have a problem with that. If an instructor styling herself a philosopher is going to shut down argument on same sex marriage, or any other issue, on that basis, than we might as well declare ‘game over’. Philosophy stops being a quest for the examination, reexamination, and refinement of thought then, and simply becomes the reification of the crystallized prejudice of the day.Report

David
David
6 years ago

By the way – is anyone else here disturbed that the university leaked the student’s pending “F” grade as part of the brief against McAdams?

Anyone working in and around an academic environment these days, sees universities use ‘student privacy’ as a constant shield to avoid discussing anything they don’t want to discuss.

Somehow, in this situation, a student’s specific academic performance (which has nothing to do with McAdams culpability or no) gets put on blast?

Marquette is going to have a problem – a serious one – if this kid is readily identifiable from other sources.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

David @ 82: The statement “Marquette is justified in beginning termination proceedings against McAdams because his repeated actions demonstrate a reckless disregard for, or even intentional incitement of, very predictable harassment of students occasioned by his naming them in the particular style he has developed over the years” is not expressing the proposition you say above, but one which is better rendered as “a university is justified in moving against tenured professors who repeatedly incite harassment against specific students.”Report

Onion Man
Onion Man
6 years ago

What scares me more than the university’s decision are the people here insisting that McAdams is somehow responsible for “inciting” the harassment of Abatte. That’s just… I don’t have the words.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Onion Man @ 86: if you do find some words please share them with us.Report

GoodRiddanceMcAdams
GoodRiddanceMcAdams
6 years ago

David, I never said that we have to be silent if someone will potentially act on what we do in a negative manner. I said that that’s always a possibility and what matters is if we can make our point in a way which is less likely to do so. If we have a point to make and we know people will get riled up regardless of how we make, then go ahead and make the point (I’ll admit my use of “farfetched” was hyperbolic). Also, while I think this is a good general rule, I made no argument in favor of there being a corresponding law. There’s a difference between the need for us all to know the character of a Vice-Presidential candidate or our law enforcement and the mistake that an individual student made. It’s necessary in a “democracy” for everyone to know the former, it isn’t necessary for any but a few in the university to know the latter. If McAdams feels that the public needs to know about the misdeeds going on the university, it would be incredibly easy for him to do so without naming students. Additionally, McAdams has stated that he would do it all over again and has shown is intention to not stop by doing this repeatedly even after being told not to do so. This isn’t an assumption. If making these arguments and pointing out these facts makes a fascist, so be it.Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

Hi David Wallace:

“I don’t know if there was a substantive need to name the graduate student. I do know that any academic-freedom principle that requires academics to prove “substantive need” for any part of their speech will in practice be contentless.”

I agree that, in general, there shouldn’t be a substantive need test, but, for very specific things I do. For example, I think a reasonable restriction is not to name students (of any sort) in public critiques. I think that while it is a reasonable restriction, that some circumstances can merit violating it. But if I make an argument which can be as well made without identifying a student, then I think that breaks a key defence of using the identification. I don’t see that the requirement of student privacy is a problematic infringement of academic freedom any more than the requirement of preserving the privacy of experimental subjects or patients.

Hi David:

“By the way – is anyone else here disturbed that the university leaked the student’s pending “F” grade as part of the brief against McAdams?”

Did Marquette leak it or did McAdams? It seems pertinent to the brief, but I agree that it would be bad for the student’s id to be released!Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Ira, I guess I am an silly anonymous lawyer. Maybe I should change my handle.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Ira Allen’s piece does an excellent job of distinguishing the academic freedom issue – which I agree with him would have to be decided in McAdams’ favor only if that were really the central issue – from the question of what obligations we have to students. One crucial matter that is getting a bit lost in the shuffle on this issue is why the undergraduate was taping his teacher in the first place. I cannot tell from what McAdams wrote – perhaps someone else who has scrutinized it more closely could – whether he was in touch with the undergrad prior to being given the audio tape and writing the blog post. It sounded as if he was, and as if the undergrad, having found no satisfaction in complaints through other channels, had turned to McAdams with the tape. I don’t know whether McAdams had anything to do with the idea of making a tape – hopefully he did not – but if he did that raises further serious concerns. If he did not, I would like to know why those defending him on academic freedom grounds consider it acceptable for him to publish an account of a tape he knew was obtained without the permission of the instructor. The analogy his defenders would have us make is to journalists reporting on Watergate; the much closer analogy is to James O’Keefe. Is this something we are prepared to accept in the name of academic freedom? That instructors can be taped without their permission and the contents made public in order to pillory their methods or views? The student seemed to be deliberately sandbagging her. The refusal of an instructor to be recorded won’t matter, as this situation has illustrated. I have seen many people (including in this thread above) dissecting her teaching methods and interaction with the student based on this ill-begotten tape taken out of context. Previous interactions and in-class comments doubtless affected her response to a specific individual. I am also not so trusting as to assume we have the full, unedited, accurate transcript of what transpired that day. Yet still this grad student is being named and unfairly judged (often very negatively, for a supposed failure or mistake) on that basis.Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

Academic freedom is an interesting and important topic – and is being separately addressed on this blog – but it does not have much direct applicability here – except in the important respect that a professor is being punished for non-academic (or extramural) journalistic statements.

Mcadams was avowedly acting as a reporter and commentator regarding what he – rightly or wrongly, but plainly reasonably – believed was bad academoc conduct by a junior teacher and by her supervisors in response thereto. Many of the academics on this thread are plainly threatened, as were McAdams’ colleagues, by Mcadams’ reporting, and that is understandable. I have never had a client who was remotely happy about a story about them, and have really never read a story about a topic I know about that is not gravely wrong in some way, if not patently and disingenuously slanted.

But the worst stories for subjects are ones built around a tape or video that speaks for itself. I am sure that Abbate and her supervisors never even conceived of the possibility that their troubling conduct in such matters would be the subject of a report like this; and the existence of the deeply embarrassing tape was a frighteningly bad fact, particularly given the stone wall response the student had faced when he complained.

Faced with that bad situation, which implicated the entire university, the university admin and its faculty allies have come up with a disingenuous argument that Mcadams was a bad academic actor towards the teacher he reported on, because she was really a student, and he thereby owed a duty not to take any action that might impair her education, regardless of whether there had a been a quite newsworthy event that she played a role in.

Then, as discussed, the school and the angry professors involved chose to simply trash the actual student involved in aid of trashing Mcadams’ reporting. As I have said above, the sheer and transparent desperation and loss of normative compass that these guys at Marquette have demonstrated is almost farcical. Yes, there will be a huge price paid, in dollars and otherwise and McAdams will chuckle all along the way, as frankly he should. There is nothing better than tweaking your enemies to behave as fools.

Bit the real surprising thing to me is that so many thoughtful professors outside the crew at Marquette who have a dirext stake in trashing Mcadams have joined together to come up with arguments, however deeply strained, to justify the university’s bizarre conduct here.

Yet this is where academic freedom does come into play. In the non-academic world, most people are “at will” employees, They can be fired at any time, for any reason. And publicly criticizing employers is, well, just not ok.

Largely for reasons of academic freedom, the rules are supposed to be different for academics. They are supposed to be free – including and especially outside the academic context – to speak freely about most everything. That freedom of non-academic speech definitely includes speech about their own institutions. That is at the heart of the extramural speech protections set forth in the AAUP standards.

Now there are interesting grey areas – such as Salaita’s tweets about topics that are at the very heart of his scholarly work. In such cases, there may be a question as to whether unhinged or outright vile “extramural” speech calls into question the speaker’s academic competence. But here we are dealing with a professor who was plainly and simply reporting and commenting on academic events. The speexh was extramural, not academic. And it was therefore and for that reason protected unless libelous or otherwise actionable. I urge those piling on McAdams to think about whether they would like their university to become like IBM, where talking to a reporter, let alone engaging in journalism oneself, is a firing offense. What impact would that have on the academy?Report

Bijan Parsia
6 years ago

“except in the important respect that a professor is being punished for non-academic (or extramural) journalistic statements.”

It’s unclear to me the motivations of Marquette…perhaps that’s true.

But there’s a perfectly sensible principle here: Don’t name students, esp. when it’s negative or with their permission. Extra muralness doesn’t shield us for, for example, not exposing student grades (or student names, for that matter). Grad students are students (FERPA shields them). That’s it. If he had named the undergrad, it would have been even more egregious.

Is this enough to raise a challenge to tenure? That’s a good question. Given the circumstances, it seems at least plausible.

It’s really hilarious that you would think that *Salaita’s* tweets enter into a grey area! The only issue they purported to raise was in classroom behaviour and it was amply demonstrated that they were not indicative of any in classroom problem on his part. Even then, the *tweets* wouldn’t be the problem, the in classroom behaviour would be.

“But here we are dealing with a professor who was plainly and simply reporting and commenting on academic events.”

Like…teaching. This makes it rather less extramural. But, of course, to the degree they are not extramural in that sense the *more* protected. Critiquing the university itself is an are that deserved extra protections.

“The speexh was extramural, not academic. And it was therefore and for that reason protected unless libelous or otherwise actionable.”

And the actionability (not in the legal sense, of course, unless he did violate FERPA…which I don’t know) is precisely violating a reasonable restriction which is not to name students when it could expose them to animus (or other issues; at Manchester, we have to be extremely careful about telling students about grades before they are confirmed by the exam board, for obvious reasons).

I do write about my students, but carefully. I usually ask them before I blog about them (unless we have an clear ongoing understanding). That’s part of the job.

If McAdams had not named the student, or if she had been faculty, there would be very little case.

This isn’t to say that Marquette hasn’t behaved badly. I’m convinced that the suspension, even if one thought it was warranted, was not procedurally sound, which is a big deal. It’s hard to see it as *anything* but punitive (suspension didn’t make Abbate any safer). It predictably wouldn’t deter McAdams.

To reiterate, what you write here is nonsense:

“Faced with that bad situation, which implicated the entire university, the university admin and its faculty allies have come up with a disingenuous argument that Mcadams was a bad academic actor towards the teacher he reported on, because she was really a student, and he thereby owed a duty not to take any action that might impair her education, regardless of whether there had a been a quite newsworthy event that she played a role in.”

Please explain how naming her was necessary to the story or the critique of the university. Also explain how she is not a student. (She *is* a student…do you doubt that?) If naming students is ok, why not name the undergraduate? Do you think he has no duties toward students of his own university? If he found out one of her grades, he could publish it? I mean, come on.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

“But the worst stories for subjects are ones built around a tape or video that speaks for itself. I am sure that Abbate and her supervisors never even conceived of the possibility that their troubling conduct in such matters would be the subject of a report like this; and the existence of the deeply embarrassing tape was a frighteningly bad fact, particularly given the stone wall response the student had faced when he complained.”

Begged question number 1: that anything, let alone the Abbate tape, “speaks for itself.”

Begged question number 2: that Abbate’s conduct with the student was “troubling.”

Begged question number 3: that the student received a “stone wall response.”

“Yes, there will be a huge price paid, in dollars and otherwise and McAdams will chuckle all along the way, as frankly he should.”

Begged question number 4: who says McAdams will win? What legal grounds do you think McAdams has to even get his suit heard, let alone for him to prevail?

“regardless of whether there had a been a quite newsworthy event that she played a role in.”

Begged question number 5: what makes the exchange between Abbate and the student “newsworthy”?Report

Anonymous Lawyer
Anonymous Lawyer
6 years ago

John: I think you know the answers to each of your rhetorical questions.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Anonymous Lawyer, pointing out that statement X assumes what needs to be proven is not posing a “rhetorical question,” it is pointing out a begged question. I have asked no rhetorical questions; in three of my points I ask no question at all. In the fourth, I made a straightforward demand for information: your opinion of what legal grounds McAdams would have. In the fifth, I could just as well have said: “the claim that the incident was ‘newsworthy’ is a begged question.” I was just pointing out that you need to support that assertion, not assume that we agree.

Finally, I prefer to be called “Brotevi,” and will thank you to use that salutation in the future.Report

FS
FS
6 years ago

A few thoughts.
1. The AAUP has not taken a position on the matter. What is being posted on the Academe blog are individual opinions. Many of those posts in support of McAdams are from his (ideological) associates, although not all are.
2. The statement above that McAdams had no idea that his post would lead to harassment of Cheryl Abbate is unlikely to be correct. I doubt that any sentient individual who follows US politics would believe that.
3. Even if McAdams were acting as a journalist on his blog, he is still not a free agent. He is for a number of purposes (e.g., FERPA, NCAA, Title IX, research misconduct) an agent of the university and has responsibilities that limit his free speech rights.
4. If the person McAdams criticized were a fellow faculty member, an employee, or an administrator, as long as the material published met the standards of libel law, and there were no contractual obligation to keep the material confidential (e.g., conflict of interest, patient records, human subjects protection), so be it.
5. The question is whether Cheryl Abbate’s status as a grad TA/instructor trumps her status as a grad student. Student status carries with it rights that the University and its agents (i.e., McAdams) must respect. Based on what I know of TAs, Ms. Abbate was first and foremost a student (for example, she could be denied further employment if she failed her comprehensive exams).
5. I conclude that McAdams’ conduct was a violation of Ms. Abbate’s rights as a student. If Marquette ignored the incident, and she so chose, she could sue the university for the behavior of its agent, i.e., McAdams, on the grounds of a hostile educational environment.
6. I conclude that Marquette is taking appropriate action in this case to dissociate itself from Dr. McAdams. The university may well end up paying him a fair sum to go away, but it’s probably well spent.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
6 years ago

