For almost three decades, former Wisconsin and U.S. Senator Russ Feingold focused on issues such as campaign finance reform, healthcare and environmental protection. With an exit from office in the November election, however, Feingold is moving from Capitol Hill to a Marquette classroom as the Law School’s newest visiting professor.
Although the spring semester upper-level course, “Current Legal Issues: The U.S. Senate” will be taught by a man with first-hand experience, some have questioned whether Feingold’s political views are in accordance with Marquette’s Catholic tradition. The main concern regards his pro-choice stance on abortion.
Joseph Kearney, the dean of the Law School, has come to Feingold’s defense. Kearney said he believes the former Senator is “uniquely well-positioned” to teach at the school, regardless of his political opinions.
“While I do not doubt that some of his views are controversial, or, still less, suggest that all of them are right, an institution of legal education is especially well suited to explore multiple dimensions of such issues,” he said in the Law School faculty blog.
Numerous conservative websites and blogs, however, see his appointment differently.
TFP Student Action, an organization that promotes traditional Catholic values on college campuses, is urging its supporters to protest the Law School’s decision to hire Feingold. According to its website and Facebook page, 5,670 people have petitioned the school to remove him from his position.
Another organization, Pro-Life Wisconsin, also opposes the hiring of the former Senator. Virginia Zignego, the communications director for the group, said teachers who support abortion are inappropriate educational role models in any school, especially a Catholic university.
“This appointment is an affront to Catholics and the pro-life movement,” she said. “I am sure that the university would not hire a prominent member of the KKK. Why is that line not drawn at those who are pro-abortion?”
Zignego also spoke of a petition the organization is sponsoring, with almost 7,000 signatures thus far. She said the university needs to be weary of its decision due to potential backlash from alumni and donors.
“Marquette alumni should speak with their pocketbooks, (and) prospective Marquette students should speak with their feet,” Zignego said.
In addition to the petitions, many critics have voiced their opinions directly to University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild. In response to one critic’s e-mail, Wild explained that the school supports Feingold in his teaching position, but does not necessarily share his personal beliefs.
“The appointment of Sen. Feingold does not in any way endorse his public positions or votes on any given topic,” Wild said. “But a university and its Law School — and that includes a Catholic university — are especially well-suited to explore multiple dimensions of many of these issues.”
Wild also said if one politician is excluded from the opportunity of teaching, then they all must be.
Although there are two opposing opinions showcased between blogs and the administration, John McAdams, an associate professor of political science, said there is no problem posed with Feingold teaching at the Law School. He said it is traditional for retired politicians to teach at universities.
“He’s not a ‘tenure track’ hire,” McAdams said. “He’s just a local celebrity teaching a course.”
On Feingold’s pro-choice stance, McAdams said there are many faculty at the university with the same opinion and having one more pro-choice professor who may not even deal with issues where his beliefs contradict Catholic teaching is not a problem.