“Disappointed in you:” MU student shares recording of instructor who refused gay marriage discussion

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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.

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The controversy started with a classroom discussion of John Rawls' principle of "Equal Liberty."

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.

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The instructor asked students for current issues that could be applied to Rawls' principle. When all of the ideas were written on the chalkboard, the student says she erased only one. Gay marriage.

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.

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After class, the student approached the instructor to ask her why she did not allow opposition to gay marriage to be discussed. He secretly recorded the conversation.

Listen here:

"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.

Listen here:

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.

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'Matt' provided a copy of the recording to his academic advisor, Professor John McAdams, who also authors a conservative blog, "Marquette Warrior."

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.

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After a tense initial meeting with the student, Philosophy Department Chair Dr. Nancy Snow referred to him as an "insolent little twerp" in a voicemail to a colleague.

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.

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McAdams' blog post about the gay marriage incident in class quickly became the subject of national headlines.

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.

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Marquette Provost, Daniel Myers, accuses McAdams of "publicly shaming" the graduate student instructor by naming her in his blog.

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.

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Erik Ugland, a media law professor at Marquette, says McAdams is both a journalist and a professor, making his "campaign to harass and intimidate" the graduate student instructor inappropriate.

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.

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McAdams hinted that he plans to sue Marquette in a recent appearance on the FOX News Channel.

"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.

22 comments

  • Angela

    It is, however, discriminatory and a flagrant disrespect of rights for one person in authority to tell another that they cannot openly discuss their opinion in a class ABOUT opinions, and in which all other ideas were acknowledged and discussed.

  • Opinion8d

    And if he didn’t record it who would believe him? The ‘insolent little twerp’ exposed the hypocrisy of the left and what’s going on throughout the ‘educational’ process that has been hijacked by the left. First off, the instructor is a Teacher/TA -not a ‘student’ as MU and the story would like you to think. Second, if the TA was told to allow differing opinions it would be called ‘bullying’ by the left. But for the student to raise the question of why a differing opinion can’t be brought up, that’s called a need for ‘re-education’ because someone could be offended. It’s the Lefties approach to social justice……that and rioting when their feeling are hurt.

  • Opinion8d

    It’s not about a topic not being covered, it’s about a topic not being allowed to be discussed -and only because the teacher disagreed with the viewpoint. Just because people may be hurt by someone’s viewpoint, does not mean it should be censored! And why is it that his feeling or viewpoint isn’t considered…..oh, that’s right, because he’s not ‘enlightened’ in thinking like the teacher…..

  • Yactavious

    Feminist granola eating professors are racist because they sit on their desk and eat granola all day. They won’t eat a apple or some other type of fruit. I find that offensive as a fruit tree. I think we should give them a fair shake and all the men and women bring an apple for the teacher day. (oops i should be careful using plural when describing the opposite sex, like woMEN). that could cause them to convulse and shake in anger. Either way I don’t really care what they do or their sexual preference, just keep it to yourselves.

  • Joe Boo

    I read this article overnight and at that point some had posted very well-thought-out points of view on the situation. It is shameful to see this morning that media bias has entered the comments, removed what were certainly appropriate thoughts, and left us with only lightning rod statements that include slurs. If the editors didn’t want open discourse then they should have closed the article to comments.

    • Opinion8d

      I’ve seen it happen many times. I would prefer they post standards for the comments (no swearing or threats), but leave everything else up. Open discourse should be open -not just for certain comments.

  • Joe Boo

    It would still be free speech. You don’t have to agree with what the person exercising free speech has to say but it is still their right to express it. A person may suffer consequences for saying something but they still have the right to say it. It’s their own prerogative to stand up and put their foot in their mouth.

  • Joe Boo

    The right of the Klan is to assemble and demonstrate is still protected by the Government. Jeff, you are welcome to voice those opinions if that is how you feel but using them in a satirical manner regarding this issue is kind of offensive, in my opinion.

    For the record, I support both gay rights and free speech. People have been forced to listen to opposing views throughout history… the great thing about free speech is that you can speak up and provide a counterpoint.

