Wisconsin Supreme Court Sides With Professor Who Smeared Philosophy Grad Student


The Wisconsin Supreme court ruled today that it was impermissible for Marquette University to fire John McAdams, an associate professor or political science, for his hostile and misleading online writings about a philosophy graduate student at the school. 

The events that led to McAdams’ suspension took place in 2014 and are recounted here and here. The following is an excerpt from the first of those links:

Cheryl Abbate, a Marquette PhD student working on a dissertation in ethics… currently teaches an ethical theory class. At one class meeting in October, the topic was Rawls’s equal liberty principle. To help elucidate the principle, Abbate asked her students for examples of policies that would violate the principle. Suggestions from students included a ban on marijuana use and seat belt laws. One of the students also suggested that a ban on gay marriage would violate this principle, since it involves denying a group of people a basic right the granting of which would not at all limit the liberties of others. Other policies were then discussed.

After class, a student approached Abbate and complained that she had not allowed a discussion of gay marriage and so he was not able to voice an objection he had to it. His objection concerned research which purported to show that children raised by same-sex parents turn out worse than children raised by heterosexual couples. Abbate pointed out that adoption by same-sex couples had not been under discussion, and that, further, there was no sound empirical research she knew of that supported his claim. She invited him to email her references to such research. She also noted that certain objections to gay marriage would be offensive to homosexual students in the class.

During the conversation, Abbate noticed that the student kept rephrasing what she was saying in terms of “homophobia.” She also noticed that he was holding his phone towards her. She asked if he was recording the conversation. He said he wasn’t. She then asked to see the phone, and it was, indeed, recording the conversation without her permission.

At the next class meeting, Abbate, thinking that other students might have thoughts similar to the one who approached her, decided to address such concerns directly. She mentioned the objection, described her replies to it, elaborated on the criticisms of the study the student had been referencing… and noted that class time is limited and that there isn’t time to adequately discuss all topics of interest.

A couple of weeks later, Marquette associate political science professor John McAdams wrote a blog post about the incident. He apparently based his post solely on the report of the complaining student. This is how he describes what happened in class: “She listed some issues on the board, and came to ‘gay rights.’ She then airily said that ‘everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it.’” That is not merely a condensed version of the events; it is entirely misleading. McAdams continues in his blog post to heap scorn on Abbate. He accuses her of being the type of person who thinks that “opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”  She is described as having “intolerant views.”  The post rails against “the politically correct world of academia” and the idea that we should be concerned with offending people and yet laments that “Christians and Muslims are not allowed to be ‘offended’ by pro-gay comments.” He adds: “it is a free fire zone where straight white males are concerned.”

McAdams’ post led to a series of abusive and threatening emails and comments directed at Abbate.

Marquette University deemed McAdams’ behavior to be part of a pattern of unprofessional conduct in conflict with the school’s values, and at the recommendation of a faculty panel that produced a 123-page report on the case, suspended him and asked that he write a private note to Abbate saying that he regretted what had happened to her. He refused and was fired. McAdams sued, lost in circuit court, and appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which overturned the circuit court’s judgment.

The ruling states:

The University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom. Therefore, we reverse the circuit court and remand this cause with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Dr. McAdams, conduct further proceedings to determine damages (which shall include back pay), and order the University to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits.

Discussion of the issues begins on PDF page 17 of the 120-page document with a consideration of the university’s argument that its disciplinary processes and judgments should be deferred to, and on PDF page 43 takes up the merits of the university’s suspension decision in light of academic freedom.

The majority of the court writes that the university erred in taking McAdams comments on his blog as sufficient evidence of his unfitness for his position without considering “the broader context of the faculty member’s complete record.” Additionally, they argued that Marquette

uncoupled the doctrine of academic freedom from any stable reference points. The University posited that educational institutions assume academic freedom is just one value that must be balanced against “other values core to their mission.” Some of those values, it says, include the obligation to “take care not to cause harm, directly or indirectly, to members of the university community,” “to respect the dignity of others and to acknowledge their right to express differing opinions,” to “safeguard the conditions for the community to exist, ” to “ensur[e] colleagues feel free to explore undeveloped ideas,” and to carry out “the concept of cura personalis,” which involves working and caring “for all aspects of the lives of the members of the institution.”

These are worthy aspirations, and they reflect well on the University. But they contain insufficiently certain standards by which a professor’s compliance may be measured. Setting the doctrine of academic freedom adrift amongst these competing values would deprive the doctrine of its instructive power; it would provide faculty members with little to no guidance on what it covers.

Combined, these two problematic aspects allow the University to use any extramural comment as an excuse to reconsider a faculty member’s association with the institution, which is what occurred here.

