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MU rescinds dean offer to lesbian professor

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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.

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25 Responses to “MU rescinds dean offer to lesbian professor”

  1. John on May 6th, 2010 5:22 pm

    Smooth MU, smooth.

    Listen to the students and their needs, not the filthy rich alumni.


  2. Anonymous on May 6th, 2010 6:55 pm

    Love the protest sign in Latin! “The whole person,” indeed — but only some persons, it seems, are acceptable to represent my alma mater, no matter their scholarly accomplishments and administrative experience, after all.

    What an embarrassment for the administration; good luck finding a good dean now. But to the students who protested, and to the provost and professors with integrity, thank you. You restore some pride in Marquette.

    An Alumna


  3. Stephanie on May 6th, 2010 7:11 pm

    I am really said that I will be graduating under this shameful period in Marquette’s history. Discrimination and elitism is not very Catholic either.


  4. Anonymous on May 6th, 2010 7:19 pm

    Although this is not a great representation of diversity, this decision should not be a surprise to anyone. Marquette is a catholic school and has a mission statement representing that. If you feel that strongly about these situations, you should not have chosen Marquette. There are many public universities that are much more open to people and their lifestyles.


  5. Michael Ziwisky on May 6th, 2010 7:46 pm

    @Anonymous (7:19pm) Where in Marquette’s mission statement does it say “We don’t allow gays around here!”? Thank God there are people who feel strongly about the situation and DID choose Marquette — perhaps they can spread the ideas of tolerance and acceptance throughout the campus. Ideas that you seem to think a catholic school should inherently be without.


  6. Jen on May 6th, 2010 8:10 pm

    As a young woman who traveled from the west coast to receive my college education here at Marquette, I have never been more disappointed to represent myself with this university.
    The way the university has handled the blatant disrespect is ridiculous as well. How dare you state that you will not discriminate based on sexual orientation when you yourself stated in an e-mail sent through your university:
    “this person has an excellent background, a record of achievement and a strong academic track record, it was decided after further analysis that this individual was not the person who could best fill this very important position”
    Way to celebrate 100 years of women at Marquette but I guess I never knew that meant only the straight ones.
    However, I do understand that our university is Catholic and Jesuit but so is Seattle University where O’Brien would be coming from. I understand that just like any other private, Jesuit university, does rely on donor support to continue it through the years, but Marquette must acknowledge that you cannot serve Money the message of love within the church.


  7. Anonymous on May 6th, 2010 8:13 pm

    Anonymous 7:19 — you are avoiding a significant point in the handling of this. Even if we accept your argument that Marquette can determine not to hire someone who holds beliefs contrary to its mission — is it also Marquette’s mission to offer a job and then rescind it, because it didn’t do due diligence in reviewing the applicant’s work? Is it also Marquette’s mission to so publicly, disgracefully screw up?


  8. Ryan c on May 6th, 2010 8:22 pm

    Ashamed to call myself an MU student today. This highlights the hypocrisy inherent in the Catholic Church (and other religions). “Love your neighbor as yourself (unless they’re gay in which case they deserve an eternity of torment).” Someone else can provide the Bible verse and line number, I wouldn’t know because I don’t subscribe to their BS. What year is it anyway? Party like it’s 1500! Grab your pitchforks and let’s burn some witches! Go MU!


  9. Anonymous on May 6th, 2010 8:48 pm

    I had a laugh today, seeing the “Women at Marquette” banner celebrating the centennial of women students (finally) admitted to the fine institution.

    Time for a new banner, Marquette. “Women at Marquette, Proud to be a Sexy Party School — But Only Heterosexual Sex, or Only If You Don’t Write About It”? Or maybe “Women at Marquette, Back in the Kitchen — and the Closet”?


