.- The controversy over Marquette Universityâs offer and subsequent withdrawal of a deanship to a homosexual university professor helps show the present conflict in Catholic academia between status and Catholic identity, one writer on Catholic higher education says.
In a Friday essay in the Wall Street Journal, Anne Hendershott, a professor at The Kingâs College in New York, discussed the case of Jodi OâBrien, the Seattle University professor who was initially offered the deanship of Marquetteâs College of Arts and Sciences.
According to Hendershott, the deanship was withdrawn not because OâBrien is homosexual but because she showed a âminimalâ publication record.
Hendershott, author of the book âStatus Envyâ on the politics of Catholic higher education, said that although OâBrienâs supporters maintain that she is âthe victim of homophobia,â critics of the job offer cited not her sexual orientation but rather her writings which disparage Catholic teachings on marriage, sexuality and the family.
While each of the other two final candidates had received funding for many major research grants or had published an award-winning history book, OâBrien published articles such as âHow Big is your God? Queer Christian Social Movementsâ and a piece on âgender switchingâ which described online homoerotic behavior.
After Marquette withdrew the offer to OâBrien, the university said the offer was made âprematurelyâ and the appointment process âshould have had more careful scrutiny.â However, the school reached a settlement with OâBrien.
In reaction to the universityâs decision to withdraw the offer, About 100 Marquette faculty members out of a total of more than 1,100 took out a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel demanding that OâBrien be appointed dean.
According to Hendershott, the publication Inside Higher Ed published an article asking whether homosexuals face âa stained glass ceilingâ at Catholic colleges. The essay quoted homosexual Seton Hall University political science professor W. King Mott, who claimed âThere is no way the current hierarchy will allow a gay person to hold a position of authorityâ¦ unless they are closeted and self-loathing.â
Hendershott pointed out that Prof. Mott is âhardly a marginalized man,â being a tenured full-professor and former chair of Seton Hallâs faculty senate. Prof. Mott also serves on the search committee for Seton Hallâs next president.
âThere are openly gay men and women in leadership positions at a number of Catholic universities and colleges,â she reported.
She also said that Marquette has âa long history of respect for academic freedom.â As evidence, she noted that tenured philosophy professor Daniel Maguire has defended abortion as âa sacred choiceâ and has suggested that sometimes âending incipient life is the best that life offers.â
For Hendershott, the OâBrien case showed the âupside-down worldâ of Catholic academia. She remarked that some observers see faculty members with views dissenting from Catholic doctrine as âa kind of fashion statement.â
âThere is more status in hiring a sexuality scholar who denigrates Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage than in choosing a serious scholar who might actually support Catholic teachings,â she charged.
She quoted Marquette University professor John McAdams, who claimed OâBrienâs appointment was âpushed by some faculty and administrators as adding the right kind of diversity to the school.â
Meanwhile, Marquette emeritus professor Christopher Wolfe has lamented that the school has moved âquietly but consistently away from its distinctively Catholic roots.â
Hendershott closed her Wall Street Journal essay by saying that unless Marquette addresses the question of whether candidates for senior leadership need to respect the identity of Catholic higher education, hiring decisions like OâBrienâs will continue to be contested.