MADISON, Wis. – In oral arguments before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday, Marquette University emphasized private employers’ rights to maintain behavioral standards for employees. Marquette, a Catholic, Jesuit university, seeks to defend its right as a private employer to enforce an employment contract. Associate Professor John McAdams is suspended for his mistreatment of a former graduate student teacher. His claim previously was dismissed at the trial court level.
Marquette’s legal counsel, Ralph Weber of Gass Weber Mullins LLC, emphasized the university’s position: The professor violated his employment contract when he used his personal blog to mock a student teacher, intentionally exposing her name and contact information to a hostile audience that sent her vile and threatening messages. Fearing for her safety, the former student teacher left the university.
“John McAdams crossed the line when he painted a target on the back of a Marquette student teacher,” Weber said. “This was always about his conduct, not his political views. Had he written the exact same post without naming the student teacher and linking to her contact information, he would not have been disciplined. Instead, he used his personal blog to whip up outrage against her, exposing her name and contact information to unstable members of our society. Then he promoted the story to virtually anyone who would listen. Unfortunately, it worked. Marquette can’t undo anything that happened to our former student teacher. But as a private employer, Marquette must have the right to set high standards for conduct and ensure that this never happens again.”
The incident occurred in 2014. After investigating what had happened, the university initiated its faculty disciplinary process. This is a longstanding, contractually established process that is created jointly by the administration and the faculty to ensure diligence and fairness. Seven tenured faculty members, chosen independently by the University Academic Senate from across the university, ruled unanimously that the associate professor’s “seriously irresponsible conduct clearly and substantially fails to meet the standard of professional excellence” and is in violation of his contract. He refused to acknowledge and commit to following the unanimous findings from the in-depth report written by his peers, stating that he would only do so “when hell freezes over.”
Subsequently, after a year-long review, a Wisconsin Circuit Court judge dismissed the professor’s case, ruling that academic freedom does not mean that a professor can harass, threaten or intimidate a student.
McAdams has published more than 3,000 blog posts on a variety of topics, enjoying academic freedom and freedom of speech for 40 years. Weber emphasized that he has not been, nor would he ever be, disciplined for his political views.
For Marquette, this case is a reminder of the importance of our commitment to students, and the principle of cura personalis — care for the whole person. The university will continue to uphold its Guiding Values and Catholic, Jesuit mission.