“Fight them early, and fight them hard” -John McAdams on defeating liberals in academia
About 16 years ago or so, I asked Marquette Professor John McAdams for advice about being a conservative in Wisconsin academia. We are a lonely lot.
He didn’t hesitate. “Fight them early, and fight them hard,” he said. I’m still in academia, and I honestly think I survived largely because of his advice.
We were standing at a blog summit, one of the state’s first. I had a blog, and he had a blog called the Marquette Warrior that kept the liberal Marquette administrators up at night, and blogs were in their infancy then, something new, and they were making waves. There were a handful or so of us then. The traditional media were taking note, and conservative blogs like McAdams’ were ruffling a lot of liberal feathers in academia because they allowed conservatives to publish and have a voice outside of the liberal media gatekeepers at long last. This was before social media. The powers that be weren’t used to sharing intellectual control. That was especially true on campus.
It wasn’t the blogs that were threatening them. It was the power of conservative opinions.
And John McAdams was an intellectual powerhouse.
He wasn’t scared of the fight; he was willing to take it on. He had a cause, and he had principles and he had courage, and he was willing to stand up for what he believed in. Mostly, I think, he couldn’t stand how afraid conservative students were to share their beliefs and how liberal thought was an orthodoxy on campus. I admired him then. I came to admire him all the more as he took on the politically correct totalitarians at Marquette, stood up for conservative students even at peril to himself, and toiled away in the blogging and writing trenches, offering a rare conservative counterpoint in the towers of academe and in Wisconsin media.
And so it was with great sadness that I learned that, according to the Marquette Wire, Prof. McAdams has passed away. He continued blogging almost to the end. His last blog post was in March. Last August, he wrote, “There is no reason to believe that the basic instinct of university bureaucrats — to pander to politically correct leftists — has changed at all.” He was standing up for a conservative student in that post – again.
What a great loss his death is.
He made the academics live up to their supposed winnowing and sifting of ideas and academic freedom ideals, and he fought to make sure that countering ideas were allowed on campus and that conservative students had a voice at Marquette. He was an expert on the Kennedy assassination along the way (a class he was teaching this semester).
He told The Fire that, when orthodoxy of thought is allowed, students lose out on “hearing different sides of the issue, and if they lose that, then it becomes not education, but indoctrination.” He was right. We all gain by entertaining, not silencing, other points of view. Yet, on campuses today, too many silence themselves because they fear they must.
When the administrators came for him eventually (and they came for him hard), he sued. And won. But it wasn’t without great personal cost, and it was a fight he should never have had to endure. It’s a shameful chapter in Marquette’s history.
“The undisputed facts show,” the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrote, “that the University breached its contract with Dr. McAdams when it suspended him for engaging in activity protected by the contract’s guarantee of academic freedom.”
He was incredibly mistreated. It’s disgusting that he had to spend so many of the last years of his life fighting their unfair dictates and campus bans. He was banished from campus for three years at one point.
They did everything they could to destroy him. But he won.
When he won, I breathed a sigh of relief. I suspect all non-liberals in academia in Wisconsin did. His victory was a precedent that made us all feel safer. He was a pioneer, showing us the way. He was fearless and that made the rest of us a bit less afraid.
Most of all, he was an important voice. And a lonely one. You didn’t have to agree with everything he said all the time (who agrees with everyone all the time?), to respect the fact that he was virtually alone in the wilderness saying these things, and he was paying a big price. He was not politically correct, to say the least.
I think all Wisconsin conservatives owe him a debt. I know I do. His ideas made our society better. His courage did too.
Rest in peace, Professor McAdams. We will carry on your fight.
Published Date 04/15/2021