Thursday, February 19, 2015
Marquette’s dangerous subversion of free speech
Marquette University is a private, coeducational, Jesuit, Roman Catholic university located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They seem to have strange ideas about what tenure and academic freedom mean
Marquette University plans to fire tenured political science professor John McAdams for criticism of a graduate student and philosophy instructor published on his blog.
Marquette is a private university, and thus is not bound directly by the First Amendment. Despite this, Marquette makes various promises of free speech and academic freedom to students and faculty that hold it to standards similar, if not equal, to those of a public university. And Marquette has been consistently backwards on free speech throughout McAdams’s case. While refusing to defend his free speech rights in the context of his private blog, for instance, Marquette has argued that graduate students, by the very virtue of being graduate students, have a right to be free from public criticism, an argument that does not withstand basic scrutiny.
Primarily, however, I want to focus on Marquette’s most dangerous argument, which is that McAdams himself bears direct responsibility for the harassing and threatening communications received by graduate student and philosophy instructor Cheryl Abbate from third parties after McAdams published his criticisms.
McAdams, of course, had no control over what unidentified third party individuals sent to Abbate. Yet Marquette justified revoking McAdams’s tenure in part by arguing that he “knew or should have known that [his] Internet story would result in vulgar, vile, and threatening communications” and that he thus bore responsibility for them.
On this point we cannot be too clear: Marquette’s logic is entirely divorced from basic notions of free speech. As Robert Shibley put it in FIRE’s press release, “A fundamental principle of our society is that you aren’t responsible for how unrelated and possibly unhinged third parties react to your speech.”
If bloggers like McAdams become vicariously liable for what others say or do in response to their writing, free speech as we know it ceases to exist, and industries like journalism immediately collapse under the weight of their collective liability. .”
The threats Abbate received from others are reprehensible. But McAdams is simply not responsible for them. If Marquette fires McAdams based on its profoundly misguided notions of free speech, it will have ended a lot more than McAdams’s professional career: It will have ended free speech and academic freedom at Marquette in any meaningful form.
Abbate is a far-Leftist who says that things like homosexual marriage are so obviously right that they must not be discussed or challenged in her class. A conservative student objected to that and McAdams publicized it. So the university is backing up her censorship with more censorship. The "tolerant" Left just cannot tolerate disagreement with their beliefs. Rather like Muslims.
And a Catholic university going to extreme lengths to defend homosexuality is rich. Would the Pope be allowed to address homosexuality there? Apparently not. Most nominally Catholic colleges in America seem to have lost their Catholicism long ago. If I were a Catholic, I think I would be offended that they still represent themselves as Catholic. It's false pretences.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).