An academic who received awards for excellence and produced several peer-reviewed publications said he fell from grace when he began espousing "religious beliefs and [a] conservative political viewpoint" and is now suing his university for denying him promotion.
Criminologist Mike Adams has filed suit against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, saying the school refused to promote him because his superiors disagreed with his religious and political beliefs.
According to the complaint filed on Monday, Adams was hired to teach at UNCW in 1993 and has served as an associate professor since 1998. During his tenure, he was named "Faculty Member of the Year" three times and generated research resulting in 10 peer-reviewed publications.
Adams applied for full professorship in 2004, but the then-interim chair of the department -- who was known as an outspoken feminist with leftist political leanings -- raised concerns about Adams' "political activity" and reprimanded him for his weekly nationally syndicated column.
In 2005, Dr. Kimberly Cook took over the school's Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice. An outspoken atheist said to have openly criticized Christianity, Cook described to a recruitment committee her ideal candidate for a teaching position as "a lesbian with spiked hair and a dog collar."
Adams completed his 11th peer-reviewed publication in 2006 and again applied for full professorship. But during a closed-door meeting on Sept. 14, Cook and senior faculty members decided not to promote him, according to the complaint.
"The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and university officials should not treat religious or conservative professors as second-class citizens on campus," said David French, director of the conservative Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, who is supporting Adams.
"In an institution of higher learning, professors should be promoted based on the quality of their work, not discriminated against on the basis of their beliefs," French said.
Adams told Cybercast News Service that when he first arrived at UNCW, he was considered "a rock star" on campus because he was a liberal atheist and "really fitted in well."
But the teacher underwent a religious conversion in 2000, and "when I sort of came out of the closet -- if you will -- as a conservative Republican, it really got ugly."
A week after 9/11, Adams received an email from Rosa Fuller, a UNCW student who had taken one of his classes. The email, also sent to 17 students and faculty members at the university, blamed the terrorist attacks on U.S. foreign policy. She asked the recipients to "forward this email to friends and acquaintances both on and off campus."
Adams did as Fuller requested, and also sent her a reply in which he noted that "the Constitution protects bigoted, unintelligent and immature speech."
When Fuller began receiving negative emails about her message, Adams said, she accused him of sending her email, along with his critical comments, to other people.
As a result of the student's complaints, university officials "ended up scouring and searching through my email account to find evidence" of Fuller's suspicions that he had forwarded her email and his remarks to others.
In the end, Adams said, "it was found that I was telling the truth." He had forwarded the email -- as the student requested -- but only sent the critical comment back to her.
'Always stand your ground'
"Right after this incident took place, one of my colleagues -- a former faculty senate president, a leader on campus -- developed the idea that I'd broken into her office and sprayed tear gas around, and actually accused me of felony breaking and entering," Adams said.
"The FBI went in and ran tests, and they didn't find anything," he added. "They passed the information on to the school in the spring of 2002, but no one passed that to me until 2006." As a result, he said "a cloud of suspicion" hung over him for a long time.
Through it all, Adams said he has maintained a sense of humor. "It's like a 'Naked Gun' movie," he said of the situation. "You have to wonder: What head injuries would these people have to have sustained to come up with this kind of script?"
But when Adams was passed over for promotion last September, he decided it was time to take action.
"I am coming forward and saying, 'look, you've denied me for religious and ideological reasons my promotion to full professor, and I deserve it,' " he said. "You just can't give a person three teaching awards and then write a letter saying he's deficient in teaching."
"We categorically deny Mike Adams' statements," Cynthia Lawson, assistant to the chancellor for marketing and communications at UNCW, told Cybercast News Service in an email on Tuesday.
"It is not uncommon for tenured associate professors, employed by any department at any university, including UNCW, to be denied promotion to a full professor," Lawson said.
"An applicant's record is evaluated by senior faculty in the department, who make their recommendation based upon a variety of factors.
"While the university has not yet been served with the lawsuit, we are prepared fully to defend ourselves," she added.
Despite enduring what he called "a clear pattern of retaliation," Adams had some advice for others undergoing similar ordeals in academia: "Always stand your ground."
"I often end a lot of speeches talking about Numbers 13 in the Old Testament, about Caleb and Joshua being unbelievably full of courage," he said. "But they were surrounded by 10 cowards," he said.
(The reference is to the 12 spies sent into Canaan. Ten of those who returned advised Moses not to invade the land promised to the Israelites by God because of the strength of the enemy. In the end, the two bold spies where the only ones who survived the subsequent 40 years of desert wandering and were allowed to enter Canaan.)
"The problem right now in society is we have a five-to-one coward-to-hero ratio in America," Adams said.
"I just tell people there's only one way to change the ratio, and that's by stepping forward."
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