Monday, January 29, 2018

Again: Wall Street Journal on Marquette v. Warrior Blogger

The paper chimes in again:
Marquette and the First Amendment
Wisconsin’s Supreme Court will judge a promise of academic freedom.

A political-science professor who says Marquette University violated his employment contract’s guarantee of academic freedom will get his day in court. Though a judge for a lower state court earlier ruled for the university, last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to John McAdams’s request that it bypass the appeals courts and take up his suit directly.

Professor McAdams is now in his seventh semester outside the classroom because of a November 2014 post on his Marquette Warrior blog. The post criticized a graduate instructor, Cheryl Abbate, for telling a student with more traditional views that she would tolerate no dissent on same-sex marriage in her class on ethics.

After the post Ms. Abbate received several ugly emails. Mr. McAdams was blamed and punished, though he had nothing to do with those messages. The university contends that Mr. McAdams’s offense is having identified a student by name—Ms. Abbate. The characterization is telling, because though Ms. Abbate was indeed a grad student she was also a paid employee of the university teaching a course. If any student was harmed here, it was the Marquette undergraduate who was told there was no room for his views in Ms. Abbate’s classroom.

No one forced Marquette to enter into an employment contract with Mr. McAdams. But it did. And that contract says he cannot be fired for exercising a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. By any reasonable standard that would include the First Amendment—even at a Jesuit university.
The First Amendment is relevant here since, although Marquette is a private university, faculty have a contractual guarantee of the free speech rights embodied in the U.S. Constitution. This most certainly includes the First Amendment.

Since we did absolutely nothing that would not be protected speech under the First Amendment, Marquette is trying to weasel out of this promise by claiming that we violated some “expectations” that bind faculty. But those “expectations” are not written down anywhere, not supported by any precedent, and were in fact merely concocted because Marquette (under pressure from leftist faculty) wanted to get rid of us.

If Marquette can get away with that, faculty at public universities (who are protected under the First Amendment even without any explicit contractual language) are vulnerable to the same tactic.

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