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What is harassment?

Here is a follow-up to this story. John McAdams is a political science professor at Marquette University. He wrote a blog post criticizing a graduate student in the philosophy department at Marquette, Cheryl Abbate, who, in her role as an instructor, bullied an undergraduate student for expressing opposition to homosexual "marriage" and homosexual parenting. In a conversation after class, she likened the student's comments to racism, told him that it was against her policy to allow such comments in her class, and invited the student to drop the class. McAdams blogged about the undergraduate student's experience and about the fact that the philosophy department and the dean brushed off the student's complaints about being "encouraged" to drop the (required) course, which he must now take with someone else. (I haven't been able to find out if the undergraduate got a full tuition refund.)

Now, get this: Guess who is being investigated for harassment? Not Cheryl Abbate, who drove a student out of class for expressing conservative opinions. Not even the student who, Cheryl Abbate and others have implied, may have inadvertently violated Marquette's Orwellian harassment policy by expressing un-PC views, but John McAdams.

I don't even know McAdams's opinions on the ground-level political and moral issues in this case. I haven't bothered to investigate them. His criticisms of Abbate and of the philosophy department and dean's office were professional and procedural--that they mistreated a student and did not properly handle the student's legitimate complaint about teacher bullying. He could have made those criticisms even if he were a raving liberal on the substantive issues. But Marquette is, though still paying him, suspending him from teaching pending investigation. He even had to request special permission to go onto the university campus, as if he were personally dangerous!

Since one story calls McAdams an associate professor and since he's had his job for thirty-five years, I'm guessing that he's tenured. The very existence of the investigation and temporary suspension, however, gives the impression that something Very Bad could happen to him even if he is tenured. McAdams has told Fox News that he has a lawyer on standby.

McAdams points out that Marquette's harassment policy is so broadly worded, including in "harassment" any conduct that "could or does result in mental [or] emotional discomfort" that his blogging about Abbate's bullying behavior might indeed constitute "harassment" (scare quotes intentional). That is just because, on that construal, almost anything constitutes harassment.

In fact, we get a darkly amusing chain based on Marquette's incredibly vague definition of "harassment." The undergraduate student "harassed" hypothetical homosexual fellow students who might have overheard him questioning the legitimacy of homosexual "marriage" and bringing up Mark Regnerus's study on the children of homosexuals. Cheryl Abbate harassed (I deliberately leave off the scare quotes) the student by telling him that his remarks were inappropriate and would not be allowed and by inviting him to leave the class. John McAdams "harassed" Cheryl Abbate by blogging about her behavior. And, finally, Richard Holz, a dean at Marquette, has harassed John McAdams by treating him like a potential terrorist and suspending him from teaching.

After all, all of these things "could or do result in mental or emotional discomfort" for someone or other. Fair-minded people will have to decide for themselves to what extent that emotional discomfort is rational and justified at each link in the chain and who the real harassers are in this entire scenario when "harassment" is defined in a more meaningful fashion.

John McAdams did not fall off the turnip truck yesterday. He points out in his second post on his suspension that Marquette broke its own published rules for suspending a professor by failing to state the date of the alleged misconduct, the location, the university statute violated, etc. He also names the counsel he has retained. (My one complaint so far about McAdams is that he has a blogging affectation of using the royal "we" to refer to himself, but let that pass.)

I'm glad to see that McAdams seems, like the horse in Job, to say "Ha ha!" when he hears the sound of the battle trumpet. He may be more emotionally distressed than he lets on, but for now, I'm saying, "Pass the popcorn" and hoping that Marquette gets taken to the cleaners.

