If you ask anyone in the education community, (particularly the teachers unions) the tenure system is a vital part of the American education complex, both in public schools and colleges or universities. But Marquette University is proving that there are exceptions to every rule, moving to dismiss Professor John McAdams from his position, even though he is a long time educator with tenure. That must have been some seriously awful crime he committed to have the bosses show him the door. Did he engage in sexual activity with a student? Steal university funds? Go on a killing spree?
No, he wrote a blog post criticizing a graduate instructor who allegedly shut down a classroom debate when one of the undergraduate students voiceed objections to gay marriage.
The university says his behavior was unprofessional and that he misled the public about what happened in a dispute between the graduate instructor and an undergraduate student. The professor, John McAdams, says he is being punished for his free speech. He also maintains that Marquette shouldn’t be attacking him, given that he is defending an undergraduate’s views against gay marriage that are consistent with Roman Catholic teachings. (Marquette is a Jesuit university.)
In November, McAdams, an associate professor of political science, wrote a blog post accusing a teaching assistant in philosophy of shutting down a classroom conversation on gay marriage based on her own political beliefs. His account was based on a recording secretly made by a disgruntled student who wished that the instructor, Cheryl Abbate, had spent more time in class one day on the topic of gay marriage, which the student opposed. McAdams said Abbate, in not allowing a prolonged conversation about gay marriage, was “using a tactic typical among liberals,” in which opinions they disagree with “are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”
Ms. Abbate (the instructor) claims that she wasn’t trying to silence the student’s views opposing gay marriage, but simply had wanted to keep a focus on an in-class conversation about the philosopher John Rawls’s equal liberty principle. But what’s really funny about this story (by which I mean not humorous at all) is that it has virtually nothing to do with what should happen to the instructor. It also has nothing to do with whether or not the student should have been allowed to continue the gay marriage debate in class. No, the real crux of this story is the fact that Marquette is trying to revoke tenure and fire a professor for writing a blog post. And it wasn’t even a post taking a side on the gay marriage question. It was criticizing an instructor for shutting down debate among the students.
The University’s explanation of why McAdams’ comments constituted a mortal sin, as provided by Dean Richard C. Holz, are rather staggering.
“Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations,” Holz wrote. “In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy ‘at all times,’ a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.”
He apparently failed to show “respect for others’ opinions” with his blog post. Whether or not the instructor showed any respect for the student’s opinions seems to be immaterial. So apparently this is what it takes for someone inside the educational complex to finally suggest that tenure isn’t absolute. Who could have guessed that?