Protecting the freedom to be a jerk

Mike Adams is a tenured associate professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. He is also a regular contributor to, and the author of such august tomes as “Feminists Say the Darndest Things: A Politically Incorrect Professor Confronts ‘Womyn’ on Campus” and “Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel.” He seems to me, in his public writings and attitudes, to be a virulently right-wing jerk.

Mike Adams is also extraordinarily popular among students, and he has many peer-reviewed scholarly publications. Nonetheless, Adams’ application for promotion to full professor in 2006 was allegedly denied on the basis of his public engagement. Despite my distaste for Adams’ dumb ideas about feminism, diversity and homosexuality, I’m glad that Adams sued the university, and am delighted that last month he won in an important ruling that (for now) preserves a vestige of academic freedom in this country.

For although I find his views as repugnant as many found the anti-NRA tweet of University of Kansas professor Don Guth (whose kerfuffle resulted in one of the most restrictive social-media policies in all of academia), Adams’ spirited public engagement should have helped, rather than hindered, his bid. There’s precious little academic freedom left, but it sure as hell should include the freedom to be a schmuck. (An email to Mike Adams seeking comment, and to confirm or deny said schmuckitude, was not returned.)

Adams’ TownHall bio boasts the classic young-lefty-sees-the-light creation myth – a “light” that shone brightest in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when he responded to a lengthy and pained diatribe emailed to the entire UNC-Wilmington faculty by student Rosa Fuller. Both emails are hopped up on the visceral emotion and overblown historical self-importance you might recall from your own communications in the final months of 2001. The student launches into an extended litany of U.S. misdeeds in the Muslim world; Adams responds, “The Constitution protects your speech just as it has protected bigoted, unintelligent, and immature speech for many years.”

The back-and-forth was apparently forwarded to every Fox News-watching uncle in the nation, and a gleefully self-avowed “anti-diversity” celebrity was born. The book deals soon followed, the Web presence grew, and when it came time for Adams to apply for what academics call promotion to capital-F Full, he included his record of public engagement in his portfolio. For when a scholar has dedicated himself (or herself, as Adams would hate me reminding you) to discourse with the public, that can count as intellectual service to the university and community.

Alas, Adams’ committee was, apparently, unimpressed with “service” that included a book with a chapter cheekily titled “Behind Every Successful Man, There’s a Fat Stupid Woman,” and the rest is history.

What is particularly important about this case is that, according to the legal finding, it was the “speech activity” of Adams’ public-engagement material submitted – and not, say, a tweet fired off (too soon?) in his capacity as a private citizen – that prevented Adams’ promotion.

I find every sentence Mike Adams writes to be abhorrent. (“The institution of heterosexual marriage is good. It tames men. It protects women. It is good for children. Therefore, it is worth promoting.”) But who are we to rule him unworthy of a place in the public discourse, which is all he endeavored to prove by submitting his portfolio?