Victory for Academic Freedom: Jury Rules UNC-Wilmington Retaliated Against Conservative Professor

Leah Barkoukis

3/20/2014 7:58:00 PM - Leah Barkoukis

A jury in North Carolina on Thursday found that the University of North Carolina-Wilmington retaliated against criminology professor Dr. Mike Adams for his political and social views.

Adams, a Townhall columnist, explained last year that despite his track record of success at the university in terms of teaching, research and service, he was denied a promotion to full professor because of the views he advanced in his opinion columns. He described the promotion process as being “replete with procedural irregularities and with direct criticism of [his] columns and [his] beliefs.”

The ACLJ, who represented Adams along with Alliance Defending Freedom attorney Travis Barham, explains further:

When Dr. Adams submitted his application for full professor, university officials rejected it through the use of a completely-fabricated promotion standard, passed along false and misleading information about his academic record, explicitly considered the content of his protected speech in promotion documents, and – incredibly – allowed a professor who’d filed a false criminal complaint against Dr. Adams to cast a vote against his application.

“[N]o individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment,” the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit wrote in 2011. “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 university hired Adams, a former atheist, in 1993 as an assistant professor, and promoted him to associate professor in 1998. The “campaign of academic persecution that culminated in his denial of promotion to full professor” began when he converted to Christianity in 2000, which greatly influenced his views on social and political issues.

“We are grateful that the jury today reaffirmed the fundamental principle that universities are a marketplace of ideas, not a place where professors face retaliation for having a different view than university officials,” Barham said.

“The jury saw what we have long known to be true about the wrong done to Dr. Adams,” said Senior Legal Counsel David Hacker. “The verdict is a powerful message for academic freedom and free speech at America’s public universities.”

Update: According to the ACLJ, the verdict was only for liability. The judge will later decide Adams' relief.