In arguing for for John McAdams’s dismissal, Lisa Pease recommends the account from the graduate student involved, Cheryl Abbate. Here’s Abbate’s blog post about the controversy.
Her defense is worth reading because it highlights what was problematic about her handling of the incident. Abbate clearly believes that the student who argued against gay marriage was, simply by stating his case, violating the Marquette’s “safe place” policy, which forbids “harassment,” meaning:
verbal, written or physical conduct directed at a person or a group based on color, race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, disability, veteran status, age, gender or sexual orientation where the offensive behavior is intimidating, hostile or demeaning or could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm.
I suppose it is true that a gay student might experience “emotional discomfort” when confronted with an argument against gay marriage in a classroom. Does that mean the argument is “offensive behavior” or constitutes an act of “harassment” in the commonsense meaning of the word? Did the student’s factually weak argument warrant Abbate’s threat to exclude him from the classroom ? I don’t think so.
This is what McAdams was objecting to. Her behavior doesn’t justify his. But her stance does embody the pernicious but increasingly pervasive belief that college students have a right not be “offended” that supersedes other students’ right to express an opinion. So the argument that “this is about McAdams’s behavior not free speech” isn’t accurate. It’s about both.
Pease’s claim that anybody who doesn’t agree with her on this issue isn’t a “real researcher” is vanity incarnate and doesn’t require a response.
Several readers pointed out, in response to my post, that McAdams had been warned previously about his behavior, which I agree strengthens Marquette’s case for dismissal.
Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic says Marquette’s action is an “attack on academic freedom,” which seems over the top. I think Marquette administrators have abused their discretion. I don’t think they’re attacking academic freedom.