John McAdams strikes a pose during his glory days at Marquette University
Readers of this web site will recall that the last time we addressed the case of John McAdams vs. Cheryl Abbate and Marquette, it was early last year. At that time, CTKA attached a link to the decision letter that the dean had made in that case. That 17-page letter was written by Richard Holz, dean of the college of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University, McAdams’ former employer. Dean Holz indicated two violations of the Faculty Statutes that the professor had violated as part of the explanation as to why he had made this decision. (Click here for the letter http://d28htnjz2elwuj.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/2015-01-30-Holz-to-McAdams.pdf)
That letter began with the statement that the university was commencing the process of revoking Professor McAdams’ tenure in order to dismiss him from the faculty. At the end of the letter, Holz added that if the professor filed a timely objection, he would be provided with more due process, which included a faculty hearing of his peers. McAdams filed the timely objection, and he was given a faculty hearing.
Cheryl Abbate at her Marquette University desk
One year later, in January of 2016, that committee filed a long, over 100-page report to Michael Lovell, the president of the college. They decided to revise Dean Holz’s decision. They felt that McAdams should not be terminated but rather suspended without pay for a period of nine months, from April to December of this year. He would then be allowed to file for reinstatement. Lovell called the report one of the most thorough and well written faculty committee reports he had ever read. The main reason they gave for not moving for dismissal was that McAdams had not been formally reprimanded for his perceived offenses prior to this one.
In a letter to McAdams dated March 24, 2016, Lovell alerted the former instructor that he was going to abide by the report’s recommendations. Which included the judgment that McAdams be allowed to return after his suspension was served in January of 2017. This was contingent upon three conditions. First, that he accept the unanimous decision of the faulty committee. That he pledges his future behavior will abide by the faculty handbook and mission statement. And third, his expression of regret for the harm suffered by the former graduate instructor Cheryl Abbate. Upon those conditions, and after serving out the suspension, McAdams would be allowed to resume his position. Lovell ended his letter with the clear warning that if anything like this happened again, he would move to dismiss the instructor. Because this was also the recommendation of the faculty report.
Before getting to the reaction of McAdams and his legal representative, let us remind our readership of what happened that caused this, and who Cheryl Abbate was. On November 9, 2014 McAdams posted on his blog Marquette Warrior information about a conversation that Abbate had with a student in her philosophy class. According to McAdams, Abbate had limited the right to open debate in her class over the issue of homosexual marriage. The student then left the class and said he was going to file a complaint. Which he did.
There were three important issues that were distorted, ignored, or discounted by McAdams: 1.) the student lied to Abbate about taping their conversation 2.) McAdams himself was the student’s faculty advisor, and perhaps most importantly, 3.) the student was failing the class.
I must add one more key point that the faculty committee discovered, and to my knowledge has not been written about previously. In their report, at the bottom of page 43, they reveal that the student “had a leadership role in the student chapter of a national organization that encourages…confronting professors in the classroom to expose liberal bias.” The report states they did not discover this fact until after their four day hearing was concluded, and they decided not to reopen the proceedings, because there was no indication McAdams was aware of this. The report gives no evidence as to how they made that conclusion. But I should add, the report does state that the student switched to McAdams as his advisor prior to the semester in question. Which, to me, suggests the issue merited further inquiry. Because, in conjunction with this, McAdams told the committee that he was not aware that the student was failing the class. Yet, he was the young man’s faculty advisor! And further, the student told the committee that he never told McAdams that he was dropping the class for any other reason than his failing grade. (See report p. 84)
Marquette University dean Richard Holz
There are two other points in this voluminous report which are made much more clear than they had been. First, the record of McAdams’ prior attacks on students and teachers from his blog is detailed at length. The report lists at least 12 prior incidents McAdams was involved in where he attempted to intimidate both students and teachers. And he did so by naming names and reporting e-mail addresses. He even went after administrators, like deans and provosts. He actually told them that if he was reprimanded, he would do the same to them in his blog—that is name them and expose a contact email. (See report, p. 91) And during Dean Holz’ inquiry, McAdams told Holz that he had a law firm lined up and ready to sue Marquette if they disciplined him.
