Monday, May 10, 2010

Marketing Professor Gene Lacniak: Letter in Support of Jodi O’Brien

From Facebook:
Colleagues,

The events of the past week are a grave and serious matter to all of us because they reflect on Marquette University’s national reputation as an academic institution--specifically, whether we are open to the diversity of leadership, opinions and ideas that the “sifting and winnowing for the truth” in all serious universities demands. The fallout from the withdrawal of a formal offer of the A&S deanship to Dr. O’Brien (notably, a full professor and department chair at a companion Jesuit, Catholic university!) will greatly influence Marquette’s ability to recruit and retain faculty (especially women), will diminish our intellectual standing in the eyes of other institutions of higher education and, depending on how Dr. O’Brien decides to proceed, possibly result in censure (again) for Marquette from the AAUP.
Interesting that he says “especially women.” What is the assumption behind this assertion?
For starters, let me say the following, for purposes of complete disclosure. If I had been Provost, and two “acceptable” dean candidate names had been forwarded to me (as reported in this instance), after reviewing the record, I might not have selected Dr. O’Brien. It would not have been because her research is somehow contrary to Catholic Church teachings or unsuitable methodologically, but rather, given all the daunting fiscal challenges that Marquette already faces, her writings could prove to be an avoidable distraction to completing other important tasks as dean.
An interesting admission, which is similar to what Father Wild has claimed. The problem of course is that Wild used it long after an offer had been sent to (and apparently accepted by) O’Brien.
That said, after a full review cycle by Marquette University, including (presumptively) the required dossier analysis about what candidate O’Brien contributes to the Catholic, Jesuit nature of our university, an offer of employment as A&S dean was made to her--supported by the search committee and Provost. According to Dr Snow, O’Brien in fact accepted that offer.
We frankly don’t know to what extent a “required dossier analysis” was done. Did the committee, which certainly informed Wild about O’Brien’s lesbianism, fail to inform him about certain things in her writing? Or did Wild just change in mind under pressure? It was at least partially the latter, and perhaps entirely the latter.
Now, some specifics, all of which imply deeply troubling questions for our university. To these, senior faculty should press for answers. Meaningful involvement in university governance, a faculty responsibility, requires no less at this defining moment.

The “objectionable” excerpts of Dr. O’Brien’s scholarship, drawn from on-line postings by gay females and conducted by her as a sociologist involved in scholarly gender studies, include explicit vignettes of lesbian sex, that no doubt some readers would find offensive or off-putting. At one point in those writings, Dr. O’Brien implies empathy with such practices, but that clearly ought not be a problem, given that our Marquette University diversity statement explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The more potent objection may lie in Ms. O’Brien exploring areas of sexuality that do not reflect well on our “Catholic identity,” a term used in the University press release on this matter and, perhaps, also utilized as a synonym for Christian “family values.” This is not the place for a detailed tangent directed to those gentle (Alumni?) souls offended by Dr. O’Brien’s quotations, but it is worth noting that that the God of the Old Testament, at one time, calls on his followers to murder of all the people of Jabesh-gilead, except for the virgin girls who are to be taken and forcibly raped; at other times that same God seems to allow for slavery, including selling your own daughter as a sex slave, child abuse and bashing babies against rocks.
This, unfortunately, is a cheap shot, typical of people hostile to Christianity. The clear implication is that since some things in the Old Testament are quite distastful to us today, all of Biblical teaching and indeed all of Church teaching (which is based on the Natural Law as well as Revelation) can be thrown out.

Of course, if Laczniak simply means that prose that is distasteful does not necessarily evince poor scholarship, he is right.

