McAdams prepares for lawsuit against Marquette after controversy

Suspended political science professor John McAdams is preparing for a lawsuit he filed against Marquette on Monday.

McAdams’ lawyer, Rick Esenberg, said a breach of contract action was filed in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. It is pending before Judge David Hansher, who Esenberg expects will set a scheduling conference in about 60 days.

The trial will address the university’s handling of McAdams’ role in a 2014 controversy centered around a post he wrote on his blog, Marquette Warrior. It criticizes former teaching assistant Cheryl Abbate for allegedly stopping her students from discussing anti-gay marriage views in her Theory of Ethics class. It is not yet known if Abbate and the student who reported the class incident to McAdams will have to appear in court.

McAdams said he is trying to protect academic freedom and that his actions don’t stem from his personal beliefs about gay marriage. However, he said he’s seen correlation between the two things.

“A lot of the people who favor gay marriage don’t simply favor gay marriage, they believe that certain ideas need to be shut up and stifled,” McAdams said. “They’re upfront about it. They’ll cheerfully say that.”

Marquette said in an April press release that it doesn’t think the incident is about academic freedom but about the way McAdams treated Abbate and the backlash she ended up receiving from third parties. McAdams said he wouldn’t have used Abbate’s name in his post if he could have predicted the following abuse she would receive.

“McAdams’ claims just adds to his false narrative,” University Spokesman Brian Dorrington said in an email. “This is about his behavior, not beliefs. McAdams is being held accountable by his peers and the university for his own conduct.”

McAdams said he doesn’t think a university should be a safe space when it comes to having students encounter opposition to their views.

“I would have blogged about a professor trying to suppress pro-gay marriage views,” McAdams said. “It’s a university, you should be free to face something you disagree with.”

McAdams’ blog post gained national attention weeks after it was published and caused the Westboro Baptist Church to picket campus in December 2014. Abbate received threats and criticism, mainly from anonymous persons online, leading her to transfer to the University of Colorado Boulder.

Esenberg said McAdams is seeking some damage payments, but overall, the case isn’t about money. McAdams said he won’t accept any amount of money to walk away from the case because he wants to fight for academic freedom.

“This is a case about a principle,” Esenberg said. “This is a case about establishing that academic freedom means freedom. Free speech means free.”

McAdams was suspended with pay and banned from campus for the spring 2015 semester while the university conducted a conduct review of the controversy. In February 2015, McAdams was notified that the university was starting the process to possibly revoke his tenure and dismiss him from faculty.

Part of that process was to assemble a Faculty Hearing Committee, which met in the fall 2015 semester to draw up a recommendation for University President Michael Lovell on if McAdams should be removed. Lovell announced in March that he decided to have McAdams serve a semester-long suspension without pay, but with benefits, and submit an apology for his actions.

“I think Marquette partly was motivated (to punish me) by a bunch of lefty professors, a lot of them at other institutions, demanding my head on a pike,” McAdams said. “The philosophy (professors) pretty much rallied around Abbate.”

McAdams quickly refused the punishment. Marquette made the previously private Faculty Hearing Committee report was made public on Monday after the lawsuit was filed.

“Seven of McAdams’ own faculty peers recommended unanimously that he be suspended for his behavior,” Dorrington said. “Since then, leadership from five major governing bodies in the university have publicly supported both the Faculty Hearing Committee’s recommendation and the steps made by the university administration.”

The Wisconsin Institute of Law & Liberty, which Esenberg works for, said in a press release that, upon review of the report, it thinks the Faculty Hearing Committee was biased.

“The FHC refused to follow requirements placed in the faculty statutes to ensure that tenured professors receive a fair hearing,” the release said. “It permitted a clearly biased member to remain on the committee, did nothing to ameliorate the effects of a summary suspension it acknowledged was entirely improper and refused to compel the administration to turn over evidence in its possession to assist Professor McAdams in preparing for its hearing.”