The court also stated that the University “conducted the analysis backwards. With the benefit of hindsight, the University reverse-engineered its conclusion that Dr. McAdams is a plainly unfit professor because of unknown third parties’ reactions to his blog post.” It continues:

Finally, there is the University’s assertion that Dr. McAdams drafted the blog post in such a way that it would subject Instructor Abbate to public contempt. The blog post is certainly critical of her, so one could reasonably foresee that it would engender critical responses. We do not understand the University to argue that an extramural comment that causes such responses is beyond the pale—an extraordinarily unusual argument for an educational institution to make—so we perceive its concern to be about the responses that go beyond the realm of reasonable criticism. But the University did not identify any aspect of what Dr. McAdams actually wrote to support its charge. Instead, it used third-party responses to the blog post as a proxy for its allegedly contempt-inducing nature. Here again, the University demonstrates that reverse-engineering a conclusion is not the most reliable method of conducting an analysis. In this instance, the University caught itself up in the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy. Just because vile commentary followed the blog post does not mean the blog post instigated or invited the vileness. The University must identify which part of the blog post is supposed to have been responsible for eliciting the offensive remarks. It did not even attempt to do so.Our review of the blog post reveals that it makes no ad hominem attack on Instructor Abbate, nor does it invite readers to be uncivil to her, either explicitly or implicitly. Because the University’s logical fallacy represents the entirety of its assertion that Dr. McAdams wrote the blog post to subject Instructor Abbate to contempt, we must reject it. 

In a dissent (which begins on PDF page 96), Justice Ann Walsh Bradley writes:

The majority errs in conducting only half of the academic freedom analysis. It fails to recognize, much less analyze, the academic freedom of Marquette as a private, Catholic, Jesuit university. As a result, it dilutes a private educational institution’s autonomy to make its own academic decisions in fulfillment of its unique mission.

Further, the majority compounds this error by rendering meaningless a key component of shared governance, reducing the faculty’s bargained-for role in reviewing dismissal for cause to “nothing” or a mere “distraction.” In disregarding the faculty hearing committee’s expertise and unanimous recommendation, it throws aside a process that is mutually agreed upon and time-honored. Apparently, the majority thinks it is in a better position to address concerns of academic freedom than a group of tenured faculty  members who live the doctrine every day.

Additionally, the majority conducts its analysis with a selective view of the facts. Missing from its opinion are key facts that informed McAdams’ action. After publishing the blog post, McAdams actively promoted it to local and national media outlets. The record reflects that McAdams did so by “distributing copies of the audio recording to interested journalists and bloggers, posting follow-up stories linking back to the Nov. 9 post, creating a category of posts linked to Abbate by name, and arranging to appear on radio and television interviews about the story and subsequent controversy.” McAdams wrote that he was aware that “‘[w]hen one does something that gets national publicity, some jerks are going to say nasty things.” 

That prophecy was fulfilled here. Within hours of the blog post, Abbate started receiving negative emails, which only multiplied in the following weeks. She feared for her safety at Marquette and within weeks withdrew her dissertation proposal and transferred to another university despite adverse consequences to her academic progress.

The travesty of the majority opinion lies not just in its decision for Marquette University. Because Marquette has adopted a definition of academic freedom and uniform procedures that have been embraced by many other colleges and universities, the decision is far reaching. The majority’s decision to so readily discard institutional academic freedom and to disrespect part of the time-honored and bargained-for shared governance procedures will reverberate throughout this state.

Finally, because I determine that the doctrine of academic freedom does not protect McAdams from discipline, I address his argument that the First Amendment does. McAdams is wrong. His contract does not give him the full-throated First Amendment rights that would be given a private citizen vis-à-vis the government.

The whole ruling is here.
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Jon Light
Jon Light
2 years ago

Just to clarify, it was a 4-2 with one judge not participating. Probably would have been 5-2 if that justice did. This wasn’t really a close case and the dissent is pretty out there, legally speaking.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Jon Light
2 years ago

I can’t speak to the legal perspective, but the first paragraph of the dissent cited above seems to be saying that universities are free to do whatever they want in terms of how they institutionally sanction their employees and because they are academic institutions this counts as academic freedom. This strikes me as being a gross distortion of the concept of academic freedom, which is supposed to apply to the speech of individual academic researchers. Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

Right. Marquette had argued that the University’s decision was not reviewable by the court. The majority opinion cut that claim to ribbons.

Did any readers of this blog ever think that if they got fired, for whatever reason, they could not challenge the decision in court?Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

What a great principle argued for by Marquette and the dissent. If you publicize a criticism of someone in the media you’re responsible for how third parties react to it! “After all, can’t you foresee the possibility of a nasty response?” Call this the ‘third-party mob’ principle (TPM).

