- Educators and legal scholars are trying to determine the ramifications of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling Friday requiring reinstatement of a Marquette University professor who wrote and promoted a blog post in 2014 in which he criticized a graduate student by name, according to Inside Higher Education.
- The court reversed and remanded a previous circuit court ruling that had supported the university in its dismissal of political science professor John McAdams. He had argued his comments were protected under contractual freedom of speech rights and the court agreed and ordered that McAdams be reinstated immediately with tenure and be paid damages and back salary.
- McAdams blogged about a graduate student instructor who he believed was inappropriately critical of an undergraduate voicing opposition to gay marriage in class, and then reportedly sought publicity for his post. Marquette officials, in successfully arguing their case before the lower court and a panel of McAdams's peers, said mentioning the student by name was grounds for firing and more important than his individual rights to free speech.
The majority opinion in the 4-2 decision stated that the “undisputed facts” show Marquette breached its contract with McAdams. The dissenting justices said that academic freedom is a “professional principle and not merely legal construct,” and that the justices in the majority did not look at “the academic freedom of the institution.”
Marquette said it would comply with the decision but noted that the case did not involve McAdams’s rights because if he had not named the student, he would not have been disciplined.
The case underscores the thorny issue of freedom of speech on campus. Fresno State University was in the spotlight earlier this year after a professor attacked former first lady Barbara Bush as a racist immediately after her death, and a University of Michigan student group that was charged a fee for security after it sponsored a controversial speaker has sued the institution for bias.
According to a report two months ago, nine states have passed campus free-speech legislation, and 16 others are considering it. Other experts have said that Congress is unlikely to pass a free-speech mandate for colleges and universities any time soon, but a hearing on the topic in a Senate committee indicated a wide range of potential issues and positions.