Marquette University Ordered To Reinstate Professor Fired for Opinions Written on His Personal Blog

Image by James via Flickr Creative Commons License:

Image by James via Flickr Creative Commons License:


Over three years ago, an incident took place at Marquette University that illustrates just how endangered free speech is on college campuses. The setting was a philosophy class:


Cheryl Abbate, a graduate student in philosophy, was teaching a course about John Rawls and asked students for examples of current events to which Rawlsian philosophy could be applied. According to Abbate’s own blog, “When one student rightly suggested that a ban on gay marriage would violate Rawls’ Equal Liberty Principle, I wrote on the board, noted that this was the correct way to apply Rawls’s principle to a ban on gay marriage and then moved on to more nuanced examples.”

Let me take a moment right here and say that I find John Rawls’ philosophy to be horrible and detestable and at odds with individual liberty and if there is a just and merciful God, Rawls is roasting on a spit in Hell because he provides the philosophical underpinning for political correctness and the drivel the SJW brigades spout.

Abbate added that “if anyone did not agree that gay marriage was an example of something that fits the Rawls’ Equal Liberty Principle, they should see her after class.” She made it clear that the classroom was not a “safe space” for dissent on the value of same-sex “marriage.” Such conversations had to be held in secret so as not to offend others.

She had a taker. The student who had offered the gay marriage example approached her…and recorded what happened.


I have to be completely honest with you, I don’t agree with gay marriage. There have been studies that show that children that are brought up in gay households do a lot worse in life such as test scores, in school, and in the real world. So, when you completely dismiss an entire argument based off of your personal views, it sets a precedent for the classroom that “oh my God, this is so wrong; you can’t agree with this, you’re a horrible person if you agree with this.” And that’s what came off. And I have to say I am very personally offended by that. And I would stress for you in your professional career going forward, you’re going to be teaching for many more years, that you watch how you approach those issues because when you set a precedent like that because you are the authority figure in the classroom, people truly do listen to you … it’s wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions.

Professor Abbate replied:

Ok, there are some opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual? And, don’t you think that would be offensive to them if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?


Then she told him if he couldn’t handle those rules he should drop the class. This, mind you, is philosophy at a nominally Catholic university (though it is Jesuit and therefore probably as gay as the holidays.)

A tenured professor who opposes PC in all its forms, John McAdams, heard about the incident and posted about it on his personal blog. The TA, Abbate, demanded McAdams be disciplined in addition to giving her “reparations.” The university demanded McAdams give Abbate a written apology for writing about her conduct. He refused. And they suspended him indefinitely without pay which was tantamount to firing him. McAdams sued.

Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2 (one justice not voting) that Marquette had illegally fired McAdams and ordered him reinstated.

Today, the Wisconsin Supreme Court said Marquette’s decision violated its guarantee of academic freedom to McAdams and ordered his immediate reinstatement.

“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. “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 liberal minority in this decision tried some religious freedom jujitsu:

Justice Ann Bradley wrote a dissenting opinion, saying the court majority erred “in conducting only half of the academic freedom analysis.”

“It fails to recognize, much less analyze, the academic freedom of Marquette as a private, Catholic, Jesuit university,” Bradley wrote. “As a result, it dilutes a private educational institution’s autonomy to make its own academic decisions in fulfillment of its unique mission.”

Bradley concluded: “Apparently, the majority thinks it is in a better position to address concerns of academic freedom than a group of tenured faculty members who live the doctrine every day.”

HotAir colleague Ed Morrisey questions whether we won a free speech fight at the expense of religious liberty.

I don’t see it. McAdam’s contract undercuts that entire argument:

Though Marquette is a private, Roman Catholic institution not bound by the First Amendment, the university promises faculty “the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms,” and it explicitly guarantees that “dismissal will not be used to restrain faculty members in their exercise of academic freedom or other rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.”


Not only did Marquette violate its own policies concerning faculty disciplinary actions, one of the people deciding McAdams’s fate had written an opinion piece for the campus paper describing what kind of truly bad man McAdams was.

This was an unalloyed win for freedom of speech. And it was directed at the most voracious enemy of free speech in America today: academia. We should be very happy about this.



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