TPM would make an especially useful legal cover for judges wanting to punish those with right-wing views. Just say that there are several competing interests that must be weighed in cases when an online mob forms. If someone with right-wing views makes a public criticism, cite TPM as the foremost consideration and kick him out of the university. If it’s instead someone with left-wing views, note with tragic gravity that we live in an imperfect world, and that we must not take TPM too fair—we must also protect academic freedom. It’s all a question of context and judgment, you see!Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

There’s nothing special about right wing views here. The left also has extremists who issue death threats for no good reason, so your principle would be just as useful for conservative judges. In fact, it’s hard to think of any controversial dispute in which there *aren’t* a bunch of whackjobs on both sides who are willing to harass their opponents. Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

In the actual case at hand there was a transparent attempt by a left-wing university to fire a right-of-center professor for flimsy reasons. That’s reason enough to point out left-wing malice.

There is another relevant difference. By and large, conservative judges are a lot better about sticking to written law and correctly-decided precedent than are judges of other points of view. There are legitimate difficulties having to do with under-determination of law by legal text & precedent—but conservative judges are better about not using those difficulties as an excuse to rule in accordance with personal preferences and political fashion.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

Eh, that’s supposed to be true by definition of ‘conservative’ but then the question is how many right wing judges are actually conservatives. More likely they are just as willing to bend the law to their political ends but this tends to be unnecessary precisely because their political ends tend to align with more narrow interpretations of the law. Frankly, I’m not sure the facts would even support the asymmetry. It seems to be true for constitutional law given the obvious examples from the supreme court. (Though conservatives also seem to invent a lot of special rights for corporations.) But I don’t know of anything suggesting that conservative judges are more reserved regarding ordinary contract law or civil suits. My operating assumption is that anything that posits some difference in the character between leftists and right wingers is probably a myth and that most of their behavior is ultimately generated by the same sorts of tribalistic impulses.Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  YAAGS
2 years ago

I don’t think conservative judges are perfect, or even good. I just think they’re orders of magnitude better than the alternatives on offer.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

Not a fan of the civil rights movement, eh?Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

Remind me, was that the movement responsible for the SCOTUS ruling that mothers cannot be banned from murdering children in the womb?Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

Well, I mean, how else are we supposed to get all those delicious, delicious stem cells?Report

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

“There is another relevant difference. By and large, conservative judges are a lot better about sticking to written law and correctly-decided precedent than are judges of other points of view. There are legitimate difficulties having to do with under-determination of law by legal text & precedent—but conservative judges are better about not using those difficulties as an excuse to rule in accordance with personal preferences and political fashion.”

Hahahahahahahaahahahahaahahahahah . . . [deep breath] . . . HahahahahahahahahaReport

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Andrew
2 years ago

Enjoy your dopamine hit, I guess.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

This strikes me as clearly false. It seems to me that jurists on both the left and the right are equally happy to be activists, just about different things.Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

“By and large, conservative judges are a lot better about sticking to written law and correctly-decided precedent than are judges of other points of view.”

I think you’re equivocating on the term “conservative”. What you say is true – indeed, more or less tautological – if you mean judges that take a conservative approach to jurisprudence (i.e., if you use “conservative” the way I would assume is typical for legal professionals). However, that’s not at all the same thing as being *politically* conservative. And with conservatism as practised in the US having strayed so far from its Burkean roots, I see absolutely no reason to assume these two meanings of “conservative” are correlated. Maybe you think they are, but you need to actually make that argument, not just rely on terminological confusion to do an end run around it.Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Jeff Heikkinen
2 years ago

One equivocates when one uses the same term with different senses. I did not do this. I wasn’t even the one who introduced the term “conservative” into the discussion; I simply defended conservatives when someone else brought them up.

Nor do I intend to give an argument for every claim I make in a blog comment. You don’t do this either—consider your claim that I “need” to make such and such an argument. You didn’t give an argument for that claim.Report

Jeff Heikkinen
Jeff Heikkinen
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

Irrelevant bluster and BS. Who cares who introduced the term? It remains true that you made a claim that is at most true for judges who are conservative in the first sense I mentioned, in a highly misleading manner designed to *sound* like it was true for judges who are conservative in the sense of being right-wing. Nothing in your reply is even remotely a refutation of that claim.Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Joshua Reagan
2 years ago

And nothing in your reply is remotely a refutation of any of my claims. Why don’t you relax and put your omniscience about others’ intentions to better use?Report

Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Seems to me that the court did exactly the right thing, a view that is only bolstered by the laughable dissent.

Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
2 years ago

This is welcome news! When this incident happened, we were not yet seeing the kind of discrimination against and targeting of wrongthink that is so prevalent today within universities. Surely the *inclusive* position on marriage would be to accept that some people are principled advocates of traditional marriage—without reducing that stance to “homophobia.” McAdams, whatever faults the man may have, was right to point out the hypocrisy in Abbate’s ideological commitment “not to offend.”Report

JonF
JonF
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

Is the “inclusive” position on marriage also to accept that some people have principled objections to interracial marriages without reducing that stance to “racism”? I think not.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  JonF
2 years ago

Do you really think that someone who adheres to the tenets of a traditional, mainstream Abrahamic religion with regard to sexual morality is akin to a racist?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

I think it would be worth spelling out the difference. It seems at least possible for a religious doctrine to be “homophobic”.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

It seems to me we’d want to distinguish people who bear no specific ill will towards gay people, but who adhere to a traditional, religiously grounded sexual morality that includes any number of imperatives that are applied to gay and straight alike, from those who bear bigoted attitudes towards gay people in particular. How rigorously that distinction can be made is, of course, debatable, but it seems to me that *some* such distinction should be made in order to avoid a wild overuse of the relevant terminology.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

This question wasn’t directed at me, but yes, I do. Having religious reasons for bigotry doesn’t make one any less bigoted. In general I think that religious reasons are bad reasons to hold any position, but the motivation for the position doesn’t have much to do with my evaluation of the position. Suppose someone claimed (with extant textual support from the holy books!) that blacks are inferior and ought to ruled. Why shouldn’t I call that position racist?Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  Josh
2 years ago

But your position is, in truth, bigoted and prejudiced, for you cannot imagine any religious belief that is not inherently bigoted. I refuse to accept that one can endorse and believe in traditional marriage only insofar as one is homophobic. Wouldn’t a truly inclusive posture want ALL positions on marriage to have a seat at the table? I see the hatred and prejudice coming from the other side, which you seem to endorse, which seems constitutionally unable to tolerate religious/traditional beliefs about sex and marriage. Live and let live, no?Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I didn’t say all religious beliefs are bigoted. The belief in an afterlife, for example, is groundless but not bigoted. It is not being prejudiced to think people believe on the basis of bad evidence. I take it you are not an astrologist? How bigoted.

It’s unclear what you mean by having a seat at the table. Are you allowed to decide that getting gay married is a personal choice you wouldn’t make? Of course. No one is going to force you to get gay married. Are you allowed to impose your conception of marriage on others? Nope, you are not. Live and let live, right?

The liberal commitment to pluralism is not a commitment to anything goes – in particular, metaphysical conceptions of the good that require infringing on the rights and freedoms of others are off the table.
Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  Josh
2 years ago

I would argue against the position that belief in the afterlife is “groundless,” but that’s a different discussion.

The context here is philosophy, and therefore, discussion, so having a seat at the table means being able to express viewpoints. If Abbate told her student that expressing a pro-traditional marriage position IS, inherently, homophobic and offensive, then it is she, and by extension the pro-gay marriage position, that is attempting to impose norms onto the discourse that exclude certain perspectives–and doing so in an anti-intellectual means, i.e., through name-calling and slurs (e.g., “homophobic”). So…the imposition of views seems to me clearly to be coming from one side in this case.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

How is that supposed to follow? I mean, even if I were to agree that Abbate was guilty of what you describe, for all that you’ve said, the other side may be just as guilty of the same, in which case, Abbate wouldn’t be the only one. Moreover, the other side here is literally those who think that everyone should adhere to the definition of marriage held by certain forms of Christianity (even though it is not shared by all instances of the religion), which seems pretty ‘imposing’ to me, at least at first pass.Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

Indeed. Calling a view homophobic isn’t bigoted, particularly if the view is homophobic. Importantly, those in support of gay marriage aren’t imposing anything on you. Feel free to not get gay married. Feel free to think that homosexuality is immoral according to the lights of your ordained fairy-tales.

But you want to do more than that. You want to impose your conception of marriage on others. We just want you to stop doing that.Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  JonF
2 years ago

Wow. Nice try, but there is a difference in kind between racial and sexual differences. Resist your ideological possession and try to figure out what that difference might be, and WHY it is fundamental in discussing issues like marriage (and a related theme, procreation). Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  JonF
2 years ago

Also, if you believe that a preference for traditional marriage can be, or ought to be, reduced to homophobia—then YOU are the bigot. By definition. Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

I’m not familiar with this definition. Care to enlighten me?Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  JT
2 years ago

I’ll try to enlighten you, though your comment above, which basically boils down to “some people on the other side do it to, so I can pretend there’s nothing wrong when my side does it,” doesn’t give me much hope.

You seem to think that being pro traditional marriage is, by definition, a homophobic position, and that means you are unable and unwilling to be open to traditional marriage as a legitimate moral stance for someone to take. That’s bigotry because you are unable and perhaps unwilling to hear a view differing from your own without descending into slurs and name-calling.