Note here, that no action had been taken against McAdams at this point in time. Yet he already had a legal firm set to defend him. And, as the report shows, McAdams had used this tactic against others for a number of years, one that can only be described as intimidation by threat of retaliation. This may explain why he had not been disciplined previously. If that is true, then this reveals a failing of the hierarchy at Marquette. This author was involved in the education system for well over thirty years. After reading the record, I was surprised that McAdams had not been suspended or reprimanded previously. This shows a real weakness on Marquette’s part. The report mentions this, but does not fully explore the issue. (See report, p. 100)
A second issue that the report elucidates pertains to the defense utilized by McAdams in his appearances on television, and also by his media allies, most notably Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic Monthly. That defense is most notably demonstrated by the title of Friedersdorf’s essay of February 9, 2015. It was called “Stripping a Professor of Tenure Over a Blog Post.”
First let us establish that, as the report shows, McAdams’ blog report of November 9, 2014 was unfair and one-sided. But yet it included graduate student Abbate’s name, a link to her web site, and her contact information. Holding her up for ridicule and providing people direct access to her was not enough for McAdams. For contrary to what McAdams and Friedersdorf said and wrote, McAdams then actively promoted his rendition of the story. He distributed copies of the audio recording to bloggers and selected journalists; the recording the student had lied about making—but had given to him. (Which is another indication of collusion between student and advisor.) McAdams then posted several follow up stories to the original one on his blog. He also arranged personal appearances on radio and television to promote the story to a national level. (See p. 56 of the report.)
What is even more fascinating about this part of the story is that two of the three journalists that McAdams provided copies of the recording to were from Fox News. One was to Todd Starnes of the Fox national network, and the other was Krystle Kacner on the local Fox affiliate TV station. (ibid) He also now began to e-mail out links to his original November 9th story to other bloggers and commentators. He even relayed requests for interviews to the student!
So, far from being a debate over academic freedom for the student, McAdams saw this as a way to make a name for himself on the national airwaves over the longstanding conservative flashpoint of “political correctness”. Like Dinesh D’Souza before him, McAdams was out to create a nationwide conflagration that went beyond the boundaries of Abbate’s classroom, or Marquette’s campus, or the readership of his blog. And it was at this point that he began to put the mental and physical health of Abbate into jeopardy. For now, because of the exposure of her identity and her contact information, Abbate began to get not just insulting messages, but also physical threats (click here to read them) to the point that Marquette had to provide her a security guard. She eventually succumbed to the ordeal and transferred to the University of Colorado. This carried a dual price. For she now had to change her dissertation project, and she had to repeat three semesters of earned credits.
Because of this, Dean Holz decided to suspend McAdams-- with pay and benefits--as he investigated the matter. And he later offered McAdams an office on campus and library privileges. (See report, p. 64) The authors criticized Holz for this since there was no faculty involvement with this decision. Holz made it unilaterally. Although the authors admit that, according to the Marquette by laws, Holz was within his rights to do so.
As the report notes, at no time has McAdams ever expressed any remorse or regret over what happened to Abbate. In fact, he actually explicitly told the local Fox affiliate in February just that.
