Your Excellency, I humbly ask you to strike a blow for academic freedom, free speech and religious freedom, by publicly forbidding Marquette University from calling itself a Catholic university henceforth, and by revoking the mandate of theology teachers at Marquette University to teach theology. In this letter, I’d like to explain why I believe these drastic measures are necessary and justifiable.
Before I go on, I’d better introduce myself. My name is Vincent Torley, and I’m an Australian Catholic layman (now residing in Japan), with a Ph.D. in philosophy and several other degrees. Thanks to my years of study in an open academic environment where people were free to defend any and every point of view, I have a firm commitment to the values of academic freedom and unfettered free speech on campus, and I have defended these values on previous occasions (see here and here). At the same time, I believe that a university which calls itself Catholic should be free to propagate Catholic beliefs – such as the belief that abortion is wrong, or that marriage is a union between one man and one woman.
What happened at Marquette University
Which brings me to my reason for writing this letter. Yesterday, I came across a report on Breitbart by Austin Ruse on a blatant attempt to suppress academic freedom and free speech at one of America’s top Catholic universities: Marquette University. After reading the report’s opening paragraph, I was dumbstruck with astonishment:
Marquette University has moved to suspend and then fire Professor John McAdams for backing a student who tried to defend man-woman marriage when a leftist teaching assistant shut the student down.
It appears that back in the fall of 2014, the teaching assistant told the student in no uncertain terms that he was not allowed to defend the traditional Catholic doctrine of man-woman marriage in the classroom. “You can have whatever opinions you want but I can tell you right now, in this class homophobic comments, racist comments, and sexist comments will not be tolerated,” she said. [See here for a transcript of their conversation, which was published in The Atlantic in an article by Conor Friedersdorf.] When the student pressed her further, and asked: “So, are you saying that not agreeing with gay marriage is homophobic?”, the teaching assistant responded: “To argue that individuals should not have rights is going to be offensive to someone in this class.” (In fact, the Marquette Harassment policy prohibits “verbal, written or physical conduct directed at a person or a group based on… gender or sexual orientation where the offensive behavior… could or does result in mental, emotional or physical discomfort, embarrassment, ridicule or harm,” which means that if there had been a gay or lesbian student in the classroom that day, he or she could have legitimately complained of “mental or emotional discomfort,” upon hearing a student defend the Catholic position on marriage.)
When this incident came to the attention of Marquette University political science associate professor John McAdams, a tenured academic who has a Harvard Ph.D., he publicized the incident on his private blog, in an entry dated November 9, 2014. But after the teaching assistant in question complained of getting hate mail, McAdams was told that he would be stripped of his tenure and fired, even though McAdams had nothing to do with those hateful messages, and even though the teaching assistant had already been granted a tenure track position at another university. (Dr. McAdams was also subsequently criticized for naming the teaching assistant, but he broke no university rules in doing so, and as Dr. McAdams has pointed out, she was not functioning as a “student,” but as a faculty member, when she shut down a classroom discussion on the traditional view of marriage. For more on the university’s accusations against Dr. McAdams, see this comment below.) Since then, a “diverse” faculty committee has recommended to the university president that Dr. McAdams be suspended without pay from April 1 through the fall of 2016, and that he lose his job unless he admits his “guilt” and issues a grovelling apology expressing his regret at the “harm” suffered by the graduate student “within the next two weeks.” Specifically, Dr. McAdams must acknowledge that his original November 9, 2014, blog post was “reckless and incompatible with the mission and values of Marquette University.”
Your Excellency, I submit that the behavior of the president and the faculty committee at Marquette University constitutes a clear-cut violation of academic freedom, and that the teaching assistant’s declaration that the Catholic doctrine of marriage was off-limits in her philosophy classroom was an equally clear violation of free speech, as well as a contravention of the religious freedom of a Catholic university.
