Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in favor of a conservative professor fired by Marquette University, ordering that he be reinstated immediately. While the ruling is specific to this case, one hopes it will serve as a warning shot to liberal universities that all that blah-blah about tolerance and diversity is meaningless if it doesn’t include the most important aspect of all for an institution of learning, diversity of thought.
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The case involved Prof. John McAdams, who wrote a blog post criticizing a student instructor for allegedly shutting down discussion by opponents of same-sex marriage. He was suspended by the school until he wrote a letter of apology to the student instructor, and he refused and was fired. He argued that he was fired for exercising his right to free speech. The school claimed his post would have been fine if he hadn’t identified the woman and linked to her personal website with contact information, which exposed her to insults and threats that eventually led her to leave the school; so he was being punished for his conduct, not his viewpoint. He countered that that argument was specious because her contact information was publicly available. While true, that probably wasn’t much comfort to the woman on the receiving end of the personal threats.
While I’m glad that the Court ruled as it did (the more forcible reminders of the First Amendment that our current academic culture receives, the better), there are elements of this that deserve some reflection. It would have been prudent of the professor to realize that the Internet is filled with hotheads who are easily stirred to stupid actions and, even if her contact info were available, for him not to make it that much easier for them to target her. On the other hand, we’re seeing all around us examples of liberals attacking, threatening and harassing conservatives and defending it as legitimate free speech, which it is not. I can’t help wondering if college officials would have been so concerned about the threats and hatred had they been directed at a conservative.
I hope this ruling reminds universities that they should be places where all viewpoints can be heard and debated intellectually without censorship, threats or insults. But I also hope it reminds us all, in this time when you never know who might be listening to your online diatribes, that just because the First Amendment gives you the right to say whatever you want, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD say it. Sometimes it’s best to try a little empathy and remember that your target is a fellow human being, not just a collection of political opinions. Maybe pause to consider all the possible ramifications and do one more edit before pressing that “send” button.