Probably this is fairly obvious, but the “David” who’s posting a lot on this thread isn’t me. I’ve only skim-read his posts and this isn’t any comment on them – it’s just that in a thread where I was commenting fairly frequently and then stopped (on time grounds and a feeling that diminishing returns were setting in) and then someone else called “David” starts posting a lot, there’s room for confusion.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

No need to worry, David (W). No one could read your comments here (and elsewhere) and those of “David” and be in any doubt whatsoever as to your non-identity with him.Report

Against hypocrisy
Against hypocrisy
6 years ago

What are you doing if not using McAdams to advance your agenda – some may say recklessly, libelously, and obnoxiously?Report

mm
mm
6 years ago

Your support for the new infantitilist totalitarian feminist agenda of Stubblefieldication of the APA and philosophy departments across the country is obvious to all, Whineberg! McAdams is just another pawn in your power play to suck up to the feminist (sic) philosophers (sic) trying to wreck our (sic) discipline (sic).Report

Free Expression
Free Expression
6 years ago

Ok someone help me out here. This post says “demonstrably false and damaging statements” I’ve read the original blog post by Prof. McAdam’s and from what I understand the quotes come directly from a recording of Ms Abbate and an unnamed student. Now is Dean Holtz and Ms Abbate suggesting these tapes are false or fabricated in someway? If not, how exactly is what Prof McAdam’s is ‘demonstrably false’? Thanks.Report

Eureka
Eureka
6 years ago

@ Free Expression (and the other posts similar to this one):
1. McAdams writes that Abbate “airily” said, during the class lecture, that: “everyone agrees with this [gay rights], so there’s no need to discuss this”; it has been confirmed that she did not say this.
2. McAdams misrepresented what happened in Abbate’s class by failing to acknowledge that gay rights came up briefly during a discussion on John Rawls’s Equal Liberty Principle; one would expect that *accurate* reporting entails that a “journalist” explain the context in which the topic of gay marriage came up.
3. McAdams implied that Abbate does not support Catholic doctrine because she did not permit the “Catholic point of view” in class, even though the day’s discussion had nothing to do with the Catholic Church’s teachings
4. McAdams implied that Abbate’s student was dropping the class because Abbate was “so intolerant,” when, in fact, the student told the university that he dropped the class *because* he was failing
5. McAdams failed to mention that the complaining student berated Abbate, refused to acknowledge why his “objection” was off-topic, and then proceeded to demand that he has a “right” to make whatever anti-gay comments he wants in class (thankfully, someone put that entitled, student in his place)

I am quite troubled by the fact that some individuals commenting here seem to believe that McAdams’ blog post is factually accurate, given the Dean’s clear account of the many times McAdams failed to provide complete information or just flat out lied. Sure, the specific quotes he attributed to Abbate during the conversation seem to match up with what she said from the transcript of the tape (in this specific blog post at least)– but that doesn’t entail that the whole post is accurate (or that the other posts he authored are accurate)!

Interestingly enough, what was not in the Dean’s letter, and what will surely come out later at the Faculty Hearing, is that McAdams has continued to blog about Abbate, multiple times, spreading additional libelous statements about her. For instance, he claims that Abbate called her student homophobic, that she said *any* objection to gay marriage would be homophobic, when she clearly did not say these things (however many times people on this blog want to claim that “she meant this,” there is no proof for that and, furthermore, there is a rational counter explanation as to why she said what she said). McAdams even accused Abbate of having “sexist antipathy towards men.” Sadly, that first post, even with all its blatant falsehoods and incomplete account of what happened, seems to be McAdams’ most accurate post about Abbate. If anyone is interested, go to the “Marquette Warrior” blog and type in “Cheryl Abbate” and you will see McAdams’ seemingly obsession with Abbate and his continual attempts to defame her.Report