Back in early November, a professor of political science reported in a personal blog post about a fellow professor teaching “Theory of Ethics” who was applying a philosophical text to modern political controversies. Listing some controversies, the professor wrote down “gay rights.” The professor then said to the class, “Everybody agrees on this, and there is no need to discuss it.”
One student disagreed.
After the class had ended, the student approached the professor, stating that the issue and associated matters, like homosexual rights, so-called homosexual marriage, and homosexual adoption, merit discussion. According to the blog post, the student went further, stating that if the professor dismissed the issue and its associated matters based solely upon personal views, that would set “a terrible precedent for the class.”
The professor was skeptical, offering counter arguments. Lastly, the professor asked the student for research demonstrating the student’s assertions.
But, like most political controversies, the discussion didn’t end there, as the professor explained that “some opinions are not appropriate, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions,” asking “Do you know if anyone in your class is homosexual?” and whether, if some student raised his hand and challenged so-called homosexual marriage, “Don’t you think it would be offensive to them?”
The student responded, stating that as an American citizen he possessed the right to advance counter-arguments, to which the professor replied,
You don’t have a right in this class to make homophobic comments….In this class, homophobic comments, racist comments, will not be tolerated.
Finally, the professor invited the student to drop the class.
In late November, The Motley Monk discussed this incident within a broader analysis, “Some stirrings of discontent in U.S. Catholic higher education.”
But, like most matters involving people feeling offended, the story didn’t end there.
On December 17, the professor who wrote the personal blog post received a letter from the institution’s Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences:
The university is continuing to review your conduct and during this period—and until further notice—you are 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… students, faculty and staff. Should any academic appeals arise from Fall 2014 semester, however, you are expected to fulfill your obligations in that specific matter.
Your salary and benefits will continue at their current level during this time.
You are to remain off campus during this time, and should you need to come to campus, you are to contact me in writing beforehand to explain the purpose of your visit, to obtain my consent and to make appropriate arrangements for that visit. I am enclosing with this letter [the institution’s] harassment policy, its guiding values statement, the University mission statement, and sections from the Faculty Handbook, which outline faculty rights and responsibilities; these documents will inform our review of your conduct.
Even if the suspension is “a bit of a joke, since it’s Christmas break and we aren’t teaching,” as the professor noted in a new personal blog post, what isn’t a joke are some of the potential implications of this suspension:
- Class discussion that’s likely to “offend” any particular group of students in the class must be proscribed…a “gag” order, as RedState.com described it. Consider all of the matters that might offend particular groups of students.
- Calling out colleagues who are intolerant of full, free, and unfettered discussion of the facts can warrant a suspension and possible dismissal for failure to adhere to the institution’s harassment policy. Professors would be indemnified from any challenges to their unfounded opinions.
- Challenging such proscriptions can also end in a suspension and possible dismissal. This would have a “chilling effect” upon free speech, as academic administrators could investigate, censor, and or even punish professors who express their personal beliefs not only in classrooms but in personal blog posts. That process could take the form of harassment which the procees is supposed to ensure doesn’t happen.
Doesn’t all of that present a proximate danger to academic freedom?
About the institution, RedState.com observed:
Marquette is Wisconsin’s leading Catholic university. As such, it is a high profile institution among Catholics both in and out of Wisconsin. It also prides itself as one of the most well known centers of higher education in the state. By imposing a gag order on McAdams, the school has done damage to both its Catholic and academic traditions….
One can only shake one’s head in disbelief, reading of these events and juxtaposing them to Marquette’s mission statement:
Marquette University is a Catholic, Jesuit university dedicated to serving God by serving our students and contributing to the advancement of knowledge. Our mission, therefore, is the search for truth, the discovery and sharing of knowledge, the fostering of personal and professional excellence, the promotion of a life of faith, and the development of leadership expressed in service to others. All this we pursue for the greater glory of God and the common benefit of the human community.
Or, as the now-suspended professor noted:
Marquette…has again shown itself to be timid, overly bureaucratic and lacking any commitment to either its Catholic mission or free expression.
To read the professor’s original blog post, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s previous blog post, click on the following link:
To read the professor’s update, the December 17 blog post, click on the following link:
To read the RedState.com article, click on the following link:
To read the Marquette University Mission Statement, click on the following link:
To read The Motley Monk’s daily blog, Omnibus, click on the following link: