Has Marquette University grown weary of John McAdams’ right-wing shenanigans?

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

A conservative professor at Marquette University remains “off duty” and “under review” more than two months after writing a blog post criticizing a graduate student for not permitting critique of same-sex marriage during her ethics class.

John McAdams, an associate professor of political science at the university and author of the right-wing blog Marquette Warrior, wrote that teaching assistant Cheryl Abbate stifled academic freedom by denying the student’s request, even though she said that same-sex marriage was off-topic for the class. After the blog post appeared, Abbate began receiving inflammatory emails from students accusing her of violating the First Amendment (see editorial, page 16) and trashing her with homophobic slurs.

Another blog site called Daily Nous presented the text of some particularly vicious emails sent to Abbate, along with a post from her Rate My Professor page that said, “If you don’t celebrate a sexual disorder called lesbianism … she will go after you.”

Daily Nous also reported that Abbate is leaving Marquette.

In the Nov. 9 post that apparently sparked the rancor, McAdams led his readers down a rhetorical path that’s quite familiar to them. The essence of his complaint against Abbate was the same one he levels at everyone at Marquette who refuses to genuflect to orthodox Roman Catholic doctrine, because Marquette is, as he repeatedly reminds everyone, a Roman Catholic institution.

“Abbate, of course, was just using a tactic typical among liberals now,” he wrote. “Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

Abbate countered that McAdams was, in effect, harassing her.

“It is astounding to me that the university has not created some sort of policy that would prohibit this behavior which undoubtedly leads to a toxic environment for both students and faculty,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “I would hope that Marquette would do everything in its power to cultivate a climate where Marquette employees, especially students, are not publicly demeaned by tenured faculty.”

In mid-December, after several faculty members called for an investigation of McAdams’ behavior, he received a letter from Dean Richard Holz stating that the university was conducting a review of his conduct and, in the interim, he was “relieved of all teaching duties and all other faculty activities, including, but not limited to, advising, committee work, faculty meetings and any activity that would involve your interaction with Marquette students, faculty and staff.”

McAdams was told that he’d continue to receive his salary and benefits during the review process but he was not to visit campus without first obtaining permission. 

Noting that “our graduate student teaching assistants are students first,” Marquette senior communication director Brian Dorrington said via email that “the safety of our students and campus community is our top priority.”

“The university has a policy in which it clearly states that it does not tolerate harassment and will not stand for faculty members subjecting students to any form of abuse, putting them in harm’s way,” Dorrington added. “We take any situation where a student’s safety is compromised extremely seriously.  … They are learning their craft and it is our expectation that they are mentored and supported by our faculty. 

“It is important to note that under faculty conduct rules, a professor would not be subject to a review of this nature simply for voicing an opinion. The university has expectations of conduct, specifically as they relate to the faculty-student relationship. When concerns are raised that a line has been crossed, it is our responsibility to take action and conduct a review.”

Reporting about the letter on his blog, McAdams appeared stunned.

A hero on the religious right for his anti-intellectual rabble rousing, McAdams has been milking the latest 15 minutes of fame he’s received over Abbate for all it’s worth. For years, he’s been a frequent guest on Charlie Sykes’ talk radio program on WTMJ-620, where listeners savor his sexist, racist and homophobic rants. (Marquette Warrior links directly to Sykes’ blog Right Wisconsin.) 

But in recent weeks, McAdams also has appeared on Fox News and been lauded for his courage by The Christian Post. Ben Shapiro’s online watchdog group TruthRevolt trumpeted “Marquette Suspends Conservative Professor for Exposing Totalitarian Leftist Faculty.” Under that canonizing headline appeared a picture of the professor looking smug and raising a clenched fist.

The last time McAdams received this much attention, it was over a defining moment in Marquette’s history, one that could have set the university on the course that has finally collided with McAdams’ Dark Ages social views. 

In spring 2010, the university rescinded an offer to out lesbian scholar Jodi O’Brien to become dean of Marquette’s College of Arts and Sciences. The university’s unprecedented cancellation of a signed contract prompted protests by students, condemnation from faculty members and a firestorm of controversy throughout higher education. The university’s action imperiled at least one state grant and nearly resulted in censure from numerous academic associations, even after Marquette President Fr. Robert A. Wild apologized to O’Brien and settled with her for an undisclosed amount of cash.

McAdams’ blog was ground zero for provoking the blowback over having a lesbian in leadership at the Roman Catholic university. But although McAdams won that battle, he lost his overriding anti-gay war.

In the wake of the O’Brien scandal, the university expanded its anti-discrimination policy to include LGBT students, staff and faculty. It also began offering domestic partner benefits to the partners of employees in same-sex relationships.

Gay-positive cultural events appeared on campus, including The Laramie Project, a play about the real-life killing of gay college student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. Lesléa Newman, the author of Heather Has Two Mommies, presented the 2011 Starshak Lecture on campus.

Predictably, McAdams responded to all of these progressive developments with a vitriolic sneer, proudly positioning himself as the Vatican’s unofficial on-campus representative. His efforts always received kudos from the right, particularly from the angry white men who listen to local hate radio.

So it’s not surprising that McAdams was taken aback by the university’s reaction over his latest anti-gay attack. On his blog, he acknowledges that he expected to get in more trouble over his statement that “feminists grossly exaggerate the incidence of campus date rape” than over Abbate.

Perhaps Marquette has simply had enough of McAdams’ divisiveness, his endless needling of colleagues and minority groups, his lack of collegiality and tolerance for secular thinkers.

The university has changed considerably during his 30 years there. Most recently, it named Michael Lovell, the highly praised former chancellor of UWM, as its first layman president. Has Lovell, who backed equality during his tenure at UWM, decided to clean house?

Marquette, the state’s largest private university, got quite a scare over its rescission of O’Brien’s contract. The censure it faced over the incident would have jeopardized its hard-won stature as a major research university.

Maybe Marquette’s new leadership is more interested in focusing on academic leadership and providing a quality education than in standing in the way of social progress. Maybe the distraction that is John McAdams has finally become too big a thorn in the side of the university’s future.

Or maybe the university simply wants to receive attention for scholarship instead of backward political vitriol that makes it harder for academics there to be taken seriously.