A college professor and conservative columnist who accuses the University of North Carolina Wilmington of discriminating against his Christian beliefs has taken his case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mike Adams, an associate professor of criminal justice and a nationally known syndicated columnist, argues that the university violated his right to free speech in 2006 by withholding a promotion to full professor because of content published in his columns and opinion articles. His case was heard in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 26.
"It's very dangerous for them to have the power to say, 'We don't want a person of that nature to be a full professor,'" Adams said. "The implications are broad, not just for me, but for thousands of professors across the country."
UNCW contends that Adams was denied the promotion because of inadequate scholarly research.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Thomas J. Ziko, arguing for UNCW, said, "This is a fairly straightforward academic review for a promotion. His peers determined he wasn't good enough to be a full professor this time."
In 2007, Adams first brought his case before U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina. On March 15, 2010, Judge Malcolm Howard ruled that Adams did not have sufficient proof of discrimination and that he had lost First Amendment protection of the content of his opinion columns.
"The novelty of this claim (and the entire case) comes from the fact that plaintiff included these materials in his application seeking promotion, thus forcing the very people he criticized to make professional judgments about this speech," wrote Howard in the summary judgment order for Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
Adams has written over 200 strongly conservative columns and opinion articles for various websites and publications on topics ranging from abortion to same-sex marriage.
While he admitted referring to the columns on his promotion application, Adams insists that they were not listed under research. He instead listed his articles as a "community service to provoke dialogue on the prominent issues of the day, particularly in the department of sociology."
Adams argues that his scholarly research exceeds that of the people who opposed his promotion at UNCW. Before going up for tenure in 1998, Adams had written six peer-reviewed journal articles. Since that time, he has produced five more refereed journal articles appearing in scholarly publications such as Judicature and the American Journal of Criminal Justice. According to Adams, he has more published research articles than any member of the group that voted on his promotion in 2006.
"There has never been anyone that could not get to full professor with as many refereed [articles] as I had in this department-ever," said Adams.
Adams also has earned several teaching awards and overwhelmingly positive student evaluations.
For the first seven years as a professor at UNCW, Adams was an outspoken liberal atheist. But in 2000, he converted to Christianity, became a registered Republican, and began speaking out against liberal social ideas (see "Odd man in," WORLD, Nov. 21, 2009). Adams focused much of his criticism against religious intolerance and political correctness at universities, including "unconstitutional" speech codes at the UNCW (see "Restricted areas," WORLD, Feb. 12, 2011).
Adams claims that ever since he became an adamant Christian conservative, UNCW has been hostile toward him. After Adams wrote an article criticizing the transgender movement, the university launched an investigation against him to see if he was "transmitting transphobia" in the classroom. The university's decision to investigate him because of religious beliefs expressed in an outside venue is, he said, a "dangerous issue implicating the chilling of academic freedom."
For years, Adams used his columns to defend people and groups who claimed their constitutional rights had been violated.
"It's odd that I've gotten caught up in this," he said. "For years I've been bringing up cases involving other people; it's kind of weird to be in one myself as plaintiff. This is my calling-to bring some respectability and integrity to academia."
A decision by the appeals court is not expected for several weeks.