MU rescinds dean offer to lesbian professor

UPDATED STORY: “Wild admits mistake with Arts & Sciences dean offer”

Marquette’s search for a College of Arts & Sciences dean has ended in controversy over the rescinding of an offer to a lesbian professor.

Nancy Snow, associate professor of philosophy, addresses protesters inside the Alumni Memorial Union Thursday afternoon. Photo credit: Kaitie Kovach

The university offered the position to Jodi O’Brien, a professor of sociology at Seattle University — a Catholic, Jesuit university — according to an e-mail message sent to fellow faculty members by Nancy Snow, an associate professor of philosophy at Marquette.

“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,” according to an official university statement released Thursday afternoon.

“It was decided after further analysis that this individual was not the person who could best fill this very important position.”

Snow said in the e-mail she believes O’Brien’s academic research on homosexuality and gay-Christian identity was found to be objectionable by certain university stakeholders.

O’Brien’s publications include “Wrestling the Angel of Contradiction: Queer Christian Identities” and “How Big is Your God? Queer Christian Social Movements.”

“Apparently, much of the issue centers on concerns that she will not be able to represent the Church’s position, and will need to spend an inordinate amount of time defending herself from detractors, thereby compromising her ability to perform her duties as dean,” Snow said in the e-mail. “Evidently the forthright sexual nature of some passages in these articles has led some (obviously uninformed) people to conclude that Dr. O’Brien is somehow against the Church, or cannot represent the Church’s position. To me, this is ludicrous.”

The university statement said the dean position “requires a unique combination of scholarly accomplishment, administrative experience, and the ability to represent our Catholic identity.” Some concerns identified in the search 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.”

“There were certain oversights in the search process, and we regret that deeply,” the statement read. “As a result of this search, the university will revise some aspects of the search process.”

More than 100 students and faculty protested the university's decision. Photo credit: Kaitie Kovach

Student organizations JUSTICE, Empowerment, and Gay/Straight Alliance protested the decision late Thursday afternoon.

More than 100 students gathered along Wisconsin Avenue, chanting and holding signs.

Just before 5:30 p.m., the group entered the Alumni Memorial Union to hold an informal rally under the second floor rotunda. Protesters chanted “O’Brien,” “Father Wild, shame on you,” and “Who’s campus? Our campus,” while attendees of the Pere Marquette dinner arrived at the nearby check-in table.

Snow addressed the gathered protesters via megaphone. Recently promoted to full professorship, Snow said she will now reject that offer.

She said the university’s decision to repeal its offer to O’Brien is contrary to the school’s Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity.

“Father Wild is a good man,” she said. “We tried to bring him to our point of view, but we failed.”

Snow and some attendees of Thursday’s dinner arrived at the AMU wearing pink and lavender in support of O’Brien.

University President the Rev. Robert A. Wild delivered a speech at the Pere Marquette dinner, which Snow emceed.

Desiree Valentine, co-chair of Empowerment, said this is a case of “blatant prejudice” that will tarnish Marquette’s image.

As of 8 p.m., more than 300 members of the Marquette community joined the Facebook group, “Marquette: Do not discriminate against Jodi O’Brien.”

The decision was not about sexual orientation, according to the university statement.

“Marquette takes seriously its nondiscrimination statement and our Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity,” the statement said. “We have on our faculty and staff individuals of various faiths, ages, ethnicity and sexual orientation.”

The College of Arts & Sciences has been without a permanent dean since December 2007, following the retirement of Michael McKinney.

Provost John Pauly said in an interview Thursday night he will appoint an interim dean by next month. He indicated that position could be filled by a department chair within the college.

The current interim dean, Jeanne Hossenlopp, will join Pauly in the Provost Office in August, when she becomes dean of the Graduate School and vice provost for research.

Check back with the Tribune Web site for further updates.

Christopher Placek, Jeff Engel and Tony DiZinno contributed to this report.