Marquette Professor Won’t Apologize and Won’t Go Quietly

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images/AFP
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images/AFP

Conservative professor John McAdams is under threat of termination from liberal university president Michael Lovell of the Jesuit-run Marquette University. McAdams is not taking the threat lightly and has fired off a blistering letter to his boss.

In the lengthy letter sent to Lovell, McAdams charges the president with publicly misrepresenting various aspects of the case, violating academic freedom, and with “misconduct” in carrying out his duties.

The story began almost two years ago when McAdams publicly defended a student who was told by a teaching assistant that his Catholic views on man-woman marriage were “homophobic” and not welcome in her ethics class. For his defense of the student, McAdams was investigated for 17 months by a faculty committee and publicly excoriated by Lovell in his official capacity as Marquette president. Lovell summarily suspended McAdams and banished him from the campus.

A report from the investigating faculty committee was just released and recommended McAdams be suspended without pay through the Fall 2016 semester. But Lovell has gone beyond what the faculty committee recommended and has demanded that McAdams apologize and take responsibility for subsequent email attacks on the teaching assistant. Lovell gave McAdams ten days to do this or face the revocation of his tenure and termination of his 39-year employment with Marquette.

At the heart of Lovell’s complaint about McAdams is his charge that McAdams should be responsible for the negative emails the teaching assistant received. McAdams writes to Lovell, “After posting some vitriolic emails sent by others to Ms. Abbate, you went on to tell the university that ‘a professor inflicting this type of personal attack on a student’ is unacceptable as if I either had a hand in these emails or launched a comparable attack on Ms. Abbate. Both implications are outrageous and you know it.”

McAdams says that Lovell’s “attack” on one of his own tenured professors “is a strong statement that you are the one who lacks commitment to the University values you accuse me of violating.”

McAdams also charges his boss with “selective quotation from the report of the Faculty Hearing Committee and incomplete description of its conclusions. “You fail to acknowledge that you are not simply implementing the recommendations of the Committee (as wrong as they are) but are going beyond them,” writes McAdams.

The Faculty Hearing Committee actually scolded Lovell for his summary “banishment” of McAdams from campus as a violation of Faculty Statutes and a denial of “due process.” According to McAdams, “The Committee found that your concern about the ‘safety’ of students on campus was pretextual and was, in fact, done to mollify ‘public’ demands (in this case, Philosophy websites like the Daily Nous) to take action against me.”

McAdams believes that Lovell is particularly incensed that the Faculty Committee did not follow his recommendation that McAdams be fired but rather recommended only suspension and that the Committee did not recommend that McAdams “confess” his crimes as a condition of reinstatement, something McAdams refers to as “compelled speech” and compared earlier to the “Inquisition.”

McAdams says:

I am to be suspended even though the Committee conceded there is not rule against criticizing how others conduct their classes, no rule against criticizing students, no rule against identifying students of linking to their own blogs, and the post I wrote was not vituperative or rude. If that can cause a tenured professor of thirty-nine years to be suspended or fired, it is hard to imagine how any faculty member could know when he or she is free to speak.

McAdams concludes:

If you fire me for failing to make a statement you demand, you will be committing yet another violation of the Due Process and the academic freedom provisions of the Faculty Statues. Unless you rescind your demand that I do so by April 14, 2016, I will assume that you mean what you say and that is precisely what you intend to do.

Throughout the letter, McAdams refers to other venues where the issues will be discussed in greater detail, a not-so-subtle threat of legal action. McAdams has acquired legal counsel.


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