Shrill denunciations of this kind, with some faculty screaming “J’accuse!” at others, are rarely a good idea. They are never a good idea for the department chairmen who supervise parties already in conflict. Is the ethics instructor getting some quiet remedial advice from her chairman on how to deal ethically with students who espouse conservative, Catholic ethical views? Possible, but doubtful, and after this letter why should she bother to heed it? Is McAdams getting a quiet scolding from his chairman, who might urge him to make amends for “outing” a vulnerable young grad assistant? Also possible, but still more doubtful, and why should McAdams listen? Signing this letter? Dumb, dumb, dumb.Further up the chain of command, the non-suspension suspension, not in the proper form, and contrary to the university's rules: mistake.
And the higher we go in the university hierarchy—you can count on this—the more crashingly stupid the mistake will always be. McAdams laughs off the suspension because it is Christmas break already, and meanwhile has retained legal counsel. It’s lawsuit time!Taken together, that's a measured response, and more likely to open minds, or change them, than Peter Wood at Minding the Campus.
Good grief. It should be time for someone at Marquette to remember that the university is not Hobbes’s state of nature, the war of all against all where grasping for power over others is all that matters. Time for someone to remember what a Catholic university (yes, even a Jesuit one) actually stands for. Time for someone—a provost, a president? (I know, now we’re in the stratosphere of stupidity)—to break the cycle, to say “stand down” to everyone involved, to un-suspend McAdams, to recommend remedial pedagogical advising for teaching assistants, and to reassert the freedom of Catholic opinions at a Catholic university, even on the part of lowly undergraduates. That would be a start.
We live in a time when borders of academic and intellectual freedom are shrinking rapidly. Words and ideas get tagged as “insensitive” and failure to self-censor such words is castigated as harmful and unjust. Identity politics has escalated to the point where merely calling for open debate on campus on issues that are, in fact, widely and openly debated off-campus sets off paroxysms of rage among the keepers of campus decorum.That last sentence is surely true, and it is a call to the faculty as custodians of the curriculum to require that critical thinking not be unthinkingly equated with criticizing things as they are.
A university that slips into this kind of censoriousness forfeits any legitimate claim it has to upholding the liberal arts. Its claim to teach “critical thinking” is likewise compromised. Critical thinking requires at a minimum serious consideration of contrary views.