  • Opinion8d

    @Jeff J – I think you just demonstrated the fact that free speech exists. You are free to think or say any of those opinions. If the TA was listing topics for discussion and then erased gay marriage because ‘everyone is okay with it or it’s the law’, doesn’t mean that others have different opinions. Abortion is the ok under the law, yet many disagree. The teacher was not correct to censor a student because someone may be offended by the discussion. Why isn’t the same concern given to the student’s beliefs?? And by the way, even at Marquette, the discussion of the merits of the Christian faith does get raised and discussed. Funny how some can engage in dialogue and others prefer to censor/bully those that don’t ‘think’ the ‘correct’ way.

  • Libsareliars

    So if an adult has some kids do a bible study during their lunch time off school grounds and a wimpy administrator finds it offensive, it’s ok for this guy to shut it down?

  • Glenn Schiefelbein

    Marquette is an embarrassment to their heritage and I am sorry for them- from a 1956 grad.

  • Ben

    Well, if he has been banned from campus and is caught back on the school’s property, they can charge him with criminal trespassing and then fire him. His career as a professor is over as a result of this. No other university will hire him due to blacklisting. However, he can go to work at McDonald’s asking people “Do you want fries with that?”

  • colllisa

    If Dr. Nancy Snow referred to a student as an “insolent little twerp” she is the one who should be under investigation. An ad hominem attack on a student by a faculty member, let a alone a department chairman, is inappropriate, even in a private phone conversation. If she chose to criticize the student, she should have criticized him on the merits of his argument. I am a liberal and a democrat.

  • Jeff Jankowiak

    The instructor gets to make the call what crosses the line from being a debate and offensive. Would this student think it inappropriate to discuss the merits of slavery, or the merits of women being chained to their bedposts? Those issues may be interesting to discuss but they can become fighting words.

    • George Stanley (@GStanley1966)

      Slavery and the merits of chaining women to bedposts are not issues currently being debated in legislatures and courtrooms across the country, as same-sex marriage was in 2014, when this incident occurred. I think that effectively disposes of your silly comparisons.

  • Marquette Student

    You want to talk about hypocritical: they only ask the views of people who side with that child. Yes, child. Academic freedom, yeah that’s why you are upset. Is it freedom of speech to say christians are murders and rapists? Which historically can be prove( Crusades, Slavery, Indulgences). You know why I don’t say this, because it’s not true, and it is very offensive to Christian whom I respect and love . They are good and kind people. And let’s be honest here that child did want publicity, he wanted to get mad at the teacher, he wanted to feel like he was attacking some evil system. I stand with President Lovell 100%. He allowed McAdams back if he apologized about his actions that resulted in the graduate student getting death threats and acts in a manner that is not equivalent of a 5 year old little boy. If you disagree with someone have a civil discussion with them, don’t hide in your room and attack people through the internet.

  • dakillajoe

    So TOLERANCE is only Applicable if you AGREE with the Homosexual Agenda, got it ! Nice to Know the First Amendment does NOT exist at Marquette ! The Butch-Dike Snow should be Fired, ugly piece of excrement !

  • George Stanley (@GStanley1966)

    That’s an absurd comparison; the student wasn’t asking permission to voice “anti-gay” opinions; the subject in question was same-sex marriage, which in 2014 was a major topic of debate in courtrooms, legislatures, opinion pages, etc. To say, as this teacher did, that there’s nothing to debate, that there are no two sides, when what was happening in the country plainly showed this was not true, is surreal. If there was a parallel policy question at issue in legislatures and courts across the nation that related in some way to “blacks” or “Jews”, I would say the same thing, no matter how sensitive or touchy the subject might be for some in the classroom.

  • Bums

    Marquette is just a bunch of trust fund babies partying. Honestly, the idiots that pay the high priced tuition so they can say ‘I go to Marquette’ which, by the way, isn’t a prestigious school by any means. The school is located in the middle of the Milwaukee ghetto, which Milwaukee is one of the most dangerous cities in the country. Yea lets send our little kiddies there who have never worked a day in their lives and put them around all the ghetto wolves. They get what they deserve. I’m surprised gay is a big thing at Maquette considering 90% of the student body acts and looks gay.

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