Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules for Conservative Professor Who Wrote Controversial Blog Post

Marquette is ordered to reinstate John McAdams.


The Wisconsin Supreme Court has sided with John McAdams, a conservative political scientist who had been fired by Marquette University over a blog post.

In November 2014, McAdams wrote a post calling out graduate student instructor Cheryl Abbate by name after she shut down a classroom discussion of gay rights. According to McAdams, the "Theory of Ethics" instructor did not give a conservative student room to voice his opinions. The student then approached the instructor after class to engage in a brief debate regarding gay marriage and gay adoption.

The conversation took a turn when Abbate informed the student that some opinions were "not appropriate." When the student argued that he had a right to an opinion, Abbate told him that the right did not extend to homophobic comments and invited him to drop the class. McAdams spent the remainder of the post discussing political correctness, liberals, and speech.

McAdams was suspended without pay in January 2015. In a letter obtained by The Atlantic, Dean Richard C. Holtz criticized McAdams for his delivery of the information:

You posted this story on the Internet (1) without speaking with Ms. Abbate or getting her permission to use her name; (2) without contacting the Chair of Ms. Abbate's Department (who had met twice with the undergraduate student) to get her perspective or express your concerns; (3) without contacting anyone in the College of Arts & Sciences to get their perspective or express your concerns; (4) without contacting anyone in the Office of the Provost to raise concerns that you believed had been ignored at the Department or College level; (5) without describing what had happened in the very next class following the one you wrote about—when Ms. Abbate discussed and addressed the student's objection (without identifying him); and (6) without even reporting fully or accurately what the student had disclosed to (and concealed from) others in the University about these events.

The university gave McAdams the option of writing a letter of apology to Abbate if he wanted to be reinstated. He refused. Instead he sued the private university.

McAdams' suit, filed in 2016, argued that his punishment violated his academic freedom. Ralph Weber, the university's lawyer, retorted that the school had suspended McAdams not because of his views but because he had engaged in cyberbullying. A press release from the university mirrored Weber's sentiment, saying McAdams would not have been penalized had he omitted Abbate's name and contact information. (Abbate reports that she received threats after McAdams posted her name and linked to her website.)

On Friday, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal was a breach of contract and ordered that McAdams be reinstated immediately. "Just because vile commentary followed the blog post does not mean the blog post instigated or invited the vileness," the decision stated. The dissenting judges disagreed, claiming that "McAdams indeed did 'instigate' or 'invite' the vileness that followed his blog post. He knew what would happen, and he actively ensured that it would happen."