“Homophobic!” is a slur, not an argument. And it might very well be a legitimate description of some people who are pro traditional marriage, but it seems to be your starting point (or your prejudice, in other words—which arr the preconceived ideas and judgments you bring to the discussion, so you don’t ask me for that definition too).

I know being inclusive of other views is difficult, but one can be pro traditional marriage and simultaneously not hate gay people.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

1. “I’ll try to enlighten you, though your comment above, which basically boils down to “some people on the other side do it to, so I can pretend there’s nothing wrong when my side does it,” doesn’t give me much hope.”

Dude, don’t blame me if your argument was structurally bad. Like, it’s not an ideological thing to point out that you can’t argue that A but not B is guilty of X just because A is guilty of X, since B might be too, even if A is indeed guilty.

2. “You seem to think that being pro traditional marriage is, by definition, a homophobic position, and that means you are unable and unwilling to be open to traditional marriage as a legitimate moral stance for someone to take. That’s bigotry because you are unable and perhaps unwilling to hear a view differing from your own without descending into slurs and name-calling.”

What makes you think that I didn’t hear it and but then conclude that it is thoroughly wrongheaded? You don’t know me. And, anyway, it seems to me that your complaint about ‘homophobic’ being a slur here is a bit beside the point. Your problem with me is that I don’t think your position is, in your words, a ‘legitimate moral stance’. Fine; I can see why you might find that upsetting. But, notice, this judgement of mine that you’re objecting to isn’t name-calling in itself, nor does it requite that. It is certainly not bigotry in and of itself.

Also, fyi, refraining from coercively interfering with the actions of those who one sincerely judges to be in the wrong (you’ll have to take it my word that this applies to me, I’m afraid) is usually called ‘toleration’, not ‘bigotry’.

3. ““Homophobic!” is a slur, not an argument. And it might very well be a legitimate description of some people who are pro traditional marriage, but it seems to be your starting point (or your prejudice, in other words—which arr the preconceived ideas and judgments you bring to the discussion, so you don’t ask me for that definition too).”

And so now I’m wondering whether you might be just projecting now, especially in light of your dodge in 1. I think it’s silly to think that we can excise this sort of not-an-argument stuff from normative language and thereby attaining some purer form of discourse, but it’s a view. But, if it is going to be your view, you should try harder to maintaining a semblance of consistency and self-awareness here insofar as your response doesn’t contain much other than an accusation of ‘bigotry!’ and ‘name-calling!’, which are also not arguments.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
2 years ago

At the time of the original action by Marquette, three years ago, I wrote (http://dailynous.com/2015/02/05/marquette-seeks-to-fire-mcadams/): “I can see that a case compatible with academic freedom could be made for firing McAdams, on fairly narrow and specific grounds…Fragments of that case are contained in [Marquette’s] letter. But it’s wrapped in an overall framework that mixes a cavalier disregard for academic freedom with an Orwellian reconstrual of it.”

I still think that’s true; by the same token, this reversal is of course a judgement on Marquette’s actual stated case for firing McAdams, not on any hypothetical case they might have made. It’s possible to be relieved – as I am – by this judgement, on academic-freedom grounds, while holding a wide range of views on the original events, from the belief that McAdams did nothing wrong up to and including the belief that Marquette had grounds to fire him that could have been acted on without compromising academic freedom.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

In the OP, McAdams is described as having published hostile and misleading statements about a graduate student, whom he named, a characterization I believe to be true. What I don’t understand is the characterization of academic freedom that is compromised when McAdams is disciplined? Doesn’t academic freedom have to do with the sims and goals of the academy?
Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

The university violated the terms of its own Faculty Handbook, which is a breach of contract. The Handbook states that faculty will not be punished for “extramural comment” unless the comment is so egregious that it demonstrates that the faculty member is “unfit to serve.”Report

Caleb
Caleb
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

McAdams demonized a grad student by circulating a story that was patently untrue and then disseminated a recording of the same grad student made without her consent (technically not a crime because Wisconsin is a one-party consent state, but still something I think ought to be frowned upon). If that doesn’t speak to someone’s fitness to serve, I’m not sure what does.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

Ok.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

Indeed. Honestly, the only party I’m really sympathetic for here is Abbate. She did not deserve the treatment she received, and she certainly deserves more support from the profession than the tepid showing on display here (especially when compared with that which many cheering the decision here have extended to Sheppard). It makes me glad I’m out now; I hope she is/will be too.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  JT
2 years ago

There was plenty of support for Abbate when the events occurred and after, at this site and others. Support for Abbate is not really to the point. Whether Marquette properly fired McAdams is the question, and on that the court appears to be right. The justification offered by Marquette failed the applicable standard. Fitness to serve is about whether McAdams can still do his job Marquette did not show he could not. Distasteful personality or politics are pretty poor grounds.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  J. Bogart
2 years ago