How other academics and journalists reacted
And I’m not the only one who feels this way: an article in the Huffington Post by Greg Lukianoff, President and CEO of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), titled, Free Speech on Campus: The 10 Worst Offenders of 2014 (March 2, 2015), listed Marquette University as one of the ten American colleges guilty of the most egregious violations of free speech during the past year:
Marquette University’s chilling campaign to revoke the tenure of political science professor John McAdams due to writings on his private blog ensures its place on this year’s list. McAdams criticized a graduate instructor for what he viewed as her inappropriate suppression of certain viewpoints for in-class discussion (one student’s opposition to same-sex marriage in particular), and the instructor came in for heavy criticism. Marquette then suspended McAdams without due process and abruptly cancelled his classes for the next semester. It also publicly insinuated that McAdams violated its harassment policy and was a safety threat to the campus, despite a complete lack of proof for either charge. Marquette’s disregard of due process and its incredible denial that its campaign against McAdams’s tenure implicates free speech or academic freedom in any way should frighten anyone concerned about faculty rights. Indeed, if the university succeeds in removing McAdams, free speech and academic freedom will lose whatever meaning they had at Marquette.
A more recent article by journalist Nico Perrino, on FIRE’s blog site, dated March 25, 2016, bears the title: Marquette Continues to Earn ‘Worst School’ for Free Speech Label With New Punishments for McAdams. Permit me to quote from one very telling paragraph:
As a result of Marquette’s complete disregard for McAdams’ right to free speech and academic freedom, FIRE placed the university on its list of the worst colleges for free speech in each of the last two years. With Marquette’s latest unjust actions against McAdams, the university seems to be angling for permanent residence on our list.
And here’s what the editor of The Academe Blog, the blog of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), wrote about Marquette University’s decision to fire Professor John McAdams: “This latest development is far more alarming. AAUP regulations, and Marquette’s own policies, explicitly prohibit what Marquette is now doing: punishing a professor for publicly expressing his opinions.”
Or as Professor McAdams himself pithily puts it: “Marquette is an intolerant, politically correct institution whose ‘Catholic mission’ is nothing but a marketing gimmick.”
Professor Anne Hendershott, writing in Crisis magazine, concludes her article, Protecting Students from Catholicism At Marquette (February 16, 2015), with a succinct formulation of the real issue at stake here: “Do faithful Catholics on Catholic campuses have the right to express their support for Catholic teachings on faith and morals? At Marquette, the answer seems to be no.”
What need to be done: disaffiliate the Catholic Church from Marquette University
Your Excellency, I am quite sure that you will concur with the foregoing sentiments regarding freedom of speech and academic freedom, so with your permission, I’d like to move on to the practical question of what should be done to discourage similar violations of students’ and academics’ freedom in the future by other Catholic universities in the United States.
The proper course of action, I believe, is a very drastic one: you need to cut Marquette University loose, by declaring publicly that it is no longer a Catholic university, and that consequently, its theology teachers can no longer be trusted to teach Catholic theology. I say “you” because you’re the only person who can do this, for reasons I’ll discuss below.
“Why take such a severe measure?” you may be asking yourself. “And even if the university has done wrong, shouldn’t it be given a second chance?”
No, it should not. The answer has to do with honesty in advertising. As a Catholic parent, I’d like to explain why.
Honesty in advertising: a story of a Catholic student
Picture the Catholic parents of an 18-year-old Grade 12 student, who will be going to college next year. The parents care deeply about passing on the faith, so they look for a Catholic university where they can send their child. They realize, of course, that many students question their faith in college, but they want to provide their child with a solid grounding in his/her faith – one in which every question posed by an inquiring mind would be competently answered by Catholic priests and teachers, and where intelligent arguments for the Catholic faith could be presented fairly and without distortion.
Now suppose that there were a university which publicly advertised itself as a “Catholic university,” but whose deeds did mot match its words: a university where arguments supporting the Catholic Church’s teaching on faith and morals could not even be discussed without violating its rules of conduct, and where skeptical questions would never be answered from a Catholic perspective, in the classroom. And suppose it was this university to which the above-mentioned parents chose to send their child, in the mistaken belief that their child’s Catholic faith would be nurtured in such an environment? Here’s my question, Your Excellency: what do you think the parents would say, when they finally learned the truth? “We were deceived!” That’s what they’d say. That’s certainly what I would say, if I were the father of that 18-year-old student.
Next question: who do you think those parents would blame, if the university in question were Marquette University? I’ll tell you: they’d blame you. Not the University’s President, Michael Lovell, but you. And they’d be absolutely right.
