MILWAUKEE — Embattled Marquette University professor John McAdams is hinting at plans for a lawsuit. He's suspended without pay for blogging about a graduate teaching assistant who was secretly recorded by one of her students.
The FOX6 Investigators have obtained a copy of that recording and you can listen to excerpts of it below for the first time.
The student who made the recording gave the FOX6 Investigators exclusive permission to play portions of it for you. In exchange, we've agreed not to tell you the student's name. We will refer to him as "Matt" for the purposes of this story.
And, while the instructor involved has been previously identified by several media outlets, including FOX6 News, we've also chosen not to use her name in this report.
It is the after-class exchange between Matt and the instructor that Professor McAdams parlayed into a national debate over free speech on campus.
The political firestorm started in the fall of 2014 in an ethics class. The topic? John Rawls' principle of equal liberty. The instructor had asked students to come prepared with ideas.
"She basically said let's name social issues in today's political environment and then we can go ahead and apply this principle to these social issues," said Matt, then a Marquette sophomore.
One by one, the instructor recorded possible topics for debate, but when all of the students were finished, she wiped one of them off the list -- gay marriage.
"She said, 'oh, well we all agree to this one,' and erased it," Matt said. "That was the only one she erased, and I did take issue with that."
Matt is a conservative Christian, College Republican. The instructor, a self-described "vegan feminist."
"I just wanted to simply ask her, you know, why did you let your personal views get in the way of that?" Matt said.
He waited until after class to approach the instructor -- a conversation he secretly recorded with his cell phone.
"I have to say I'm very disappointed in you," Matt said.
"Okay? For what reason?" the instructor replied.
"When we were talking today and you were kind -- when we were talking about gay marriage -- you said, 'Well, obviously this one's [inaudible].' I'm going to be completely honest with you, I don't agree with gay marriage."
The instructor then engages in a brief debate with Matt about the merits of gay adoption, before Matt interjects.
Matt: "Regardless of why I'm against gay marriage, it's still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person's opinion when they may have different opinions."
Instructor: "Okay, there are some opinions that are not appropriate -- that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions. And quite honestly, do you know if anyone in your, in the class is homosexual?"
Matt: "No, I don't."
Instructor: "And do you not think that that would be offensive to them if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?"
Later in the conversation:
Matt: "So, because they're homosexual, I can't have my opinions. And it's not being offensive towards them, because, I am just having my opinions on a very broad subject."
Instructor: "You can have whatever opinions you want, but I will tell you right now in this class, homophobic comments, racists comments, sexist comments, will not be tolerated. If you don't like it, you're more than free to drop this class."
When the instructor finally noticed Matt was recording the conversation, she ended it. He then left the room, vowing to play the recording for her superiors.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Did you know at that time what your intention was? What you were going to do with it?"
"No, I didn't. I kind of wanted to say just, 'wow, I finally got her,'" Matt said.
He complained to an administrator of Arts & Sciences, who referred him to the chair of the philosophy department, Dr. Nancy Snow. Matt says he was unaware at the time that Snow is a lesbian.
"I realized that I'd confronted an openly gay lesbian about a gay rights issue, which I felt very stupid about," Matt said.
Snow later referred to him in a colleague's voicemail as an "insolent little twerp," a comment she did not dispute when contacted by the FOX6 Investigators. In fact, she declined to comment at all. Snow is now at the University of Oklahoma.
Matt eventually sought out political science professor John McAdams.
"I don't know if he should feel stupid, because gay or straight, she should have acted in a professional way," McAdams said.
McAdams is a well-known conservative blogger at Marquette.
"I have been a critic of Marquette for a long time, and frankly, have embarrassed them," McAdams said.
He was also Matt's academic advisor.
"I told him everything that happened," Matt said.
Matt gave McAdams a copy of the recording and McAdams asked if he could blog about it.
"And I said OK -- as long as you keep my name out of it," Matt said.
On November 9th, 2014, the blog post went public and quickly went viral.
