COMSTOCK: Marquette in spotlight for free speech problems entirely merited

Photo by Doug Peters

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Marquette is once again in the spotlight for free speech, and believe it or not, not in a good way. In one of the segments featured at the Conservative Political Action Conference titled “Campus Crackdown,” Marquette University was unsurprisingly mentioned in connection with the dismissal of senior tenured faculty member, John McAdams, who sat front row at the conference.

The three panelists shared their views on what has been dubbed the “snowflake rebellion” at U.S. universities, and this year has been particularly snowy. Protests that sprang up on campuses nationwide this past fall caused many to question whether warmer weather this spring will bring on another flurry of media-induced “social justice” synchronization, but perhaps the strongest movements are occurring in the classroom.

Panelists included Everett Piper, president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University that authored “This is Not a Daycare. It’s a University!” Karin Agness, founder of the Network of enlightened Women and Princeton student Josh Zuckerman, founder of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition.  All three panelists cite the blatant censorship of conservative ideas on modern campuses, bringing up a lack of “intellectual” diversity that ultimately hurts students from both sides of today’s polarized political spectrum.  After receiving claims of microagressions during a campus church service homily focusing on 1 Corinthians 13, Piper wrote his column decrying the “ideological narcissism” that seems to shape the philosophies of today’s righteous youth. I’m not claiming to be immune.

This segment speaks to the Marquette audience who will hear their alma mater called out for being named one of the top ten “worst colleges for free speech”  by the Huffington Post, in reference to the dismissal of senior tenured faculty member, John McAdams. Along with the shiny new award comes a free speech rating of “Red” ordained by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Red is reserved for those special universities that have “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”  It’s certainly not the best public relations campaign to address lower enrollment numbers.

And no, Marquette doesn’t create literal safe spaces like Brown University for traumatized students complete with videos of frolicking puppies and bubbles, but some would argue the process by which McAdams was dismissed constitutes one of the most egregious cases of academic censorship in recent years.  In response to a Marquette Wire editorial titled “Marquette does not deserve criticism from FIRE,” I would argue that Marquette unequivocally deserves criticism for years to come, and FIRE is certainly not alone in expressing these factual arguments.

The editorial claims that the criticism is “outdated” (McAdams was dismissed nearly two years ago), and that McAdams was justifiably dismissed as his personal blog was used to “demean a student,” that student being the graduate student teaching an ethics course. McAdams was then swiftly dismissed and denied basic tenants of due process including explanations of the violated statutes and evidence and information regarding the contemplated actions of the university, which include dates of suspension, salary and entitlement to benefits. His classes were canceled two days after the unofficial suspension.  He was notified of the university’s intent to revoke tenure six weeks after that. The rest of the decision process regarding his status has seemed to be drawn out and up-in-the-air since it happened. Maybe there’s some backpedaling going on with a promise of a lawsuit, should the university decide to go through with it.

Whether the blog post was “demeaning” or not is subjective, but after reading it myself, I’d say it’s a far cry from harassment.  McAdams seemed to use the situation as an example for the larger issue of political correctness in academia, a topic he has blogged about on many occasions. Although the resulting backlash received by the graduate student needed to be addressed, it doesn’t justify the serious lack of due process in the case. Faculty are also entitled to academic freedom, in theory.  Never mind the entirely separate issue of Catholic doctrine in a Catholic classroom.

So until Marquette addresses the case and gives McAdams the consideration and response he is owed, Marquette’s place on the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” seems well-deserved.