  10. Alumna on May 6th, 2010 9:33 pm

    I’m very much all right with MU having a lesbian dean. However, I don’t think it’s appropriate to assume that the offer was rescinded BECAUSE she is a lesbian. Rather, the offer was rescinded and she HAPPENS to be a lesbian. This obviously exposes some holes in Marquette’s dean search process, since these articles apparently weren’t considered BEFORE the offer was made as they should have been. Keep in mind they still MADE the offer to start with, likely knowing she was a lesbian at that time. The handling of the situation appears to be the only obvious flaw, but I think we need a deeper investigation to figure out if this truly was discrimination. The facts just don’t lend themselves to that at this point unless you throw in the assumptions of a few outspoken faculty members.


  11. Student on May 6th, 2010 9:58 pm

    8:13- Why offer O’Brien the job in the first place, then? If people had issues with her literature and other stances, they could have easily continued their search without offering her the position.


  12. Anonymous on May 6th, 2010 10:03 pm

    It’s worse than that, Student. See — Marquette ASKED O’Brien to apply.

    And she accepted the offer. In good faith. And then, only then, did Wild rescind the offer.

    I see what’s going on now. The Marquette Law School alumni must need work. If O’Brien wants to bother with Marquette again, she has got a good case.


  13. Alum on May 6th, 2010 10:35 pm

    The people that were protesting have no place to be doing so. Marquette is a Catholic institution and as such, follows the social teachings of the Church. If you don’t agree, that is more than fine, but keep it to yourselves and go somewhere that will better support your agenda. You have no place to be telling Catholics that their beliefs are wrong on a CATHOLIC campus. This is not a decision of elitism, but a decision of what will uphold the Catholic social teachings. Marquette does not discriminate on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation as evidenced by the fact that groups such as Gay/Straight alliance are allowed on campus. But when a person holds herself out to be an expert and proponent of causes that are essentially an attack on the Church’s teachings, it is perfectly suitable to not hire such a person for as high a position as dean. If you have chosen to attend Marquette, you have chosen to attend a school that stands for the Catholic faith.


  14. Laure on May 6th, 2010 10:47 pm

    Marquette is forgetting their “future” donors…


  15. Jessica on May 6th, 2010 11:03 pm

    To Alum. The point is not that Marquette did not have the right to choose not to hire this women, it is that they offered her a job and then rescinded it based on sexual orientation and/or her research in this subject area. If they did not agree with her stance, they never should have sought her out, asked her to apply, offered her the job, and then decided to rescind their offer. That is the main problem


  16. Nicole on May 6th, 2010 11:16 pm

    I agree with Jessica. No matter what Marquettes reasoning behind their decision to rescind the offer, it was incredibly rude and will likely make it difficult for MU to find a quality dean or professors in the future. I also think sometimes students forget that much of their scholarships, campus projects, etc is funded by donors, who may be upset by the negative media MU is now receiving. I wish everyone(faculty and students included) had thought things through before they acted.


  17. Debra Krajec on May 6th, 2010 11:40 pm

    Archbishop DESMOND TUTU: “Show me where Christ said ‘Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.’ Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God.

    ‘But they are sinners,’ I can hear the preachers and politicians say. ‘They are choosing a life of sin for which they must be punished.’ My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family.

    Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?”

    Desmond Tutu in letter to Washington Post- March 12, 2010


  18. O’Brien case makes Journal Sentinel, Advocate « The Word Warrior on May 6th, 2010 11:54 pm

    […] here, Advocate here. Also, the Tribune, from whom I cribbed the […]

  19. Ashamed on May 7th, 2010 1:34 am

    As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Marquette recognizes and cherishes the dignity of each individual regardless of age, culture, faith, ethnicity, race, gender, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, language, disability or social class.
    ***Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive***, we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world. Through our admissions and employment policies and practices, our curricular and co-curricular offerings, and our welcoming and caring campus environment, ***Marquette seeks to become a more diverse and inclusive academic community dedicated to the promotion of justice.***
    Our commitment to a diverse university community helps us to achieve excellence by promoting a culture of learning, appreciation and understanding. Each member of the Marquette community is charged to treat everyone with care and respect, and to value and treasure differences. This call to action is integral to the tradition which we share.


