For those not following the case, Marquette University has decided to attempt to fire one of its tenured professors, John McAdams, for, well, something. The letter by which the university informed McAdams of its plan is here. McAdams’ response to the letter is here. In summary, an undergraduate student was enrolled in a philosophy class which class was being taught by a graduate student, Cheryl Abbate. The graduate student instructor asserted, one day in class, with little or no discussion, that gay marriage is an example of something that John Rawls’ Justice Principle protects. After class, a student objected to her claim, counterclaiming that gay marriage is potentially harmful and thus not necessarily protected. As their discussion unfolded, Abbate unburdened herself thus:
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? . . . Ok, well, actually you don’t have a right in this class, as –especially as an ethics professor to make homophobic comments, racist comments, sexist comments . . . This is about restricting rights and liberties of individuals. Um and just as I would take offense if women can’t serve in XYZ positions because that is a sexist comment . . . You can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments will not be tolerated. If you don’t like that you are more than free to drop this class.
There is no debate about what Abbate said since the student recorded the conversation.
The student went to members of the university administration to complain about Abbate. They refused to acknowledge that there was anything problematic in Abbate’s statements (here according to the student—this refusal is not discussed in the letter linked above). The student then went to John McAdams, a faculty member in a different department, and told him about these experiences. John McAdams, with the student’s permission, blogged about the incident, criticizing Cheryl Abbate thus:
Abbate, of course, was just using a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed “offensive” and need to be shut up.
Abbate subsequently received some colorful critical emails whose provenance appears not to have been investigated. For this, McAdams has been informed that he is going to be stripped of tenure and fired. The letter I link above in which the university states its case is jaw-dropping in its total failure convincingly to articulate any significant wrongdoing by McAdams. It really has to be read to be believed. The wrongdoing by Abbate is, of course, manifest in the quotes above. When it finally gets around to trying to explain the grave academic misconduct for which McAdams is to be stripped of his tenure, we get:
Instead of being a mentor to a graduate student instructor learning her craft- including how to deal with challenging students -you took the opportunity publicly to disparage her, in a manner that resulted in her personal safety being put at risk, and you did so without knowing key facts surrounding the events about which you wrote . . . your conduct creates fear in your colleagues and students that their actions and words will, at your unilateral “discretion,” be put on the Internet in a distorted fashion. Consequently, faculty members have voiced concerns about how they could become targets in your blog based upon items they might choose to include in a class syllabus. Your conduct thus impairs the very freedoms of teaching and expression that you vehemently purport to promote.
Yeah, McAdams, when you criticize me it violates my academic freedom! So, we have to fire you, ’cause you might . . . criticize me!
To be sure, there are claims in the letter that McAdams made material errors of fact in his public criticism of the conduct of Abbate and Marquette’s administration, and there are claims that McAdams had some kind of obligation not to publish Abbate’s name because she was a graduate student. These claims are silly. Even if they were not, the things McAdams is accused of are trivialities.
Did I mention that Marquette is a “Catholic” university?
Now, obviously, Marquette University should not have academic freedom in the sense liberals mean it, and I’m not claiming it should. Pertinaciously endorsing heresy or immorality should be firing offenses, as should displaying such pertinacious endorsement by your actions. But nothing like that happened here.