How John McAdams Burned His Bridges

Marquette professor’s suspension comes after decades of his attacks on MU. Part 2 of a series.

By - Apr 4th, 2018 01:36 pm
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John McAdams

John McAdams

On April 19th, the Wisconsin Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of McAdams vs. Marquette University. Rick Esenberg, director of the conservative legal organization WILL, who represents McAdams, will claim that Marquette suspended McAdams (a suspension that has since become a permanent condition) because of his posts critical of the university on the former professor’s Marquette Warrior blog. The suspension, he will argue, violates McAdams’ first amendment rights under MU’s Faculty Handbook.

Marquette’s counter claim will be that McAdams violated university policies governing the faculty by calling out a graduate student by name on his blog. One of McAdams’ favorite targets is the purported liberal totalitarianism rampant at MU, and the instructor was said to have oppressed a conservative student by not giving him class time to air his opposition to gay marriage.

One factor that should work in the university’s favor is that McAdams has been blogging since the mid-1990s with Marquette as his most frequent target. And Marquette’s administration – though not necessarily its faculty – had been silent in response. Even the name of McAdams’ blog is a jab at MU, which changed its mascot from the Warrior to the Golden Eagle out of respect for Native American heritage, which McAdams views as political correctness run amok.

As Marquette’s attorney Ralph Weber points out, “John McAdams has done over 3,000 blog posts” since starting the Marquette Warrior.  “It’s only the ones that Cheryl Abbate is named in that Marquette has a problem with.”

A random sampling of campus activities that have drawn McAdams’ curmudgeonly attentions:

In 2007, when Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was produced at MU, McAdams called it “Lesbian Pedophile Seduction.”

In 2010, Marquette was all set to hire openly gay Jodi O’Brien, a Seattle University sociologist, as dean of Arts and Sciences. In fact, the university had already made an offer to O’Brien. But McAdams’ blogs stirred up MU’s conservative donors and alumni, and then-president Fr. Robert Wild rescinded the offer, saying O’Brien’s published writings did not coincide with the university’s views on marriage and the family. That decision made national headlines and roiled the humanities faculty.

In 2013, FemSex, the Female Sexuality Workshop, was held on MU’s campus. The workshop originated at UC-Berkeley and drew McAdams’ scorn because, in his words, the goal was to “help women have better sex by telling them that men are evil exploiters.” The workshop was run by what was then the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, another McAdams’ target, and, because of his blog posts, the workshop drew the ire of conservative MU graduates like Ethan Hollenberger, a legislative aide for Wisconsin State Senator Duey Stroebel, who wrote a letter to Marquette’s provost complaining that the group’s activities were contrary to Catholic teachings. FemSex was subsequently moved off campus.

The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center lost its director because of McAdams’ blogging and was split into two separate campus organizations with considerably lower profiles. And that was after his suspension.

McAdams was initially suspended, pending investigation, early in 2015 because of a post about Abbate written in late-October 2014. His initial suspension included full pay and benefits. As a result of recommendations by the Faculty Hearing Committee, which was convened to investigate the matter, McAdams is currently suspended without pay. The former professor, who is in his early seventies, is suing Marquette to have his tenure re-instated.

The Faculty Hearing Committee issued its 161-page (including bibliography) report in January 2016. The seven-member committee was comprised of faculty members from across Marquette’s campus, including humanities faculty as well as faculty from engineering, communications, law, and dentistry. A confidential letter from Marquette University President Mike Lovell to McAdams (emailed to me by Weber), summarizes the faculty’s position.

Lovell’s letter praises the faculty committee for recognizing the complexity of the issue, in which their goal was to examine the “delicate balance” between “academic freedom and a faculty member’s responsibilities to others.” As a result of McAdam’s posts, Abbate had received death threats. Campus police patrolled outside her classroom door in her last days at MU.

As the report states, McAdams aimed “to strike a blow at the… claimed phenomenon of liberal political correctness” and “Ms. Abbate was essentially a casualty in that wider battle, one that Dr. McAdams does not appear to feel much regret over.”

The committee’s sometimes scathing criticism of a fellow professor is unsurprising. McAdams was not especially popular with his fellow faculty members. In November 2014, a group of Klingler College department chairs – including the chair of McAdams’ own political science department – signed an open letter posted on the Marquette Wire (the Marquette Tribune’s online version) stating that they supported Ms. Abbate and that McAdams’ blogging had “led members of the Marquette community to alter their behavior out of fear of becoming the subject of one of his attacks.”

More than a year later, the Faculty Hearing Committee found McAdams’ actions in the Abbate matter to be “imprudent, unprofessional, and unwise.”  The committee’s report asserted that “without corrective action, such conduct is likely to continue in the future.”

