Wisconsin Supreme Court sides with professor in academic freedom dispute

On Behalf of | Jul 17, 2018 | Employment Law

Political science professor John McAdams was improperly suspended by Marquette University after he published a blog post that criticized a student by name, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided recently.

By a vote of 4-2, the state’s high court ruled that the Jesuit university had to immediately reinstate the 72-year-old professor. The court also returned the case to a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge to determine damages, including “unimpaired rank, tenure, compensation and benefits.”

Justice Daniel Kelly wrote that “the undisputed facts show that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom.” McAdams had been suspended without pay for seven consecutive semesters.

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley wrote in her dissent that the court “(conducted) only half of the academic freedom analysis,” failing to recognize the school’s academic freedom and eroding its ability as “a private educational institution’s autonomy to make its own academic decisions in fulfillment of its unique mission.”

Some observers believe the case pitting the politically conservative professor against the school could enhance academic freedom and free speech protections.

McAdams wrote in a November 2014 blog post that a graduate student instructor had limited a student’s ability to speak against same-sex marriage in class. He wrote that it was important to point out what he believed was “misconduct” by the instructor.

In a statement, the school defended its actions, saying “we are proud that we have taken a stand for our students, our values and our Catholic, Jesuit mission.”

The university said it will comply with all aspects of the court’s ruling.


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