The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Marquette University wrongly fired a professor for opinions he posted on a personal blog.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Marquette University improperly fired Professor John McAdams for a blog post he made in 2014. The blog post featured a pointed criticism of a graduate teaching instructor who told students that certain issues like gay rights were not up for debate. McAdams was suspended from his job indefinitely as a result of the blog post.
On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered McAdams immediate reinstatement to his post at Marquette University.
“The undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Therefore, we reverse the circuit court and remand this cause with instructions to enter judgment in favor of Dr. McAdams, conduct further proceedings to determine damages (which shall include back pay), and order the University to immediately reinstate Dr. McAdams with unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation, and benefits.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief last year which asked the court to hear McAdams’ case and rule to reinstate him.
“As FIRE has argued since the beginning, Marquette was wrong to fire John McAdams simply for criticizing a graduate student instructor who unilaterally decided that a matter of political interest was no longer up for debate by students,” FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley said in a statement. “This ruling rightly demonstrates that when a university promises academic freedom, it is required to deliver.”
Ari Cohn, the director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said that the court decision is a warning to universities. According to Cohn, universities must know that they can’t use the content of a professor’s speech as a justification for firing them.
“Administrators cannot simply decide that they do not like the results of certain faculty speech, and then work backwards to find a justification for firing them,” Cohn said. “The court’s decision recognized that allowing a university to do so is incompatible with any meaningful understanding of academic freedom. Colleges and universities across the country that are facing calls to discipline faculty members for their online speech should pay attention to today’s decision.”