The decision by the committee was unanimous. They opted to suspend McAdams for two semesters and advised that McAdams should be terminated if the reckless behavior they detailed – which included misrepresentations of Abbate’s remarks and intentions – were to continue. But MU president Lovell upped the ante. In his confidential letter of March 24, 2016, Lovell required that in order to return to teaching in Spring 2017, McAdams would need to acknowledge in writing that his behavior had been “reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University” and to commit that his future behavior would be compatible with the university’s standards as defined by the Faculty Handbook, the guiding document for the faculty hearing committee’s judgment.

Naturally, McAdams refused. Legal action followed.

Born and raised in Alabama, McAdams is a southern Protestant who declines to name his denomination but has had no qualms about pointing out areas where he thinks MU fails to live up to its Catholic and Jesuit mission. However, he has shown little interest in the social justice aspect of that mission.

McAdams’ syllabus for a Spring 2013 course called American Politics is one example. The theme of the class was to show how “public opinion translates into policy.”  The readings include a 1989 article from WSJ calledThe Media’s Typical Homeless are Anything But,which criticizes “the media” for failing to point out that most homeless people, far from being innocent and deserving, are actually drug addicts and alcoholics.

And, while avowed campus conservatives were pleased with McAdams, other students posted on Facebook that most of his handouts “were published in the 70s and 80s. It was definitely propaganda for his personal agenda.”

Rick Esenberg has made a calculated move by bypassing the appeals process and taking McAdams’ case straight to the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Given the high court’s distinct rightward tilt, the decision is likely to go in McAdams’ favor.

Esenberg appears to be confident. On April 17th, two days before the Supreme Court hearing, WILL is scheduled to hold a fundraiser billed as a “Preview of the Landmark McAdams vs. Marquette Lawsuit in front of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” Photos of both McAdams and Esenberg are prominently featured in the digital brochure. And it must be said, they look happy.

Part II of a three-part series. R.T. Both is a free lance writer and Marquette University instructor who writes the Wiscoland blog.

Read part one here.

Categories: Education, Politics

6 thoughts on “How John McAdams Burned His Bridges”

  1. mkwagner says:

    As an alumni of Marquette University, I distinctly remember being taught that no rights come without corresponding responsibilities. McAdams, in his fight for his right to propagate his political philosophy, failed utterly in his responsibility to Marquette students.
    I grew up in the Marquette family, quite literally. My father and grandmother were full-time faculty members. They were both dedicated to upholding their responsibilities to their students, as were their colleagues. McAdams’ behavior demonstrated that he is not worthy to be a member of this estimed group of academicians.

  2. PMD says:

    If a liberal professor treated a conservative TA this way, talk radio and the folks at groups like WILL would lose their damn minds and demand the professor be fired.

  3. RT Barnum says:

    “most of his handouts “were published in the 70s and 80s.”

    This is like complaining about a Greek philosophy class not using any texts from this millennium. News flash: a lot of foundational work in American politics was published decades ago.

  4. Robert Mallinger says:

    I have taught English language and literature for both public and private colleges and universities, and that would include two Catholic institutions. Frankly, I am alarmed that McAdams would have confronted Ms. Abbate regarding (1) her instructional approach; (2) the content of her course; (3) limiting classroom discussion to the broader issues [ethics class so the aspect that is receiving focus]; (4) the simple fact that McAdams is not her Dean, Chair, or faculty advisor, not his content area that is, McAdams had no business confronting Abbate over her teaching. He stepped outside of his authority and violated Abbate’s academic freedom. McAdams claims of the abuse of his rights and privileges is hypocritical. So his course material is “dated”. Political Science has made big strides since the 1960 ‘s in the US and if McAdams is not using material from the the 1990’s and 2000’s, there is no attempt at objectivity. For me, McAdams wrought his own problem and deserves the penalty.

  5. Darlene Winfield says:

    You might want to read the other side of the case, since “Urban Milwaukee” only presents one side. That is, if you want to hear both sides. https://www.wsj.com/articles/marquette-and-the-first-amendment-1517181797

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/academic-freedom-goes-on-trial/2017/12/29/81cb9268-ebf6-11e7-9f92-10a2203f6c8d_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.dd53b8030be0

    http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2018/01/mcadams-milwaukee-journal-sentinel-takes-media-bias-to-a-new-level/ R.T. Both, the author of this article, also gives a different slant on this article in her 2015 Milwaukee Magazine article “The Banishment of John McAdams”. She plays to her audience.

  6. Robert Mallinger says:

    Too bad McAdams violated Abbate’s rights and privileges. His behavior was intrusive of another faculty member’s content and instructional methods. Marquette acted against McAdams appropriately.

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