The buck stops with you, Your Excellency
Perhaps you’re thinking that the parents are being a little unfair, here. As you’ve argued previously, Marquette University is independent of the Archdiocese, and it makes its own hiring decisions. So why should you be held accountable for its un-Catholic behavior?
In order to answer this question, I’d like to quote from Father John Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame. In an interview with Zenit News Agency in 2006, Fr. Coughlin explained the essential characteristics of a Catholic university as laid out in canon law and in the 1990 apostolic constitution ‘Ex Corde Ecclesia‘:
From the perspective of canon law, a Catholic university must exhibit at least seven essential characteristics.
First, according to Canon 807, the Catholic university “promotes the deeper culture and full development of the human person in accord with the Church’s teaching office.”
Second, the majority of the faculty members consist of practising Catholics, as explained in Ex Corde Ecclesiae.
Third, Canon 810 states that the president and other officers of a Catholic university have the responsibility to ensure that faculty members are appointed who are “outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and uprightness of life.”
Fourth, the president of the Catholic university must make the profession of faith at the start of his or her term of office, according to Canon 833.
Fifth, the bishops’ conference and the diocesan bishop have the duty and right of ensuring that the principles of Catholic doctrine are faithfully observed.
Sixth, in line with Canon 812, theology teachers in a Catholic university must have a mandate from the local ordinary.
Finally, the use of the title “Catholic” is only with the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority, as outlined in Canon 808.
Your Excellency, you’ve repeatedly declared yourself to be the local ordinary of Marquette University (see here, here and here). That means you can revoke the mandate held by theology teachers at Marquette University, if you wish. Let me make it clear at this point that I’m not accusing the theology teachers of any wrongdoing whatsoever. My point is simply that in an academic environment where arguments in support of Catholic positions on faith and/or morals cannot even be aired, the orthodoxy of theology teachers is moot. If defending the Catholic position on morality contravenes university regulations, then those teachers can no longer be relied on to faithfully transmit Catholic teaching, no matter how orthodox they may be. Revoking their mandate sends a clear signal to parents of prospective students that their sons and daughters cannot expect to hear a cogent public defense of the arguments in support of the Church’s position on faith and morals at Marquette University. That is why it is important.
I’d now like to address the last condition listed by Fr. John Coughlin in the interview I cited above: the use of the title “Catholic” is only with the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority. Who is that authority? I believe it is you, Your Excellency. Permit me to quote a short paragraph from a popular Catholic pamphlet (written in 1992) titled, How to Keep Your University Catholic (The Cardinal Newman Society, Revised Third Edition, 2009) by Rev. Leonard A. Kennedy, C.S.B., Ph.D. (emphases mine):
In some diocesan universities the bishop is chairman of the trustees, in others simply a member of the trustees, and in others not a trustee. But is should make no difference. And it should make little difference whether a university is conducted by a diocese, a group of Catholic laity, a religious congregation, or a board of trustees set up by a religious congregation; for, according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a bishop has the duty and right to see that the principles of Catholic doctrine are faithfully observed in all institutions of higher studies in his diocese which call themselves Catholic (canons 810, 814). He can declare a university to be Catholic or no longer Catholic (canon 808) and can withdraw from anyone teaching theological subjects the mandate to do so (canon 812). No doubt these powers should be exercised only after other means of dealing with difficulties are exhausted; these canons are first of all intended to ensure that a Catholic university will consult with the local bishop. Of course, if a bishop has a diocesan university, he could influence it more readily than otherwise.
According to Fr. Leonard Kennedy, a diocesan bishop “can declare a university to be Catholic or no longer Catholic.” Marquette University is located within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and you are the Archbishop of Milwaukee. Unlike you, Your Excellency, I have no expertise in canon law. However, I think I’m entitled to conclude that the “competent ecclesiastical authority” referred to in Canon 808 of the Code of Canon Law is you, Your Excellency. Canon 808 states: “Even if it is in fact Catholic, no university is to bear the title or name of Catholic university without the consent of competent ecclesiastical authority.” Your consent – not the President’s, or anyone else’s – is what is required for Marquette University to call itself Catholic.
