MILWAUKEE, Wisc. — A Wisconsin political science professor has filed a legal challenge after he was suspended last year for criticizing a teaching assistant who forbade a student in her ethics class from speaking against same-sex “marriage” in the classroom.
According to reports, the matter began in 2014 at Marquette University as students in an ethics class were to discuss John Rawl’s ideas on equal liberty and come prepared with possible topics that would correlate. One student, who is only being identified as Matt, privately approached the teaching assistant to express his disappointment when she wiped same-sex nuptials off the list of topics, being taboo to discuss.
“Regardless of why I’m against gay marriage, it’s still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions,” he said, secretly recording the encounter.
“Okay, there are some opinions that are not appropriate—that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions. And quite honestly, do you know if anyone in the class is homosexual?” the teaching assistant replied. “And do you not think that that would be offensive to them if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?”
“So, because they’re homosexual, I can’t have my opinions,” Matt stated. “And it’s not being offensive towards them, because, I am just having my opinions on a very broad subject.”
“You can have whatever opinions you want, but I will tell you right now in this class, homophobic comments, racists comments, sexist comments, will not be tolerated,” the teaching assistant replied. “If you don’t like it, you’re more than free to drop this class.”
When she realized that Matt had been recording, she ended the conversation. The student advised that he would play the discussion for her superiors, and consequently went to the administrator of Arts and Sciences, who directed him to speak with Dr. Nancy Snow about his concerns.
However, Matt was unaware that Snow was a lesbian. In a voicemail left to another colleague, Snow called Matt an “insolent little twerp.”
Eventually, Matt approached professor John McAdams to express his concern, and McAdams took to his blog over the matter, stating that the teaching assistant was “using a tactic typical among liberals” to silence opposing views.
“Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up,” he lamented in his blog post.
The matter drew national attention and much controversy from both sides of the issue. The teaching assistant soon transferred to another school over the uproar, and McAdams condemned those who were treating the teacher too harshly, stating that their actions were “deplorable.”
Officials at Marquette University soon suspended McAdams because he included the name of the assistant teacher in his writings and other identifiers. Last month, the university announced that the professor would remain suspended and requested an apology.
Now, McAdams has filed a legal challenge over the matter, calling his suspension illegal.
“In February, Marquette University President Michael Lovell announced that he would follow the recommendation of Marquette’s Faculty Hearing Committee and suspend McAdams without pay through January 2017, yet adding the requirement that McAdams apologize in order to be reinstated,” a press release from the Wisconsin Institute for Liberty and Law reads. “Professor McAdams will not apologize because he has done nothing wrong.”
“This case is not about same-sex marriage. It is about freedom of speech. It is about open discussion of issues at American universities,” the organization states. “The university president has said that he is ‘not asking for Professor McAdams to be responsible for all the vitriol from the lowest of the Internet,’ but that is precisely what he and Marquette are doing.”
Marquette has called the matter an instance of intolerable public shaming.
“Our main goal throughout this process has been to ensure that no other Marquette student is ever subjected to an extensive public shaming campaign by a member of our faculty,” it said in a statement this week, welcoming the lawsuit and accusing McAdams of “mistreatment” of the teaching assistant and presenting a “false narrative” of the situation.
“[W]e are deeply concerned about the attention that Dr. McAdams and his legal team continue to focus on our former graduate student. He continues to call her out by name in his blog, and even recently went out of his way to name the university where she is continuing her studies today,” officials stated. “These actions have exposed her to additional harassment, more than a year after she left Marquette.”
But McAdams says that the main thrust of his blog post still remains unaddressed: the right of an ethics student to express his disagreement about same-sex relationships in class.
“I think the most overlooked aspect of this matter is that no one in the Marquette administration has taken seriously the complaint of the undergraduate student who was silenced by the instructor,” he said in a statement. “I’m saddened that Marquette’s treatment of the undergraduate student at the center of this controversy failed to adhere to its guiding principle of Cura Personalis.”