Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina–Wilmington
Description: Dr. Mike Adams, a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, 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. At the time he was an atheist, but his conversion to Christianity in 2000 impacted his views on political and social issues. After this, he was subjected to intrusive investigations, baseless accusations, and the denial of promotion to full professor even though his scholarly output surpassed that of almost all of his colleagues. In a lawsuit filed against the university on Adams’ behalf, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys contended that the university denied Adams a promotion because his nationally syndicated opinion columns espoused religious and political views that ran contrary to the opinions held by university officials.
Final victory: UNCW won’t appeal ruling in favor of professor denied promotion for his views
As part of the settlement in Adams v. The Trustees of the University of North Carolina–Wilmington, the university agreed to drop its appeal of a federal district court’s decision in Adams’ favor. The university also agreed to promote Adams to the position of full professor and pay him $50,000 in back pay as the court ordered, to adopt procedures protecting Adams from renewed retaliation, and to pay $615,000 in attorneys’ fees.
“The outcome of this case reaffirms that public universities must respect the First Amendment freedoms of their professors regardless of the viewpoints they express,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Travis Barham. “The university has chosen the right course in opting to stop defending its unconstitutional actions, to right the wrong done to Dr. Adams by granting him the promotion he has long deserved, and to protect him against future retaliation. Other universities watching this should understand that disagreeing with an accomplished professor’s political and religious views is not an acceptable reason to deny him a promotion.”
Since 2007, ADF attorneys have represented Adams along with lead counsel David French, who began the case with ADF.
“This victory is not only good for Dr. Adams but for all who value academic freedom,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kevin Theriot. “It sends a strong message to all public universities not to engage in this type of injustice and think there will be no consequences.”
In 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit determined that the First Amendment protects the opinion columns that Adams published, saying that “no individual loses his ability to speak as a private citizen by virtue of public employment.”
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. Since his conversion to Christianity in 2000, the university subjected Adams to a campaign of academic harassment that culminated in the denial of his promotion to full professor, despite an award-winning record of teaching, research, and service.
- “Speak Up” University website
- Pronunciation guide: Barham (BEHR’-um)
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Travis C. Barham serves as senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, where he plays a key role with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. He focuses his legal efforts on preserving and reclaiming religious freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of association for students and faculty at universities throughout the country. His work has been instrumental in securing several strategic appellate court victories, including a public university free speech victory at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2021. Barham earned his Juris Doctor from Washington and Lee University School of Law in 2006, where he graduated summa cum laude. Barham is a member of the bars of Georgia and Arizona. He is also admitted to practice before multiple federal district and appellate courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kevin Theriot serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a key member of the Center for Life Team working to defend pro-life laws and speech and protect medical rights of conscience. He has litigated cases in the areas of religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Theriot is admitted to the bar in eight states, the U.S. Supreme Court, and numerous other federal courts of appeal and district courts. Theriot received his law degree from Vanderbilt University and has been litigating First Amendment issues since 1993.