The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on Friday that Marquette University had wrongly fired a conservative professor after he criticized a colleague who he believed to be curtailing student discussion of gay marriage.
The court found that Marquette violated the academic-freedom clause in professor John McAdams’ contract when it fired him over a 2014 blog post accusing a graduate student of refusing to allow undergraduates to express opposition to gay marriage during her class. As part of the ruling the university has been ordered to reinstate McAdams and provide him damages, including back pay.
“The Wisconsin Supreme Court has struck a major blow in favor of free speech,” McAdams’ attorney, Rick Esenberg, of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a major day for freedom,” Esenberg said. “It is our sincere hope that Marquette University appreciates and learns from this episode and takes care to guard free speech on campus.”
McAdams wrote the relevant blog post after a conservative undergraduate provided him with a recording of a conversation he had with the graduate student instructor after the instructor refused to allow students to critically discuss gay marriage.
The conservative professor sued over his dismissal in 2016, alleging he was fired over the content of the blog post. The school, however, claimed McAdams was fired because he named the student-teacher and linked to her personal website and email address, reportedly prompting a flood of hateful messages.
“Had he written the exact same blog post and not included the student-teacher’s name and contact information he would not have been disciplined,” Ralph Weber, Marquette’s attorney, had argued. “He’s being disciplined for his conduct, not any viewpoint.”
McAdams’ attorney called Marquette’s defense “fundamentally dishonest,” pointing out that all of the information his client provided in the blog post was publicly available.
The court’s conservative majority sided firmly with McAdams, finding that the faculty panel displayed “unacceptable bias” in firing him. Its liberal minority called the decision “far reaching” in a dissent, and said academic freedom “does not protect McAdams from discipline.”
McAdams was given the opportunity to return to work after a brief suspension, provided that he write a letter of apology to the student-teacher, but he refused.