Court takes aim at po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness in ‘McA­dams’ rul­ing

Wisconsin Gazette - - Editorial -

It some­times seems judges spend more time cre­at­ing con­vo­luted le­gal ar­gu­ments to jus­tify pre­con­ceived opin­ions than they do con­sid­er­ing the facts of a case and the ap­pli­ca­ble law. We be­lieve that’s how the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court reached its de­ci­sion or­der­ing Mar­quette Univer­sity to re­in­state po­lit­i­cal sci­ence as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor John McA­dams, whose con­tract was ter­mi­nated sev­eral years ago.

The rul­ing was couched as a breach-of-con­tract is­sue ex­ac­er­bated by the univer­sity’s dis­ci­plinary process. But it was mo­ti­vated by an­tag­o­nism to­ward lib­er­als’ cam­pus dom­i­nance.

McA­dams is na­tion­ally known for lob­bing fire­bombs at “lib­eral academia” on his blog “Mar­quette War­rior,” as well as in right-wing me­dia ap­pear­ances. The case McA­dams v. Mar­quette, how­ever, took him into the strato­sphere as a con­ser­va­tive cause cele­bre, be­cause it painted him as a vic­tim of lib­eral, po­lit­i­cally cor­rect bul­lies.

Even be­fore this case, McA­dams was a con­ser­va­tive me­dia dar­ling — a reg­u­lar on talk ra­dio and Fox News. That’s thanks in part to Mar­quette’s 2010 hir­ing and abrupt fir­ing of les­bian scholar Jodi O’Brien as dean of the Col­lege of Arts and Sci­ences. She was let go be­fore she even started the job, and she won a sub­stan­tial award for breach of con­tract.

The Mar­quette com­mu­nity widely at­trib­uted her ter­mi­na­tion to the ruckus McA­dams raised about her un­suit­abil­ity for a Catholic in­sti­tu­tion. He par­tic­u­larly ob­jected to her les­bian writ­ings. In other words, McA­dams tram­pled on some­one else’s aca­demic free­dom — at a great cost to the univer­sity’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Ap­par­ently McA­dams be­lieves that his aca­demic free­dom be­gins where other peo­ple’s ends, and other peo­ple’s con­tracts, un­like his own, are dis­pos­able.

Univer­sity of­fi­cials in­dulged McA­dams’ free­dom for 40 years, look­ing the other way as he churned out some 3,000 vit­ri­olic blog posts at­tack­ing pro­gres­sives, LGBTQ rights, women and other cul­ture-war tar­gets.

But in 2014, Mar­quette of­fi­cials said McA­dams went too far. He was sus­pended with­out pay for “dox­ing” a stu­dent teacher — i.e., ter­ror­iz­ing her on­line. The episode be­gan when a stu­dent com­plained to McA­dams that a stu­dent teacher shut down his at­tempt to in­ject reli­gious ob­jec­tions to same-sex mar­riage in an un­re­lated class­room dis­cus­sion. The teacher scolded him for bring­ing up a point of view hurt­ful to oth­ers and sug­gested he drop the class.

We agree that the teacher was wrong. The free­dom to ex­plore and dis­cuss di­ver­gent and un­pop­u­lar ideas is at the very heart of higher ed­u­ca­tion. But McA­dams’ re­ac­tion en­dan­gered a stu­dent col­league, and that’s what led to his dis­missal.

Fu­ri­ous over the in­ci­dent, McA­dams em­barked on one of his most vig­or­ous cam­paigns against the tyranny of pro­gres­sive sec­u­lar think­ing. In his ef­forts to rile up con­ser­va­tives against the stu­dent teacher, he shared her name and con­tact in­for­ma­tion. She was over­whelmed with hate mail and ma­li­cious phone calls, some of them laced with vi­o­lent threats.

Ul­ti­mately, she quit the univer­sity, fear­ing for her safety. A seven-mem­ber panel of McA­dams’ fac­ulty peers and a cir­cuit judge agreed with the univer­sity’s de­ci­sion. So McA­dams ap­pealed to the state Supreme Court, which is dom­i­nated by jus­tices who share his views.

The court’s con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity dis­missed McA­dams’ be­hav­ior and fo­cused on em­ploy­ment is­sues. But con­ser­va­tives know that was a smoke­screen, and they’re hail­ing the rul­ing as a mile­stone for them in the cul­ture wars.

Jus­tice Re­becca Bradley is­sued a sep­a­rate rul­ing that re­flected the con­ser­va­tive jus­tices’ real con­sid­er­a­tions. A look at her per­sonal his­tory sug­gests she should have re­cused her­self.

Dur­ing Bradley’s ju­di­cial cam­paign, she was dogged by ex­trem­ist right-wing opin­ions that she’d writ­ten as a stu­dent at Mar­quette. Her vit­riol in­cluded at­tacks on gays and peo­ple with AIDS. She likened abor­tion to the Holo­caust.

As a can­di­date some 20 years later, Bradley was con­trite about those writ­ings. But did she for­get that Mar­quette didn’t stop her from pub­lish­ing her in­vec­tive in the stu­dent news­pa­per, just as no one had stopped McA­dams? The univer­sity de­ferred to aca­demic free­dom in both cases.

With the Wis­con­sin Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion in mind, it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see how the U.S. Supreme Court, with an­other Trump ap­pointee, jus­ti­fies its in­evitable de­ci­sion over­turn­ing Roe v. Wade. Per­haps the re­li­giously driven jus­tices on the right will fol­low their col­leagues in Wis­con­sin and choose to is­sue an opin­ion that is just that — their opin­ion — rather than a le­gal de­ci­sion.

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