The story of a Jesuit school accused of silencing opposition to gay marriage made national headlines.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Why did this become such a big deal?"
"Because I think there are a lot of people on different college campuses that feel the exact same way -- that free speech is being stifled," Matt said.
"The whole issue of political correctness on college campuses is a big, big issue," McAdams said.
But all that attention had a troubling side effect. Because McAdams identified the instructor in his blog, the 28-year-old graduate student was inundated with hate-filled emails and messages on social media. McAdams said he did nothing to encourage the nasty messages. But Marquette administrators say he didn't do anything to quell them either.
"Publicly shaming someone and really attacking them in a blog in a public forum, that's not how we do business here at Marquette," said Marquette Provost Daniel Myers.
Myers came to Marquette from Notre Dame last summer, long after the controversy began, but he's one of several administrators and faculty members who say what McAdams did was wrong.
"When you use your power as a tenured professor to orchestrate an online campaign to harass and intimidate a specific student, then you are jeopardizing the entire mission of the University," said Marquette Professor Erik Ugland.
McAdams says he was simply doing what he'd done many times before.
"I followed standard journalistic practice, which is to name someone guilty of misconduct," McAdams said.
"He's not just a journalist in this context," said Ugland, who also happens to teach media law at Marquette. "He can't completely divorce himself of his standing as a tenured professor and dismiss his power relationship relative to the graduate student."
McAdams says his contract guarantees him academic freedom to blog about anything he perceives as misconduct.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Do you think they view it differently because what you view as misconduct, they view as defensible?"
"They haven't said that," McAdams said.
Marquette administrators are not eager to talk about the allegations that a graduate instructor stifled political speech in the classroom.
"Do you think that's misconduct?"Polcyn asked.
"I don't know enough about the situation to say exactly, and I'm not here to judge this interaction between the two students," Myers said.
Ugland was more direct.
"Absolutely no misconduct. I think people need to appreciate how difficult this position is. You know, to try to be as open as possible with different points of view, but also not to, you know, offend people so much that they shut down or feel like it's an environment that's just sort of hostile," Ugland said.
"I would not be under fire at all were there not many people at Marquette, particularly faculty and administrators, who agree with [the graduate instructor] that opposition to gay marriage should be shut down," McAdams said.
On campus, McAdams has ardent supporters, but he remains a lightning rod for critics. As the FOX6 Investigators chatted with him outside the Raynor Library on a recent Tuesday afternoon, a student walked past him and made an obscene gesture behind his back. Still, he insists he will return one day to teach at Marquette.
FOX6 Investigator Bryan Polcyn: "Will the university continue the process to fire him?"
"Well, as things stand right now, he's suspended -- and that's where we are," Myers said.
McAdams has spent the past year at home, catching up on his reading. The university won't let him return until he takes responsibility for his actions.
"And I'm simply not going to apologize for something when I don't believe I did anything wrong," McAdams said.
In a recent appearance on FOX News, McAdams hinted strongly at his next step.
"Let's just say it will not be good for Marquette," he said on FOX and Friends.
"I won't accept any resolution that doesn't vindicate academic freedom, which would mean at a minimum, no punishment for me. How much in damages or a judgment might be involved, that's always up for negotiation," McAdams said.
Marquette insists it is not trying to rid itself of a longtime critic, but rather to get his assurance.
"That he understands why this behavior was problematic and that he's not going to engage in it again," Myers said.
One thing seems certain.
"Dr. McAdams loves a good fight," Matt said.
"That's true," McAdams admits with a chuckle. "With words."
McAdams was initially suspended by Marquette with pay in January of 2015. In March, Marquette suspended him without pay for the rest of 2016. MU President Michael Lovell added the condition that McAdams write a letter to the school, accepting responsibility for his actions, a demand McAdams quickly rejected.
McAdams tells FOX6 he will not accept any resolution that involves any level of punishment for him, because that, he says, would be an affront to "academic freedom." In hindsight, he says if he could go back, he would not name the instructor in his blog, but he maintains he had every right to do so.