Marquette University defended its decision to withdraw an offer to an openly lesbian faculty member to become a college dean after it became evident that the teacher's published writings opposed Church teachings on human sexuality.
The Jesuit university underscored the importance of finding a dean who is not only academically competent but represents “our Catholic identity.”
On Thursday, university officials announced that they withdrew an offer to Seattle University professor Jodi O'Brien to serve as the dean of Marquette's College of Arts and Sciences. The university said in a statement that O'Brien “was not the person who could best fill this very important position”and that the school had made “oversights” in their search process. According to the Associated Press, O'Brien's scholastic writings include sociological studies that detail lesbian sexual activity.
The professor expressed her disappointment to the AP in a recent email.
“At this time the only comment I can offer is to confirm that I was offered the position of Dean and I accepted it, but there was an intercession by the President before my appointment was announced officially,” O'Brien wrote. “I'm very disappointed. The College of A&S at Marquette is strong and vibrant and I was looking forward to working with the students and faculty there.”
Several faculty members and students protested the decision, claiming that O'brien's sexual orientation was the reason the university decided to rescind the offer.
Nancy E. Snow, a philosophy professor at Marquette and a practicing lesbian, argued that O'Brien's writings are not the problem. “I think it's all about her sexual orientation,” she told the AP. Snow added that Marquette rescinding the offer is “a public disgrace and an embarrassment.”
Marquette responded in a statement Thursday, stressing that the position of dean at its university “requires a unique combination of scholarly accomplishment, administrative experience, and the ability to represent our Catholic identity.”
“Some of the concerns identified in the process should have had more careful scrutiny, and publications relating to Catholic mission and identity should have been more fully explored early in the process,” added the statement. “While we did make an offer to one of the two finalists, in retrospect that was done prematurely without as much due diligence as was warranted.”
Although O'Brien has “an excellent background, a record of achievement and a strong academic track record,” the university said, “it was decided after further analysis that this individual was not the person who could best fill this very important position.”
“There were certain oversights in the search process, and we regret that deeply. As a result of this search, the university will revise some aspects of the search process,” the university statement said.
Fr. Robert Wild, president of Marquette, commented on the situation during a faculty award dinner on Thursday, underscoring that the decision to withdraw the offer to O'Brien was not a discriminatory act.
“I want to say it strongly, clearly and directly,” the reason for rescinding the position was “not about sexual identity,” Fr. Wild said.
“We have a variety of men and women here who are homosexual who work in all sorts of venues
in this university, holding a variety of positions,” he noted. “They do great work, they make a valuable contribution to this institution.”
Marquette's ruling on the matter “is certainly not about sending a negative message to these men and women,” Fr. Wild said.
The president also spoke to faculty members on the “work we need to do to get us to an even greater level of inclusion and support as a community so that decisions like this one as difficult as they are do not so quickly polarize us.”
“I can tell you that I will begin to make this journey of inclusion and diversity that we have already been on – a journey that this university has been on all of us together for a long time certainly during these fourteen years one of my priorities in my remaining time in office,” the university president told the faculty.
Brigid Miller, director of Marquette University communications, explained to CNA on Thursday that “Father Wild’s comments about he and the faculty making a journey of inclusion and diversity,” were “referring to the listening sessions and other opportunities over the coming days and weeks to begin the conversation that will allow the Marquette campus community to move forward together from this situation.”
“The university is currently planning discussion sessions with both students and faculty,” Miller explained, adding that the sessions will “give the Marquette community an opportunity to talk about the recent decision and to invite suggestions for the future.”