What makes you think McAdams was fired for his political views?He has a history of harassing students, including Abbate for THEIR political views. I wouldn’t want students at my university subjected to such treatment.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

I don’t see how there could be a sustainable legal distinction between what McAdams did and his conduct as political. Acting against because of politics looks like politics, to me at least. Report

Caleb
Caleb
Reply to  J. Bogart
2 years ago

Well, for one, his conduct was very disruptive. He encouraged Marquette students on multiple occasions to pick political fights with leftist professors (oftentimes, it seems in classes where the actual content was largely unrelated to politics) and record them. At some point, if everyone on campus is running around trying to score points in petty political fights, it’s going to be difficult to do research or teach. There are plenty of far-right professors I know who are perfectly pleasant colleagues and express their political views without becoming disruptive (for example, Scott Soames at USC). I think the courts could draw such a line in the sand if they really wanted.Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

“There are plenty of [right of center] professors I know who are perfectly pleasant colleagues and express their political views without becoming disruptive”

And there are plenty of far left-wing professors who aren’t, and who are nevertheless not in jeopardy of losing their jobs.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

For the record, Abbate was forced because of all this to not only leave the program at Marquette, but also the state.Report

Joshua Reagan
Joshua Reagan
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

(1) That’s untrue, and (2) largely irrelevant to my point.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Caleb
2 years ago

What part of that is false? Also, I take this to be relevant to Caleb’s point in response to Bogart, the point I was replying to, that it wouldn’t be hard to draw a line between McAdams’s harassment of people he politically disagreed with at Marquette like Abbate and knowing incitement of further, more extreme harassment towards them, and the activies involved in normal political disagreements.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

So, if I understand you correctly, you differ from most others reacting to the situation in holding that it has nothing to do with academic freedom but is about whether McAdams’s hostile and misleading remarks were egregious.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

I’m going by the legal analysis that I’ve read, all of which agree that the university quite clearly violated the terms of the faculty handbook.

As for your characterization of the facts, having been there I can only go on what I read in the news and there are any number of accounts that I’ve read that disagree with your characterization.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Sorry that should read “not having been there…”Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

I’m sure there are. I’m at UW-Milwaukee not Marquette, but as a member of the same philosophical community, I do know quite a lot about the case.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

As I said, my knowledge is based entirely on what I’ve read. Given that, it seems to me the Court ruled correctly, and of course, they had all the facts that you do and many more to which no one outside the proceedings would be privy.

Of course, both the Court — and I, obviously — could be wrong. However, it does seem to represent the bulk of the legal opinion I’ve read as well.Report

Outside Observer
Outside Observer
2 years ago

I don’t think anyone here actually believes that a traditional view of marriage is homophobic. It’s just hyperbole being expressed. And this is supported by the fact that there are no serious reasons to think that it is homophobic. So, I think that some are failing to see JT’s (and others) obvious hyperbole. They surely do not believe something this Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

I think it’s pretty hateful towards homosexual people to insist that they can’t have a basic civil right available to heterosexual people on the basis of the definition of that right drawn from _a_ tradition (to say that it is ‘the traditional…’ suggests falsely that this is the only tradition available) that takes homosexuality to be a ‘mortal sin’ deserving of eternal damnation. But that’s just me; you do you.Report

Philosophy?
Philosophy?
Reply to  JT
2 years ago

I admit that I had trouble following your points above, and I think you simply misunderstood a number of mine, so maybe this is becoming a less-than-fruitful exchange. Also, I think we might not be using the same understanding of “bigotry,” as I’m employing a fairly strict and standard dictionary definition. However, let me try this, and tell me what you think.

It is NOT bigotry, in your view, to oppose traditional marriage as a legitimate moral stance, right? It is simply principled, philosophical disagreement. However, my sense is that you DO think that opposing gay marriage IS bigotry, i.e., no legitimate philosophical or principled disagreement is possible, and such a stance is nothing more than prejudice and homophobia.

If I’ve captured, more or less, what you think, do you not see that it is your view that is intolerant? I don’t care, either way, whether you agree or disagree with me about marriage–and I’ve not offered my own perspective, in any case–but my point continues to be that, for a PHILOSOPHICAL discussion, BOTH sides must come to the table in “good faith,” believing that a legitimate argument is at least possible. Abbate, from the narrative offered (and which I mentioned above), seems to have already decided (and my sense is you agree) that any and all objections to gay marriage are offensive and can be reduced to homophobia. But that is, in itself, a manifestation of intolerance.

