Marquette Law School Professor Paul Secunda Suspended Over “Inappropriate Relationship”
A Marquette University Law School professor who might otherwise weigh in as an expert on such issues has been suspended over allegations he had an inappropriate relationship with a student.This is rather remarkable, since this completely messes up the final exam and the assignment of grades. When Marquette suspended us in December 2014, they waited until the afternoon after we had posted all the final grades before noon that day.
Paul Secunda, a well-known blogger and authority on labor and employment law, was dismissed from his teaching duties two weeks from the end of this past semester.
According to the article, “Marquette Provost Dan Myers reportedly was negotiating a resolution with Secunda and then resigned suddenly in October. . . .” So why this timing?
Marquette officials declined to discuss specifics of the law school’s concerns. The university only issued this statement:Why the phrase “protect the university?” Is the implication here that some woman has threatened a lawsuit, and Marquette is firing Secunda in order to fend it off?
“Paul Secunda has been removed from his duties, including teaching, at Marquette University as the result of information developed from an investigation that began last May. Marquette will not comment further on the issue at this time.”
Secunda did not reply to requests for an interview, but did release a statement through his attorney, Jennifer Walther:
“I assume Marquette University has chosen to act as it has toward me to protect the University. This does not diminish the great respect I have for this institution and my fellow professors.
“Nonetheless, I cannot stand by idly in the face of what I believe to be an injustice. I have confidence in the process Marquette and the faculty have established to protect tenured professors in these circumstances, and believe I will clear my name at the end.”
We are, at the moment, bereft of facts on the case, and can simply quote from the Journal-Sentinel article “Secunda’s [case] remains mostly the subject of rumors. It has not been disclosed if the student was in his class or whether she filed the original complaint.”
What Would Be the Basis For Firing?We know of no Marquette rule or statute that deals with sexual relationships between faculty and students. There are extensive Marquette statements on sexual harassment, but if the charge against Secunda was harassment, the statement would say “harassment” and not “inappropriate relationship.”
One possibility is that Marquette wants to use the following language from the Faculty Statutes:
Discretionary cause shall include those circumstances, exclusive of absolute cause, which arise from a faculty member’s conduct and which clearly and substantially fail to meet the standard of personal and professional excellence which generally characterizes University faculties, but only if through this conduct a faculty member’s value will probably be substantially impaired. Examples of conduct that substantially impair the value or utility of a faculty member are: serious instances of illegal, immoral, dishonorable, irresponsible, or incompetent conduct.Marquette tried to use this language to fire us, and was soundly slapped down by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The court noted this section of the Statutes:
In no case, however, shall discretionary cause be interpreted so as to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms of thought, doctrine, discourse, association, advocacy, or action.Secunda’s case is different, in that it doesn’t involve free speech as ours did. It might involve some abuse of his position.
But . . .
Marquette has here adopted language from the American Association of University Professors, and a long trail of precedents and statements says it must be interpreted narrowly.
We think Marquette, as a (supposedly) Catholic university has a right to say that all sex outside of marriage is immoral and dishonorable.
But Marquette can’t, all of a sudden, decide it is going to take this position, when it has never said so explicitly. In fact, Marquette has acted very differently. It has explicitly condoned homosexual sex, and provided benefits for gay “domestic partners.”
We know of at least one case in Political Science of a professor (now long gone from Marquette) cohabiting with a graduate student. Nobody made an issue of it. There have to be many similar cases in other departments.
Given that the language of the Faculty Statutes must be interpreted narrowly, Secunda can only be fired if his value has been “substantially impaired.” In today’s lax moral climate, we doubt that any mere consensual sexual relationship meets that standard.
But maybe there was more to it than that.
ConclusionWe are glad Secunda is going to contest this (presumably with the Faculty Hearing Committee), if for no other reason than that the facts will come out, and all can judge whether Marquette has acted properly.
We simply do not trust Marquette to act honestly and forthrightly, and only some sunshine falling on the specifics of the case will allow us to judge.