Loyola Marymount University’s appointment of an atheist dean with a record of service to abortion-supporting groups suggests the university may be unable to sustain its Catholic identity, one alumni group has charged.
“The current process for attracting, qualifying, and vetting candidates for senior positions, as this appointment demonstrates, is inadequate to preserve the Catholic character of Loyola Marymount University for very much longer,” the group RenewLMU said April 28.
On April 16, the Jesuit university announced the appointment of Robbin Crabtree as dean of its Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts. The position oversees bioethics, theological studies, philosophy, and Catholic studies at the university. The dean is also involved in faculty hiring decisions.
RenewLMU, a self-described group of students, alumni, faculty, donors and other university supporters concerned about the university’s Catholic mission, questioned whether Crabtree was an appropriate choice to oversee “mission critical” departments.
Loyola Marymount University President David W. Burcham, in an April 16 letter to the Board of Regents, said that criticisms of her candidacy have been “exaggerated and inaccurate.”
Crabtree is presently dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Fairfield University, a Jesuit institution in Connecticut.
Her Curriculum Vitae notes her service on the advisory board and media relations committee for Planned Parenthood of Putnam County in Indiana from 1991-1993.
In 2001 and 2002, she was a member of the New Mexico group Las Adelitas Women in Politics. While Crabtree’s Curriculum Vitae describes the group as an organization to promote women’s candidates for public office in New Mexico, the group has been involved in promoting pro-abortion candidates.
Burcham said that Crabtree’s involvement with the “budding” political organization was “brief” and the organization “changed significantly” since she left it. He said her involvement with Planned Parenthood consisted of serving as an “outside consultant” to a new Planned Parenthood-sponsored women’s health center. This work was in communications “aimed at engaging underserved women in the community to increase their awareness of the clinic’s basic healthcare services.”
Burcham said the university’s only “litmus test” in hiring is that “a candidate must fully support our mission of academic excellence in the Jesuit and Marymount traditions and commit himself/herself to furthering this mission through their professional life at LMU.”
The university president’s comments were largely echoed in an April 16 letter from Father Robert V. Caro, S.J., to alumni and parents. He said that concerns being raised about Crabtree’s past associations “do not reflect her recent involvements or reputation and appear to ignore her distinguished record.”
RenewLMU objected that there is no indication that Crabtree has disavowed these groups or their philosophical positions. The group noted that the university’s mission includes the “promotion of justice” and the “service of faith.”
“If abortion is really a matter of justice and faith, and of our Jesuit and Marymount traditions, then appointing someone who has provided years of service to the largest abortion provider in the United States to oversee Bioethics, Theological Studies, and Philosophy is deeply problematic.”
The group said that Burcham would never hire someone who had served an organization that favors racial segregation and racial injustice unless that person had “radically and publicly repudiated this involvement.” It argued that the university president should not ignore the “prenatal injustice” of abortion.
Burcham’s letter also acknowledged that Crabtree has described herself as an “atheist / secular Jew.” He said she did this in the context of “saying she had found a home in Jesuit and Catholic higher education.” He said the university does not have faith requirements, an approach he described as being “in the spirit” of the Society of Jesus’ General Congregation statements about partnership between Jesuits and their colleagues of all religious beliefs or no religious belief.
“I have no doubt that Dr. Crabtree meets our sole test—being able to support and further LMU’s Jesuit/Marymount/Catholic mission and identity,” he said.
RenewLMU charged that the university “selectively withheld” information about Crabtree’s religious beliefs, saying that they were not widely known until her appointment was announced. Fr. Caro’s letter to alumni only said that she “does not share our Catholic faith.”
The other dean candidate finalist, Dr. Ramón Gutiérrez, had also sparked controversy. An American history professor at the University of Chicago, he served as a consultant for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America on the topic of Hispanic attitudes toward sexuality. He was also a member of the Organization of American Historians’ Committee of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Historians and Histories, which opposed a California ballot measure defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Founded in 1911, Loyola Marymount University is located in Los Angeles. It has about 9,500 students in its undergraduate, graduate, and law school programs.