A Conservative Professor's Long Quest for Justice Ends in Victory

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  • David French
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    David French, a Harvard educated attorney, is Senior Counsel at the American Center of Law and Justice. He lives in Middle Tennessee with his wife, best-selling author Nancy French and their children and pets.
By David French, CP Guest Contributor
July 17, 2014|11:14 am

In March I reported on Professor Mike Adams's victory for academic freedom in his jury trial against the University of North Carolina–Wilmington. UNCW officials had rejected Dr. Adams's promotion application in a process rife with irregularity and laced with open hostility to his conservative and Christian speech. In addition to teaching at UNCW, Professor Adams is a columnist at Townhall.com, where he regularly attacks intolerance in higher education.

He experienced that intolerance first-hand when UNCW officials denied his promotion, and in 2007, he filed suit (full disclosure, I was his lead counsel in the case). The facts were egregious:

Dr. Adams began his career at UNCW in 1993 as an outspoken atheist and liberal. During this period, he was widely praised in the university for his teaching and scholarship and achieved tenure in 1998 without any controversy. In 2000, however, shortly after visiting a mentally handicapped prisoner on death row in Texas - and being struck by the fact that this prisoner had read the entire Bible while he had not - Dr. Adams read the Bible and experienced a religious conversion, becoming a Christian and, over time, a conservative as well.

As a conservative, Dr. Adams eventually began writing a column for Townhall.com that is often sharply critical of leftist excesses in universities nationwide, as well as in his own university.

The reaction within the university was furious, with the chancellor of the university going so far as to propose changing the university's promotion standards to address Dr. Adams's speech. The chancellor also placed him under a brief, secret investigation at the request of an anarchist transgendered group to determine whether Dr. Adams was passing along "transphobic" views to students.

In 2006, after compiling an impressive record of scholarship and accumulating multiple teaching awards and honors, Dr. Adams submitted an application for promotion to full professor. University officials, however, denied his promotion in a process where they applied a made-up promotion standard that contradicted the faculty handbook, passed along false information about his academic record, deceptively edited documents to influence the faculty vote, explicitly discussed his constitutionally protected viewpoint, and allowed a faculty member with an obvious and outrageous conflict of interest to cast a vote against him.

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The case went up to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and back down again before finally ending up in front of a jury of his peers this March. The jury unanimously found that UNCW retaliated against Dr. Adams, and the trial court awarded Dr. Adams a promotion to full professor, back pay, and attorneys' fees. Yesterday, the case finally ended in a settlement agreement where UNCW agreed to drop its appeal, promote Dr. Adams to full professor, increase his salary to the appropriate rate, award him back pay, protect him from future retaliation, and award a substantial attorneys' fee.

The lesson? The Constitution protects conservatives too, and universities would do well to remember that rather basic legal fact.

One final note: I'd like to thank our co-counsel in the case, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and particularly Travis Barham, the ADF attorney who put in hundreds of hours defending Dr. Adams's constitutional rights. Outstanding work, Travis and ADF.

David French is Senior Counsel and Director of Digital Advocacy at the American Center for Law and Justice.
 

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