What Marquette Could Have Done, But Didn’t
From Margot Cleveland, writing in The Federalist: an analysis of our recent Wisconsin Supreme Court victory. Cleveland sides with us and the court, and explains:
Next, the court considered whether Marquette had “discretionary cause” to suspend McAdams. The court began by citing the relevant contractual provisions, which defined “discretionary cause” as conduct that “clearly and substantially fail to meet the standard of personal and professional excellence which generally characterizes University faculties.”But Cleveland goes on to highlight the fundamental social problems behind this whole incident:
However, as the court highlighted, the faculty contract expressly stated that discretionary cause will not “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.” The court then methodically considered Marquette’s rationale for suspending McAdams, stressing that it was McAdams’ conduct—and not the response of third parties—that mattered, explaining:
Just because vile commentary followed the blog post does not mean the blog post instigated or invited the vileness. The University must identify which part of the blog post is supposed to have been responsible for eliciting the offensive remarks. It did not even attempt to do so. Our review of the blog post reveals that it makes no ad hominem attack on Instructor Abbate, nor does it invite readers to be uncivil to her, either explicitly or implicitly. Because the University’s logical fallacy represents the entirety of its assertion that Dr. McAdams wrote the blog post to subject Instructor Abbate to contempt, we must reject it.
Further, Marquette’s attempt to hold McAdams responsible for threats meted out by third parties upends academic freedom. It implies a faculty member must self-censor and limit criticism out of a fear that others will respond with threats or even violence. Yet nothing McAdams wrote reeked of an incitement to harassment or violence. The Wisconsin Supreme Court published the entire blog post and a quick read confirms the court’s view that McAdams had not invited the vile emails Abbate received.
Yet Abbate did receive emails that made her fear for her safety. I am not unsympathic to Abbate’s concerns, and few conservative journalists or politicians would be. But McAdams isn’t the problem. The problem is a society that teaches that words spoken in a classroom debate are so offensive that they must be silenced; a society that resorts to doxxing to silence speech instead of countering speech; and a society that views harassment and violence as appropriate responses to “offensive” speech.
This says nothing about McAdams, who criticized Abbate on the merits of her conduct, and everything about the decline of civility facing our country.
What Marquette Could Have DoneCleveland goes on to highlight a grain of truth in the two leftist justices’ dissent.
Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices dissented from the majority’s decision in favor of McAdams. The dissent merits consideration, not because of the faulty analysis of McAdams’ case, but because of the helpful discussion of academic freedom.Marquette claims the right to hire “for mission.” This means Marquette has the right to hire people loyal to Catholic teaching, and even to prefer practicing Catholics.
Many wrongly believe academic freedom rests solely with faculty members, but the dissent, authored by Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, highlights that academic freedom includes two components: academic freedom of the faculty and academic freedom of the institution. Marquette’s “institutional academic freedom is inclusive of four ‘essential freedoms’: ‘to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.’“
As a Catholic, Jesuit institution, Marquette possesses the right to exercise these four “essential freedoms” consistent with its guiding values, described by the dissent as the “holistic development of students” and a “commitment to the Jesuit tradition and Catholic social teaching.” Marquette could, then, have hired only faculty members willing to instruct students consistent with the university’s professed Catholic mission, in which case it could fire faculty members who do not live up to that commitment.
But it didn’t, as is obvious from the university’s decision to employ an instructor who, in contradiction of clear church teaching, taught students that “everybody agrees” on “gay rights.” Marquette instead promised faculty members the right to individual academic freedom, without regard to the university’s Catholic character. By committing itself “not to impair the full and free enjoyment of legitimate personal or academic freedoms,” Marquette forfeited its right to rein in McAdams’ speech as purportedly contrary to the university’s mission.
In its news release, Marquette hinted that it intends to reassert its institutional right to academic freedom, explaining that “in light of today’s decision, Marquette will work with its faculty to re-examine its policies, with the goal of providing every assurance possible that this never happens again” (emphasis added). Of course, by “this,” Marquette means public criticism of an instructor. If only the Jesuit university meant assuring faculty members do not silence student speech, especially speech defending Catholic teaching against a professor’s heresy. That is something I could get behind.
This is perfectly consistent with academic freedom if, once hired, faculty are free to write and speak as they please. In some departments, this has largely been ignored. In Political Science we have always hired on the basis of pure scholarly credentials. This blogger has been as guilty of that as anybody else in the department.
In many departments, hiring is anti-mission. Somebody who opposes abortion, or gay marriage, or who believes homosexual acts are illicit would be quickly vetoed in the job search.
If Marquette is unwilling to hire for mission (which it certainly is), it could at least demand that faculty be tolerant of arguments on different sides of an issue. But in fact, Marquette doesn’t mind politically incorrect arguments being shut up — even when those arguments support Catholic teaching.