Comments (7)

I don't even know McAdams's opinions on the ground-level political and moral issues in this case. I haven't bothered to investigate them. His criticisms of Abbate and of the philosophy department and dean's office were professional and procedural--that they mistreated a student and did not properly handle the student's legitimate complaint about teacher bullying. He could have made those criticisms even if he were a raving liberal on the substantive issues

Hopefully at least this story will put fence-sitting professors on notice that the homosexualists aren't here to discuss; they come to kill by sun or moon. Say one wrong thing and you will be investigated without even knowing the nature of the charge. Even better if McAdams can prevail. It could be the movement's Stalingrad.

I notice that Matthew Franck is playing the moderate over at First Things. Though implying that he has investigated all of this thoroughly, he shows that he hasn't when he implies that poor, young, misguided Ms. Abbate simply needed a little friendly guidance and that McAdams should first have gone to her chairman to get her a little help concerning her teacher performance. Here he shows that he has read inattentively. The student _already_ had gone to the chairman *and to the dean's office* before McAdams blogged about this at all, and his concerns were dismissed.

Abbate is not an overenthusiastic young teacher who simply needs to receive guidance while her anonymity is carefully guarded. She is not a poor, little violet mistreated by the powerful McAdams who "outed" her in some invidious way. On the contrary: From the outset, Abbate has been a successful and enthusiastic part of a powerful machine at Marquette for squelching dissent and even (as in the case of McAdams) meta-dissent from the way that first-level dissent is treated. She was fully backed up by her chairman, and McAdams knew this. There was never the slightest question of her merely having acted in an over-the-top manner and being a subject for gentle guidance, and McAdams knew that, too. She, acting in a position of authority over undergraduate students, abused her own authority and had no intention of changing that, and Marquette thinks that what she did was just ducky and is punishing McAdams for daring to criticize it.

Sometimes people try too hard to say, "On the one hand...on the other hand."

Sorry, this time, there is no other hand.

Franck's article sure was disappointing, a sort of finger-wagging "you all should play nice with each other," as if the issue were one of civility rather than the shocking fact that a Catholic university employs people to actively undermine its doctrinal foundations.

I _utterly_ disagree with Franck's idea that this young woman was to be treated with kid gloves. The left's portrayal of _her_ as a victim here is classic passive aggression, and anybody who falls for it is foolish. _She_ was in the position of power in the initial scenario; _she_ was the bully. The idea of going, as a professor in a completely different department, to this smug, bullying, kookball, with her entire department *and the dean's office* solidly behind her, and gently, privately correcting her classroom technique is simply a joke. Anyone who suggests it either doesn't have a clue how universities work or is pretending not to.

And why is it this terrible faux pas to tell her name in a blog post? Just because she's a grad student? C'mon, so now it's open season from grad students on their undergrads and everybody else has to protect the anonymity of the grad TA's no matter how unprofessionally they behave? Ridiculous. Infantilizing.

Franck also seems to think that it's intrinsically wrong to record a conversation without the other person's permission. Where is _that_ intrinsically wrong act named in the Bible or the Catechism? Is it just found by the natural light? If so, my natural light-o-meter and Franck's don't agree. Now, as I said in my first post, the student should not have _lied_ about recording it. But other than that, go for it. Record away. And it's a good thing he did, too. And it was a conversation after class, presumably with other people standing around. It didn't even have what the lawyers call a "reasonable expectation of privacy."

Thanks for the heads-up.

Well, they're trying to fire him. I think they're going to have a somewhat more difficult time than they think they are. McAdamas had already pointed out that they failed to follow their own procedure, and the dean is now saying that McAdams is having his tenure revoked because his "value" to Marquette has declined. I'd be surprised if tenured professor contracts at Marquette allow such a purely subjective judgement to permit the revocation of tenure. He says he's not going to go quietly. For some reason your link didn't go through for me, Mike, but here's McAdams's own post:


I thought the whole idea of "tenure" was that it wasn't subject to things like "your value has declined". I thought you could only get fired "for cause", and even that was pretty stiff to make happen.

Now, if they wanted to do a "reduction in force" and let go 1/3 of the faculty that might work, but you would have to see where he lands on seniority.

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