McAdams at a press conference announcing his lawsuit against Marquette University
And it is this aspect of the whole sorry episode that the faculty committee deemed most heinous and culpable. They found that McAdams had used “improperly obtained information in a way that he should have known could lead to harm, harm that could easily have been avoided.” (See report, p. 74) As the authors continue, “his use of a surreptitious recording, along with Ms. Abbate’s name and contact information, to hold Ms. Abbate up for public contempt on his blog, recklessly exposed her to the foreseeable harm that she suffered …” (ibid, p. 75) This behavior is governed by an instructor’s code of conduct which states that comments should be avoided that would cause “grave doubts concerning the teacher’s fitness for his or her position”. (ibid) As a further part of that code, instructors are to “respect the dignity of others” and “to acknowledge their right to express differing opinions.” (ibid, p. 76) This means that colleagues should not expect others to “search for unguarded moments with which to humiliate them.” (ibid) The committee also concluded that the damage done to Abbate “was substantial, foreseeable easily avoidable, and not justifiable.” (ibid, p. 82)
And the report shows that the intensity and the frequency of the attacks escalated as McAdams spread his report to other outlets especially Fox. (See report, p. 88) The amount of emails forced Abbate to close down her email account and she requested the Philosophy Department close down her email address from the Grad Student web page. In addition, the attack caused her rating on the site RateMyProfessors to be sabotaged. (ibid) This caused Abbate acute mental distress, which the report notes in detail. And, fearful for her health, she left her position at Marquette. The report notes that not only has McAdams not shown any regret, he has actually stated that Abbate benefited by becoming a martyr. (Ibid p. 58) The results of McAdams’ jihad are that other professors on campus are fearful they may be next.
The report concludes that McAdams must have known what the consequences of his campaign against Abbate were, since he had done this in the past so often. He had been quick to use his Marquette Warrior blog as a bludgeon. For instance, a student complained about McAdams's treatment of her for promoting a production of The Vagina Monologues on campus. She went to an administrator to formally protest this. McAdams actually told the administrator that if she continued in her action, he would blog about her even more. She did, and he did. (ibid. p. 92)
The report also notes that McAdams has stated that it was necessary to name Abbate “because the norms of journalism require such identification.” (ibid, p. 94) The problem with this is that it would be a good argument if McAdams were employed by Marquette as a journalist. He is not. He is an instructor. Therefore, between the two, it’s his responsibilities as an instructor that must take precedence. (ibid) And further, even at that, the report notes his journalistic practices are highly selective.
The report ends with what I believe to be the so-called “elephant in the room” factor. It states that McAdams does not seem to be bound by norms of behavior at a university, or of academia, or any other applicable body of behavioral code. It then states, “He has instead assembled his own moral code cobbled together from various sources, to be applied as he sees fit.” (ibid, p. 104) It is this basic conflict that seems to make McAdams’ case incorrigible. McAdams and his allies try to say his case was about a single blog post. Not so. It was about a nearly 20-year pattern of behavior and a seemingly politically motivated media campaign of calumny. (The entire report can be read here http://marquette.edu/leadership/documents/20160118-MUFHC-Final-Report-Contested-Dismissal-Dr-John-C-McAdams.pdf)
McAdams and his legal team have refused to cooperate with the faculty committee. Or with President Lovell. He will make no written expression of either respecting the committee report, pledge to respect the faculty rulebook in the future, or any regrets about his behavior toward Abbate. Instead he has decided to file a lawsuit against Marquette. This was announced on May 2 of this year. In other words, McAdams would rather lose his job than make any kind of expression of regret over forcing Abbate to flee the campus or placing her well being in danger.
McAdams is being represented by a law firm called the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. General counsel Rick Eisenberg stated that McAdams is being suspended for blogging and standing up for an undergraduate student. And that, like in a Moscow show trial he must repent to return to his position. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 2, 2016)
No surprise, this firm is backed by a million dollar grant from the Bradley Foundation. And it is part of the State Policy Network. An attempt by the New Right to create a large, serpentine network of state and local mini- Heritage Foundations. As of 2011, there was 83 million dollars behind the effort. It has close ties to the Koch brothers. (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/State_Policy_Network)
This, of course fits in with McAdams wider profile which the authors of the report, quite naturally, did not go into. But others, like myself have in the past. ("John McAdams and the Siege of Chicago, Part 2") Hopefully, if there is a trial, this odd and peculiar background will emerge to place McAdams in a much more complete context which will more fully explain why he did what he did in this case. And also why he favored Fox News, and why he has this Bradley Foundation/Koch Brothers law firm at his disposal.
~ Jim DiEugenio