The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

EDITORIAL: Marquette does not deserve criticism from FIRE
Photo by Benjamin Erickson / [email protected]

Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education presented its list of the worst schools for free speech. The 2016 list marks the second year in a row in which Marquette makes the list, but the reasoning remains exactly the same as last year, with “its ongoing campaign to strip the tenure of political science professor John McAdams based on the writings on his personal blog.”

FIRE’s criticism of Marquette is outdated and its explanation is extremely saturated to match national perceptions of the incident.

Last year, Marquette was embroiled in controversy after McAdams was suspended from campus in November 2014 when he wrote a post on his blog, the Marquette Warrior. The post criticized the way former teaching assistant Cheryl Abbate handled a disagreement in class with a student concerning gay marriage in a Theory of Ethics philosophy class.

However, McAdams wasn’t suspended for simply sharing his sentiments on the former teaching assistant’s decision not to engage a conversation, rather it was because of the content he wrote about Abbate. McAdams used his personal blog to demean a student. Abbate may have been a teaching assistant, but she was still a student equally deserving of the right to free speech, whether she chose to engage in the disagreement or not.

As a professor, McAdams is expected to help create a safe environment for students to express their opinions without fear of retaliation. McAdams failed to do this in every way possible. In addition, he was not in Abbate’s classroom when the original disagreement occurred, and Abbate did not teach in his department.

McAdams has written skeptically about Marquette’s administration, other professors and various organizations on his blog. But when he publicly shamed Abbate, he stopped working to create an educational environment. After McAdams’ post, Abbate received threats against her life and eventually left Marquette because of the intense criticism.

For Marquette to make FIRE’s list solely for the McAdams controversy is an unfair representation of the university. In placing Marquette on this list, FIRE overlooked the university’s several efforts over the past year to foster freedom of speech.

For example, Nov. 12, 2015, Marquette students held a silent protest standing in solidarity with University of Missouri students outside of Raynor Library. The protest happened shortly after Missouri’s president Tim Wolfe resigned when he mishandled racial controversy on campus. Faculty and administration here at Marquette, including University President Michael Lovell, stood in solidarity with the students.

Additionally, on Dec. 8, 2014, a Black Lives Matter ‘die-in’ took place on the second floor of the Alumni Memorial Union with no interference from the university.

Marquette continues to make strides that protect the rights of free speech for all university affiliates. For FIRE to judge the university’s free speech access based on one professor who condemned a student online is not representative of Marquette.

The First Amendment gives everyone equal right to freedom of speech, but that does not mean freedom from consequence. Marquette’s guiding values include being men and women for and with others, and the university reacted to a student who was put in danger, demonstrating its commitment to protect its students, which has also been illustrated in various instances such as on-campus protests.

Critiquing Marquette’s history of free speech on the basis of one incident that gained national attention does not earn Marquette a spot on FIRE’s list of worst free speech universities.

Story continues below advertisement
View Comments (5)
More to Discover

Comments (5)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • J

    Jack JohannesMar 2, 2016 at 10:23 am

    As an alumnus (1966), former faculty member (1970-1995), former Political Science Department chair (1980-1988), and former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts (1988-1993), I am shocked and deeply saddened by Marquette’s unjust, unfair, and simply silly treatment of Professor McAdams — which has made Marquette the object of criticism and ridicule in American higher education. And I am disappointed beyond measure in the Tribune’s nonsensical editorial that, as pointed out by Professors Quirk and Maguire, completely misses or ignores the key issues of this case. It is a sad day for Marquette indeed.

  • S

    Sterling SilverFeb 26, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    The snowflake responce to free speech is embarrassing. I’d like to point out that the two actions you prediminantly go after McAdams for were actually not done by him. His release of the blog post may have “offended” some individuals, but the nationwide criticism and death threats were from other people, not McAdams. Also, Abatte’s choice to leave after the criticism was also her choice, not something McAdams told her to do or pressured her into. Ultimately, she made the final decision.

    The use of the Nov 12, 2015 story is also laughable. Although I am proud of the students for having a safe and responsible protest, protesting in support of the student actions at the University of Missouri goes against the idea of the First Amendment. You want freedom of speech and (later mentioned in the story) freedom of consequence but when the protest in Missouri blocked other journalists, the students denied both freedom of speech and freedom of consequence, even though the journalists were looking to ask questions. Those actions, the silent protest at Marquette, and the editorial seem to suggest that rather than enjoying the freedom of free speech, we should focus on suppression because it might offend someone or because it bothers people.

    But, rather than looking for things to be offended by, students at Marquette should learn to grow up and get stronger in the face of adversity. Your not always going to be told that the actions you’ve made are great or may be criticized with offensive language in life, but how you respond is one of the ways you go from being a kid to an adult. Going after this list and its view on the First Amendment is child’s play.

    (Also, the university has the right to hire and fire anybody, but to fire a tenured professor for a blog post is why the story has gone national).

  • P

    Professor Daniel C. MaguireFeb 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    The Editorial on McAdams misses the main point of this case. McAdams was severely punished without due process. The American Association of University Professors allows for the suspension of a professor but never without due process.

    • M

      mike caseyMar 7, 2016 at 9:58 am

      Bravo professor McGuire. I know you are someone whom the right has tried to silence for decades, so you are aware of what is happening here. I can’t stand most of what McAdams says, but I would defend to death his right to say it.

  • P

    Paul QuirkFeb 25, 2016 at 1:46 pm

    Punishing McAdams for what third parties wrote to Abbate is obviously not justified. For one thing, he has criticized a lot of people, and praised others, over many years, and there has been no other case of such abuse. Someone who reads your editorial may threaten McAdams. Will you expect to be punished?

    The language of the post was not “demeaning,” unless all sharp criticism is demeaning.

    In any case, none of this matters. Freedom of speech and academic freedom do not have a limiting condition: “as long as the speaker is (in the authorities’ opinion) polite, no one is seriously inconvenienced, and no one who hears or reads the expression acts improperly.”

    The reason that all the significant national commentary (FIRE, AAUP, the Atlantic, Slate, the Washington Post, not to mention conservative outlets) has rejected the University’s position is that the principles here are not in doubt. If the University fires McAdams, he will sue and he will win. (BTW, FIRE participates in such lawsuits, and thus far, has never lost.)

    It would be better if the University faced up to its serious, damaging mistake and dropped the matter. The stalling tells you how strong its case is.