But why does he put quotes around “family values?”
The point is, exactly what are the “family values” of Judeo-Christian religiosity that cannot be intellectually discussed and debated within the confines of a university?
Anythng can be discussed, although University bureaucrats don’t want to discuss and debate homosexuality, but rather to indoctrinate students into views contrary to church teaching. Real “discussion and debate” would be a huge improvement.
In a letter to A&S faculty, Prof. Nancy Snow of the Philosophy Department states that Provost John Pauly favors this appointment. Does he now not support it? Was the Provost told to change his mind or resign or did he quietly acquiesce? Did he protest on behalf of faculty prerogatives at all? It seems to me that Dr. Pauly also owes the university faculty a clear explanation concerning precisely where the objections to this appointment originated since I would assume that his name, and perhaps Rev. Wild’s as well, were on the appointment offer.
These are good questions, needing an answer.
In the University news release on this matter, the administration also states that the work of the search committee unfolded “without as much due diligence as was warranted.” Yet members of the A&S dean search committee have consistently and forcefully maintained that the nature of Dr. O’Brien’s scholarship was precisely laid out for all to discern. This “blame the search committee” strategy, disturbing in itself as an independent event, seems now to have been abandoned.

Is the post facto “veto” to Dr. O’Brien originating from “big” donors or influential trustees? Dr. Snow has implied this could be the source of the reversal. If so, who exactly are these individuals and what is the nature of their objection? If it is to Dr. O’Brien’s sexual orientation, they seem to advocate Marquette violating Wisconsin law as well as its own HR policy. If the university takes such advice fearing a reduction in donations, that speaks devastatingly to the motivations and moral courage of our upper administration.

Or, are these events based on an intervention from Bishop Listecki? Fr. Wild reportedly hinted at this in a recent meeting with A&S department chairs. A strict reading of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (The Vatican document on the Catholicity of universities) would put decisions that affect the Catholic nature of the university under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop. But universities with firm moral grounding have regularly resisted such interference, with Notre Dame, refusing to rescind their campus speaking invitation to President Obama (despite his pro-choice policy), being a recent example.
This, unfortunately, is merely a way of saying that “everybody does it,” the excuse of teenagers who follow the crowd. Since other “Catholic universities” blow off Church teaching, we should too.
Indeed, in the past 60 days, Marquette itself has reiterated the academic freedom of theologian Dan McGuire, who calls for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for his alleged role in the decades long cover-up of pedophilic priests. Should the O’Brien reversal flow from the local prelate, does the Archbishop Listecki now have veto power over future academic appointments at Marquette University OR is this just another blame deflecting ploy by administration? Faculty should press the question.

And finally, how did all this come about at the eleventh hour? Who exactly convinced Rev. Wild to become suddenly engaged and, what precisely was the nature of those overt persuaders’ objections and/or veiled contingencies? The Journal-Sentinel reports that Marquette University canceled a scheduled interview on this matter because this situation had now become a legal issue. One hopes Marquette’s strategy of last resort is not to pay off Dr. O’Brien for her future silence on this matter, while hoping another round of campus “listening sessions” will mollify the faculty before they disperse for the summer. While I do not begrudge Prof. O’Brien some compensation from this shameful matter, Marquette faculty members need only surf on-line comments and Twitter postings about these events to ascertain how much perceptual damage to our university reputation has been done by this magnificent ineptitude.
Unfortunately, this is just an argumentum ad populum. Go to left-leaning discussion boards (say, the Huffington Post) and commentary will be heavily pro-O’Brien. But go to (say) Charlie Sykes blog, and you get a different picture.
It is often said, but with varying levels of belief depending who says it, that “the university is its faculty.” Any current internet search (see recent articles in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education) will reveal that our university standing has been palpably damaged around the country by this clumsy and unfortunate set of events. The faculty of Marquette deserves a detailed response concerning how our leadership intends to go about rectifying the damage to our most precious possession--our university integrity.

Gene Laczniak

(Professor Lacniak is a Professor of Marketing and former Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs at Marquette.)
There is no doubt that Marquette’s standing has been damaged, but on what basis? No university that really wants to be Catholic can afford to care too much about the views of secular liberals, who are simply hostile to the entire enterprise.

But a university that really wants to be Catholic (and it’s not clear this is Marquette) should care about what people who value its mission and eschew political correctness think.

Such people, right now, are not happy either.

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