Dr. Mike Adams is a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington (the “University”). In 1993, he was hired by the University as an assistant professor. Over his career, he received numerous teaching awards and earned accolades from his faculty colleagues. In 1998, he was promoted to Associate Professor. However, in 2000, Dr. Adams, an atheist, became a Christian believer. Unsurprisingly, his conversion impacted his political and social views, which became more conservative and reflected traditional values. However, his conversion and his subsequent change of views did not sit well with his esteemed University colleagues. After his conversion, he became the subject of baseless accusations that led to numerous investigations by the University. Further, he was denied promotion to full professor despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service to the University and broader community. In fact, his scholarly work surpassed most of his faculty colleagues. Dr. Adams believed that he was denied promotion because his nationally syndicated opinion columns espoused religious and political views that were in conflict with opinions held by University officials.
As a result of harassment against him, Dr. Adams filed a lawsuit against the University to vindicate his rights. He was represented by attorneys affiliated with the Alliance Defending Freedom (“ADF”). ADF fought a protracted legal battle on Dr. Adams’ behalf that has lasted seven years and ended this past Tuesday. Following trial, a jury found that Dr. Adams had been illegally targeted by University officials, and the federal court ordered the University to promote Dr. Adams and to award back pay. The University decided that it would appeal the federal district court’s decision in Dr. Adams favor. However, on Tuesday, the federal court entered an order based upon an agreed settlement between the parties in which the University agreed to drop its appeal. In addition, the University agreed to adopt procedures to protect Professor Adams from renewed retaliation and harassment, and to pay $615,000 in Dr. Adams’ attorneys’ fees. So now the taxpayers of North Carolina are stuck with a $615,000 bill for retaliating against a conservative Christian by University officials.
ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham said the following regarding the final agreement in this case:
Public universities must respect the free speech rights of their professors, regardless of the points of view they express. Public universities should be a marketplace of ideas, not places where professors like Dr. Adams face years of retaliation and discrimination for expressing views university officials do not like. The court’s order reminds universities that disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious and political views are not grounds for denying him a promotion.
In a very strange part of this case, Federal Senior Judge Malcolm J. Howard of the Eastern District of North Carolina, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and a President Reagan appointee, ruled that the opinion columns written by Professor Adams were not protected by the First Amendment. (Yes, I know; it makes no sense to me either.) Fortunately for Dr. Adams and for those interested in academic freedom, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed the decision by the Honorable Judge Howard and determined that the First Amendment did protect his published opinions. (It might be a very good time for the 75-year-old Senior Judge Howard to give up the federal bench and take up shuffleboard instead.) The appellate court held that “no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.” Opinion columns, such as those in Mere Comments, the New York Times, the Federalist Papers, or the Anti-Federalist Papers, are classic examples of free speech protected by the First Amendment.
I join in congratulating Professor Adams and the students at the University of North Carolina – Wilmington for learning a valuable lesson about the meaning of free speech. Kudos also to the attorneys at the Alliance Defending Freedom for their persistence and success for this seven-year legal battle! Please pray for Dr. Adams and his family as he moves onto a new phase of his professional career.