Opinion

McAdams v. Marquette not about free speech

Dr. John McAdams put a teaching assistant in the cross-hairs through his claim that she censored a student.

Image By: Photo Courtesy of Creative Commons/Daderot

Though the event that prompted McAdams v. Marquette occurred in 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court case it led to last week has the making of a typical story in 2018: ideological charge, selective interpretation of the facts, and peculiar characters.

The case pits Dr. John McAdams, a former associate professor of political science, against Marquette University. Dr. McAdams runs a blog called “Marquette Warrior” which claims to “provide an independent, rather skeptical view of events at Marquette University.” One post ultimately put Dr. McAdams out of a job.

According to the post, a Marquette student was offended by the lack of discussion allowed in a philosophy class, particularly regarding gay marriage. When the student approached the student teacher after class, he was again shut down by her, who reportedly said “in this class, homophobic comments, racist comments, will not be tolerated” and offered the student the option to drop the class.

Dr. McAdams became aware of this situation after the student spoke to two academic deans at Marquette and did not receive his desired response. Dr. McAdams consequently wrote a blog post about the incident on Marquette Warrior, referring to the student teacher by name and linking to her website.

After the release of her contact information, the student teacher received a number of angry, sometimes threatening emails, eventually causing her to leave Marquette.

A review of conduct by an internal Faculty Hearing Committee at Marquette, eventually ruled that Dr. McAdams should be suspended from the university for no more than two semesters. In March of 2016, the president of Marquette University sent a confidential (now public) letter to Dr. McAdams, stating that his return to the faculty in 2017 would be conditioned on making a written statement. Dr. McAdams refused and instead took the case to court, culminating in the Wisconsin Supreme Court hearing in April 2018.

Many conversations have taken place on this campus regarding the role of free speech. Though the UW is a public university and therefore has different obligations than Marquette the case has serious applications for both. I do not doubt that the many conservative professors invested in the outcome of this case would say that UW-Madison suffers from what they call a “liberal bias” in higher education. However, the case has little to do with the topic that was being covered in that Marquette classroom.

The court case is not about students at Marquette University being allowed to disagree with gay marriage - rest assured, they are, and according to Marquette’s Catholic and Jesuit values, they are encouraged to. Rather, the case is about the irresponsible actions of a professor who put a student teacher in harm’s way.

From a fairly neutral point of view, I do understand the student’s frustration in not being able to express his views. Factual, respectful discussion is a tenant of higher education. Perhaps the student teacher had the correct intention in wanting to protect LGBTQ+ students in her classroom from emotional harm but did so incorrectly.

However, Dr. McAdams did not, and continues to not, hold himself to the same standards as he did that student teacher. He expected her to treat the students in her class with decency by allowing discussion, and yet denied her the same right by “doxxing” her, or “publicly [identifying] or [publishing] private information about someone especially as a form of punishment or revenge.”

The student teacher’s actions were not conducive to discourse, but neither was Dr. McAdams’ response. Dr. McAdams has claimed in subsequent blog posts that he never published the student teacher’s contact information, but simply a link to her blog, where readers could find her contact information for themselves.

Had the real issue at hand actually been freedom of speech, the blog post would have gotten the same message across without including the name of the student teacher. However, to him, the student teacher must have been just another liberal chipping away at the right to freedom of speech, and he included her name anyway. Why, if not to cause psychological harm?

Neither side is particularly unbiased. The Marquette Warrior blog features headlines like “Speech and the Progressive Utopia” and “Shouting Down a Speaker: Left Wing Fascism at the University of New Mexico.”

Each party has an agenda and won’t hesitate to push it. But, much like the blog post that started it all, I doubt the decision of the court will do much to change the tide of the campus free speech debate. If the court rules in favor of McAdams, conservatives will tout it as a long fought victory over indoctrinating liberals; if he loses, surely he will have fuel for another 3,000 blog posts.

In the original post, Dr. McAdams does not mention contacting the student teacher whose conduct bothered him so deeply in order to hear her side of the story. Yet he claims that “journalistic norms” entitled him to expose someone who he considered a “miscreant.”

Perhaps Dr. McAdams has forgotten that journalists hold themselves to a high level of decency despite their opinions on what they are covering - and from one journalist to another, if he wants to be treated as such, maybe he should make a renewed attempt to conduct himself like one first.

Izzy is a freshman studying political science and education policy. What do you hope the outcome of McAdams v. Marquette will be? Pleasesend any comments or questions to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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