In a trial that begins tomorrow, March 17, a jury will consider whether the University of North Carolina–Wilmington retaliated against one of its professors for his views. Last year, a federal court found sufficient evidence to warrant a trial after an appeals court determined that the First Amendment protects the views criminology professor Dr. Mike Adams published in opinion columns with which university officials disagreed.
A former atheist, Adams frequently received accolades from his colleagues after the university hired him as an assistant professor in 1993 and promoted him to associate professor in 1998. His conversion to Christianity in 2000 impacted his views on political and social issues. Subsequently, the university subjected Adams to a campaign of academic persecution that culminated in his denial of promotion to full professor, despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service.
“Universities are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, not a place where professors face retaliation for having a different view than university officials,” said Barham. “Disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s religious and political views is no grounds for denying him a promotion. As the 4th Circuit affirmed, protecting academic freedom for university professors is critical, and opinion columns are among the purest examples of free speech that the First Amendment protects.”
In its opinion in Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the 4th Circuit wrote that “no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment…. Adams’ columns addressed topics such as academic freedom, civil rights, campus culture, sex, feminism, abortion, homosexuality, religion, and morality. Such topics plainly touched on issues of public, rather than private, concern…. The Defendants’ arguments to the contrary rest on the same fallacy engaged by the district court, and focus not on the nature of Adams’ speech at the time it was made, but on his inclusion of those materials in the ‘private’ context of his promotion application. Nothing in the district court’s analysis or the Defendants’ contentions rebut the conclusion that Adams’ speech was that of ‘a citizen speaking on a matter of public concern.’”