I hope you can now see why the parents in my story would be fully justified in holding you responsible, if they sent their child to Marquette University and later discovered that it was Catholic in name only.
I’ll let Dr. McAdams have the last word (h/t M.D. Kittle, Watchdog.org, Can Opposing Same-Sex Marriage Get You Fired at Marquette University?, The Daily Signal, November 13, 2015):
“What’s happening at Marquette is what is happening everywhere, but that’s a shame because Marquette claims to be a Catholic university. For heaven’s sake, opposing same-sex marriage ought to be allowed at a Catholic university.”
The ball is in your court, Your Excellency. In Heaven’s name, do something.
Postscript – How to defend the Church’s prohibition of “gay marriage” intelligently
The student at the center of this story who argued with his graduate instructor about gay marriage cited studies purporting to show that children raised in same-sex households fared poorly, when compared with children raised by opposite-sex parents. In a similar vein, Professor Anne Hendershott, in her article on the incident, refers to “the newest study by Catholic University sociologist Paul Sullins, which found that in a representative sample of 207,007 children, including 512 with same sex parents, children raised in same sex households were twice as likely to experience emotional problems than children with opposite sex parents.”
In my experience, this line of argument tends to backfire, badly. To put it bluntly, we don’t currently have the kind of rigorous sociological data required to substantiate the conclusion that children raised by same-sex parents fare worse than children raised by opposite-sex parents. The Sullins study, for instance, does indeed show that children who are brought up in same-sex households tend to have more emotional problems, but it adds that this is because they are not biologically related to one or both parents. By contrast, children brought up in opposite-sex households are usually the biological offspring of both their parents. To quote from the study: “Biological relationship, it appears, is both necessary and sufficient to explain the higher risk of emotional problems faced by children with same-sex parents.” Indeed, a gay advocate could argue that the trauma of adoption (rather than the trauma of being raised by same-sex parents) is what accounts for the poor outcomes observed in these children.
A better defense of the traditional doctrine can be made by pointing out that “same-sex relationships, by design, require children to be removed from one or more of their biological parents and raised absent a father or mother,” as a gay man, writing in The Federalist (April 28, 2015), put it recently (I’m Gay, And I Oppose Same-Sex Marriage, by “Paul Rosnick”). One could argue that such an arrangement creates and perpetuates an injustice, and “Rosnick” agrees: “That hardly seems fair.”
However, in my own humble opinion, the best way to defend the Church’s position on gay marriage is by arguing as follows:
(1) Marriage, by its very nature, demands life-long sexual fidelity on the part of the parents, for the successful rearing of children. (There have been societies which tolerated polygamy, in the past; but that in no way negates the fact that children thrive when raised by parents in a monogamous relationship.)
(2) Gay partnerships do not require life-long sexual fidelity: indeed, most gay couples reject the very notion as antiquated and repressive. (See The Dirty Little Secret: Most Gay Couples Aren’t Monogamous, by Hanna Rosin, in Slate, June 26, 2013.)
(3) Therefore marriage is fundamentally different from a gay partnership.
The issue at stake here is a very simple one: sexual monogamy. Sexual monogamy is required in order to achieve one of the chief goals of marriage; however, sexual monogamy is not required in order to realize the goals of a gay partnership. The two are completely different. When a State legislates that gays can marry, basically it is saying that monogamy is not an essential or even a desirable ingredient of marriage. Cheating is OK; indeed, the very concept of “cheating” no longer makes any sense. This is the “brave new world” that gay marriage has brought us: a world where children in public schools can no longer be taught that they should be faithful to their spouse, as gay couples might find that offensive.
What Americans really believe, however, is something quite different: a 2013 Gallup poll of 1,535 adults found that only 6% approved of married men and women having affairs, while 91% condemned it as morally wrong. At the same time, the poll found that a majority of respondents (59%) considered gay relationships morally acceptable.
A skilled teacher of Catholic doctrine could then pose the following rhetorical question to a philosophy class: is it really consistent for someone to (a) condemn adultery for heterosexual couples; (b) approve of same-sex couples having affairs; and (c) insist that there is no fundamental difference between man-woman marriages and gay partnerships?