A final attempt using a different, but related example. At my university, and in many places, we are told to use “partner” instead of “husband/wife,” and that this is more inclusive. But that inclusivity is bought at the price of exclusion–of terms like “husband” and “wife,” which many Christians, at least, will tell you has a significance that “partner” does not capture. So, why is it ok for one group to speech-police another in the name of tolerance and inclusiveness? Isn’t pressuring a married couple to conform to using language that they believe does not capture their relationship adequately an imposition on them, and thereby an instance of intolerance and exclusion?

Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Philosophy?
2 years ago

!. Let’s not insist on dictionary definitions, especially here: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/gay-marriage-supreme-court-politics-activism/397052/ .

2. I don’t see why thinking in a philosophical context that no legitimate argument can be made for a positon automatically amounts to intoleration of that position. This happens in philosophy all the time and somehow the conversation is still going on and on. And while Abbate cut the discusson in class short, it was off-topic and it’s not like she started a campaign designed to expose, harass, and punish anyone for simply holding the position, so ‘intolerance’ seems to be quite a stretch.

3. In your analogy, the inclusive, tolerant position is the one that admits the language of ‘husband’/’wife’ along with the term ‘partner’, even though the latter is more generic. I agree. Similarly, I think that the inclusive, tolerant position on marriage is the one that admits non-anti-gay traditionalist conception alongside pro-gay marriage ones and that it is not OK for the traditionalists to impose their notion of marriage on to others via the coercive legal apparatus of the state even though it fundamentally excludes the sort of love experienced by gay couples (including non-anti-gay-Christian ones) who wish to get married. I see no reason why we can’t have both gay marriages and anti-gay-Christian marriages and more–as many sorts of marriage as there are forms of consensual committed love wanting to be expressed–even if not everyone will be able to accept every kind of marriage on offer, just like how you see no reason why we can’t have both ‘husband’/’wife’ and ‘partner’ and more. To think it inherently parochial for one to insist that others should be made to conform to how one’s own particular tradition understands marriage is to be opposed to intolerance, not to manifest it.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  JT
2 years ago
Outside Observer
Outside Observer
Reply to  JT
2 years ago

Right, so this is another hyperbolic comment from JT. They surely do not believe something as silly as the thesis that holding to a traditional view of marriage is hateful of homosexuals – there are no serious reasons for holding affirming such a silly thesis. We should interpret them here as expressing some frustration at the issue and as having a deep longing for justice. And those attitudes of JT’s are admirable – but, of course, they aren’t incompatible with holding to the (or, as JT prefers, “a”) traditional view of marriage. And I think a lot of the controversy will melt away once we interpret JT charitably, as I have suggested.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

If that’s your version of charity, you can keep it, thanks.Report

Outside Observer
Outside Observer
Reply to  JT
2 years ago

Interpreting people in ways that doesn’t attribute to them a silly view that there aren’t any serious reasons to affirm (like that holding to the traditional view of marriage is homophobic) is not a terribly unusual version of charity. But I will keep it, if you like.Report

J.T.
J.T.
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

Oh, I see. You must’ve missed the class where they explained that charity as an interpretive principle shouldn’t be applied to attribute views or attitudes to others that they’ve explicitly disavowed, even if doing so means taking them to be saying something false or silly. But I suspect this is more about telling me that I’m silly and my views are unserious, that I’m being hyperbolic and overly-emotional, and that the discussion will be better off if I just shut up or went away. Either way though, please don’t do me any more favours, OK?Report

Outside Observer
Outside Observer
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

JT: No one is trying to shut you up or go away. I understand that you are seeking justice, and that is admirable. However, in the name of charity, I will continue to refuse to ascribe to you obviously silly views.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

How condescending of you. But I thought you were going to respect my wishes and keep it to yourself?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

This is an unwise and dangerous use of “charity”.

“Wallace claims to adopt the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics. But that view is obviously ridiculous, so I’ll charitably assume he doesn’t actually believe what he is saying and instead is writing Swiftean satire of the credulity of physicists. Any explicit denials he makes should be charitably interpreted as just more of the satire.”Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Outside Observer
2 years ago

David Wallace, we finally agree on something! Imagine that.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

Daniel Kaufman, you keep telling us that many legal opinions agree with you but you never tell us the contents of these legal opinions nor anything about the reasons that lead you to suppose they are right. Could you possibly be a little more substantive?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

I’m just speaking to the stuff I’ve read online, written by lawyers or people very familiar with the law. I don’t know whether its representative or not.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Daniel. What is the content of what you have read. You keep dismissing what other people say because of what you have read, but you never actually put it out there.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

I posted links to some of the stuff I’ve been reading.

Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

And actuall I posted them some time before you asked me this. IReport

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

Margaret Atherton: You asked for some of the stuff I’ve been reading on the case written by lawyers or those knowledgeable of the law. Here are a few:

The AAUP filed an amicus brief on behalf of McAdams:

https://academeblog.org/2018/03/27/aaup-files-amicus-brief-in-mcadams-case/

John K. Wilson also wrote in support of the ruling over at the Academe blog.

https://academeblog.org/2018/07/09/why-mcadams-v-marquette-is-a-victory-for-academic-freedom-and-shared-governance/

John Banzhaf, a law professor at GWU law school also wrote in support of the ruling:

https://www.valuewalk.com/2018/07/academic-freedom-speech/

As did Brian Leiter:

http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2018/07/wisconsin-supreme-court-sides-with-marquette-professor-whose-contractual-right-to-academic-freedom-w.html

= = =

But, as I said, I have no idea if these are representative of the legal profession, as a whole.

Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
2 years ago

Thanks. The AAUP is the most detailed and the most interesting. It doesn’t look like their issue is academic freedom, however, since they were fine with the disciplinary action of the Faculty Committee, but seems to be procedural. They didn’t like the Marquette president adding an additional requirement. I can see why Lovell did that, he didn’t want McAdams to bounce back and continue harassing students, as he probably will do, but it is a procedural issue.Report

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

I don’t think that accurately reports the content of the AAUP’s brief.

You’re right that they expressed a concern about due process and the president adding an additional requirement. But, they also argued that the Circuit Court that affirmed the discipline applied a too limited understanding of academic freedom, limiting McAdams’ academic freedom to “the right to express his views in speeches, writings, and on the internet, so long as he does not infringe on the rights of others.” The AAUP such a formulation ” vastly undermines academic freedom. The nature of offering opinions, particularly controversial ones, is that they may prompt vigorous responses, including assertions that the rights of others have been infringed. Views and opinions should be subject to debate, not to limitations based on claims that the expression of views infringes upon the rights of others. Adding such a component will only serve to limit the openness and breadth of the views expressed in academia, compromising essential rights of academic freedom.”

You’re also right that they don’t specifically argue that the university’s discipline (sans the extra discipline added by the president, which they do argue violated academic freedom) should have been judged improper by the Circuit Court under the correct understanding of academic freedom. That’s not terribly surprising, though. On appeal, the issue is error by the lower court. They identified the lower court’s error in interpreting academic freedom. That’s not the same thing as suggesting that the suspension was consistent with the correct understanding of academic freedom.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Andrew
2 years ago

Yes, I see I had missed something in the AAUP brief. I must say I’m rather surprised by the brief now that I read it more carefully. The AAUP says that it’s OK to express views that may infringe on the rights of others, because otherwise controversy may be stifled. This is AARONReport

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Andrew
2 years ago

Sorry, double error type plus send instead of delete. To continue: it wasn’t McAdams views that infringed on Abbate’s rights, although it would have been nice if he had not misrepresented her, it was that he invaded her privacy by releasing her name. He at no time released the name of his student who taped Abbate and bustled off to McAdams with it, so this is a principle that was in other cases, well understood.Report

EH
EH
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

I’m a lawyer, my basic summary:
1) It’s very dangerous to hold people responsible for third party responses to their speech. This creates what is often termed a “heckler’s veto”, in which you can force a controlling body to censor your opponent’s speech by making the controlling body worry about your reaction.
2) There’s an “incitement” exception to the First Amendment which addresses third party actions, but it has been well developed over a long time, and is exceedingly limited in scope. It did not apply here, which is unquestioned.
3) There are libel and slander exceptions to speech as well, but truth is an absolute defense in almost all of those cases, and there seems to be no debate that the factual statements were accurate.
4) Terms like “invasion of privacy” have real meaning in the law. Those meanings are not what laypeople think they are. So for example, “releasing the name” of someone who was openly and publicly working to teach students is not, and could never be, an invasion of privacy. Similarly, pointing out the existence of a publicly-available blog is not, and could never be, actionable.
5) Marquette had a contract, and they were bound by it.Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  EH
2 years ago

I’m not sure why you say that that “there seems to be no debate that the factual statements were accurate.” This certainly has ben debated and Abbate has asserted that McAdams characterization of what went on in her classroom is inaccurate. Secondly I’m curious why, as a student, Abbate doesn’t have FERPA rights to privacy?
Report

Andrew
Andrew
Reply to  Margaret Atherton
2 years ago

FERPA prohibits certain disclosures of information taken from education records. Has anyone seriously argued that FERPA is implicated here? Report

Margaret Atherton
Margaret Atherton
Reply to  Andrew
2 years ago

No, I was just asking.Report

Paul
Paul
2 years ago

Can you “smear” someone by publishing their remarks verbatim?

This blog played a large role in promoting this effort to suppress academic freedom that now has been decisively discredited and defeated. Report