Thursday, March 31, 2016
Marquette Professor Banned from Campus for Defending Debate over Catholic Positions
A recent example, which has entered into national headlines, arose when a graduate student in philosophy, Cheryl Abbate, teaching a course on ethics at Marquette University (a Catholic-Jesuit institution ), was discussing John Rawls’ “Equal Liberty” principle, which affirms individual freedom unless the rights of others are impugned.
When Abbate asked in class for examples where this principle might be employed, one student offered the example of bans on same-sex marriage as flouting the principle. After class, a student recorded a conversation with Abbate on his smartphone (legal in Wisconsin and thirty-seven other states). He complained to her that discussion of same-sex marriage had been too abruptly cut off in class, and offered some arguments he thought reasonable against same-sex marriage.
Abbate responded that the discussion of certain topics would be “inappropriate,” including “sexist” or “racist” opinions. She reminded the student that if he did not want to avoid bringing up inappropriate topics, he could withdraw from the class. He did, and expressed his disappointment about his apparent muzzling to tenured Professor of Political Science, John McAdams, who sided with the student in his conservative and independent blog, and criticized the philosophy instructor for unnecessarily restraining the free speech of her students.
Hundreds of supporting messages and condemnations ensued for both McAdams and Abbate, not only from Marquette, but from other parts of the country. Some included insults or invectives. In the aftermath, McAdams has been suspended with pay, his courses for the Spring semester have been cancelled, and he has been prohibited by administrators from setting foot on the campus.
He has received legal support, however, from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL). And Ms. Abbate has gratefully accepted the invitation to finish her doctoral work at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
McAdams’ suspension was rather strange for a Catholic University, especially one at which, for example, tenured Professor Daniel Maguire, nationally famous for his pro-abortion views, regularly teaches in the theology department without any restrictions. Do faculty statutes allow blatant opposition to Catholic teachings, but fail to support the academic freedom of a tenured professor to voice an opinion about what can be said or not in class discussions?