Professor John McAdams, the self-styled Marquette Warrior, has issued his defense.
In a new blog post, the embattled former political science professor is defending the blog post that prompted Marquette University to fire him, ban him from campus, and seek to revoke his tenure. In the original post, McAdams used an anonymous source to attack a graduate teaching assistant for allegedly suppressing an undergraduate’s views on gay marriage.
The graduate student, besieged by right-wing internet trolls, has issued her dignified defense and transferred to another school where she can teach ethics in peace.
McAdams’s letter is revealing. Those who know McAdams’s rhetorical style from the online flame wars over the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will recognize his intellectual elan. McAdams brings to any discussion a mass of undeniable facts mixed up with a lot blarney and bullying and ultimately bad faith. He argues climate change is a hoax and the Warren Commission is right with equal fervor and (in my opinion) a similar plausibility. He is smart in a malign way. Convinced that he is being persecuted by the hellish forces of American liberalism, he seeks situations that illuminate his martyrdom.
One issue is whether Marquette is within its rights to revoke his tenure. Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic portrays McAdams as the largely innocent victim of an “attack on academic freedom,” a proposition that has prompted both philosophical musing and righteous indignation. Megan McArdle of Bloomberg says Marquette has “wildly overreacted” to McAdams’s unseemly serial blog attacks on students whose politics offend him.
The Daily Nous, a blog for philosophy professors, defends Abbate in a calm but annoyed tone. Professor Peter Kirstein says “Beware of the Pedagogy Police” of the political right. Ira Allen, defends McAdams’s right to voice his right-wing extramural opinions, but says Marquette is correct to fire him for “dereliction of duty.”
One central issue, at least in McAdams’s mind, is whether he qualifies as a blogger. This is the essence of McAdams’s odd defense of his action. He argues, that, as a blogger, he has the right to publish a blog post based on an anonymous source accusing a colleague of unprofessional behavior without presenting her side of the story.
“That’s Journalism 101,” he proclaims.
Um, no, not really, John. In fact, the basic tenets of journalism, known by every undergraduate in the field, specifically prohibit such reportorial misconduct.
McAdams justifies his failure to report the views of the accused graduate student, Cheryl Abbate, and the actions taken by the Marquette administration, by saying they didn’t respond to his phone calls. McAdams all but admits that he never pursued a discussion of the pedagogical problem: a principled reactionary undergraduate feeling oppressed by a principled feminist graduate assistant teaching a high-level philosophy class.
In this teachable moment, McAdams sought conflict, not resolution. He didn’t even seek a successful academic outcome for the student he was defending (who was flunking Abbate’s course, and not because of his opinions, but because he didn’t do the work).
McAdams, a man with a Ph.d in political science, is demanding respect, not as a scholar, but as a blogger, as a polemicist with rights, as a freedom fighter, as a courageous victim of liberal tyranny, and so on.
McAdams’s missive may have the unintended effect of buttressing the Marquette administration’s case that the man is out of touch with reality and the minimal standards of decency governing a learning community and deserves to be fired.
McAdams insists he is merely defending the ideal university.
“In real universities,” he writes, “administrators understand (or more likely grudgingly accept) that faculty will say controversial things, will criticize them and each other, and that people will complain about it. They understand that putting up with the complaints is part of the job, and assuaging those who complain the loudest is not the best policy. ”
Never mind that John McAdams is almost always the one who is complaining the loudest. He claims the right to be deliberately offensive in defiance of Journalism 101 and other professional norms. He boasts of “excellent legal counsel” and promises “not to go quietly.”