  20. Peter on May 7th, 2010 7:38 am

    The claim that the offer was rescinded solely due to O’Brien’s sexual orientation is simply ludicrous, and pure ignorance. Marquette knew she was an out lesbian and had produced some works regarding homosexuality when they made the initial offer, which was made some time before the offer was rescinded. The issue as hand is the controversial nature of some of O’Brien’s works. Like it or not, Marquette is upholding its values.

    The official statement from Marquette said the offer was “made prematurely, without as much due dilligence as warranted.” The fact of the matter is, the offer was still made AFTER they already knew she was an out lesbian, and AFTER they knew of what works she had produced.

    By hiring O’Brien, Marquette would be obliged to stand behind her, as well as her positions on sexuality. Even if the university disagrees with the positions, they would still have to defend thier hire, as well as O’Brien obliged to defend herself. For Marquette to do this, they would be challenging the Catholic Tradition, which, like it or not, is the most fundamental value at Marquette (a CATHOLIC institution).

    Father Wild has done so many great things for Marquette, and has always acted in the best interest of the University. What evidence is there to assume that he would be doing otherwise now? Obviously, there was an overrriding issue that would have negatively affected the university as a whole (and its not the fact that she was a lesbian).

    If people would stop focusing on only one small peice of the whole, they will see there is much more to the issue than O’Brien’s sexuality. Remeber, the administration has to do what is best for the university as a WHOLE. That includes alumna, current students, future students, donors, and the Catholic Church. So before you condemn the university and Father Wild out of ignorance, take a look at the issue as a whole.

    And before anyone attmepts to condemn me as ignorant, a biggot, or brainwashed Catholic…I am a current student at Marquette, I am NOT Catholic, and I am in no way a fan of the Catholic Church (and have some very strong opinions against them).


  21. anony on May 7th, 2010 8:16 am

    ***Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive***, we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world.

    ASHAMED, perhaps seeking the truth about God and the world involves not only our minds, but also our behavior.


  22. Cinque on May 7th, 2010 2:57 pm

    Marquette has discriminated against blacks for years. It only makes sense to move on to discriminating against gays. We are marquette, a gang of bigots.


  23. anonymous on May 7th, 2010 8:11 pm

    I just feel that there is something lacking in the explanation of why the offer was recinded. She would have come from Seatle University, which is ALSO a Jesuit Catholic University. This makes it very hard for me to believe that this has to do with her published writings not being up to par. Since she clearly did not hide what her area of research and scholarship is during the interview and selection process. Not only that, several articles are stating that the initial offer was made in March, and she accepted in April— why did it take a month for upper administration to decide to recind the offer? I want to know if she signed a letter of intent, and contract; and if so does that open MU up to a potential lawsuit? Also, how much money did MU spend on those third parties to search and recruit a dean over the last 3 years? Enough to fund several scholarships, I am sure. A couple other articles on the web (google and read a few.), also hint that pressure came from people in the law school (why?), Theology (I can sort of see why for this one) and donors (follow the money…). A&S may be the flagship college of the university, and so they want the ‘perfect’ canidate— but if they had kept their word, the college would have at least had a DEAN for the first time since 2007. Think about it, there are some MU students very close to graduating, who have never had a permanent, full-time, fully devoted, dean of their college. Sad. MU needs to realize that people can see smoke and mirrors all the way to Seattle for this one. I just hope O’brien had not already put her house up for sale, resigned from her role at SU; and if she has a partner, that they also had not already started the process to pick up and move here.


  24. Brian McNaught on May 8th, 2010 8:23 am

    It is depressing but not shocking that the school from which I graduated in 1970 seems no further along that it was when it barred gay poet Alan Ginsburg from speaking on campus in 1967 because of his sexual orientation. I just got back from India and Japan where Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs brought me to speak on gay and transgender issues to their senior executives. I’ve provided similar training in Singapore and Hong Kong. Why is it that attitudes in those places can seem more sophisticated on gay issues than those at Marquette in Milwaukee?


  25. Steve on May 27th, 2010 9:50 pm

    ***Precisely because Catholicism at its best seeks to be inclusive***, we are open to all who share our mission and seek the truth about God and the world.

    ASHAMED, perhaps seeking the truth about God and the world involves not only our minds, but also our behavior.


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