Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Yet Another Faculty Manifesto — This One in Support of Lesbian Arts & Sciences Dean Candidate

It seems like a lot of faculty members want to express their opinions on the recent dean search fiasco in which candidate Jodi O’Brien had her job offer rescinded because a number of her published writings were flatly at odds with the Catholic mission of the university.

Whatever one thinks of Catholic identity, it’s been a huge fiasco.

Now we have (this circulated for several days without our getting our hands on it) the Chair of the Psychology Department, one of the more politically correct departments on campus, weighing in with a letter to members of the Academic Senate. We will insert out comments, but the entire unedited text of the statement is included.
From: Nielson, Kristy
Sent: Sunday, May 09, 2010 10:04 AM
To: [distribution list deleted]
Subject: A message to my Senate colleagues

Dear Senate Colleagues,

I write to you in what I consider to be the darkest hour of my time at Marquette. I came here 14 years ago starting on the same day that Father Wild began his role as President of Marquette. I respect him and I have learned from him; hopefully I have helped him learn too, at least a little about shared governance. However, today, I find that I must speak out against the actions that he has taken regarding the Arts and Sciences dean search. It is a decision that will have very lasting negative effects on the faculty, staff and students of Marquette, as well as for shared governance here. For the Senate, I see no alternative than a vote of censure of Fr. Wild to object to the actions and process that have been undertaken in this matter. I do not suggest this lightly. But in our role as leaders in the university and as representatives for our fellow faculty, we must firmly object to the failure of leadership that allowed the events to unfold in this manner. As we are reminded in all matters of shared governance, Fr. Wild has the final word and responsibility. Thus, we must hold him responsible.

Fr. Wild has been clear in multiple statements that he rescinded the offer to Dr. O’Brien because scholarly writings by her caused him to doubt whether she could effectively represent the College on matters of “Catholic identity.” The two topics repeatedly mentioned about such writings regarded challenges to ideas about marriage and family definitions, and sexuality or sexual behavior discussed in a way that “could be interpreted as autobiographical.” These are issues that are relevant to vetting a candidate in the early stages, but not to withdrawing an offer after it is made. This candidate has been under consideration for the position since the initial onset of the search for this deanship. These works have been available the entire time. The Search Committee asked all of the relevant questions about whether there would be any issues with her candidacy early in the process and noted in their summation that she would have to have the necessary support at the top to be effective if she were chosen.
In fact, we don’t know whether they gave Fr. Wild a full account of the parts of her writings that would later prove to be so controversial.
They did not dodge the sensitivity of her area of scholarship. After this final report and until the rescinding of the offer, it is clear that neither the Search Committee, the Chairs of the College, the Senate or any other faculty body was involved in any way in the process. If there were doubts or issues to resolve, none of the appropriate faculty stakeholders were involved. Obviously, other stakeholders were involved given the late reversal of the decision, but not those of us who clearly identified as having a role.
It is clear that the decision to hire O’Brien was kept secret until it leaked out to local Catholics who could be expected to oppose it. But would making it public have helped O’Brien? While her supporters could have mobilized earlier, so could her critics.

This looks for all the world like an attempt to foist a dean flatly at odds with the Catholic mission on the University, in the hopes that by the time opposition arose the issue would be moot.
This debacle will certainly cost Marquette considerably in financial terms, as well as in reputation, research, and in recruiting, retaining and placing students and faculty. Indeed, such effects can already be observed. Colleagues whose scholarship directly involves work with lesbians have experienced cancellations from participants on the grounds that they will no longer involve themselves in any work affiliated with Marquette.
In other words, they have decided to boycott Marquette. They have a right to do that, but maybe they should be more tolerant of a Catholic university that acts Catholic.
Students have been voicing their sadness that these events reinforce the non-inclusivity of our institution. Graduate students’ external placements are threatened because inclusiveness in training programs is an important factor considered in the competition for such placements.
Of course, nothing in the decision not to hire O’Brien prevents the Psychology Department from training students to counsel lesbians. If outside agencies hold the decision against Marquette, they are engaged in discrimination on the basis of religion, and should be held accountable for that.
Junior faculty have already exhibited great alarm about what they can and cannot pursue in scholarship. While Fr. Wild maintains that we have academic freedom to pursue any line of scholarship, he also maintains that our leaders are to be held to a higher standard. This means that anyone who might eventually seek a position of leadership must know early in his or her career that scholarship not fitting with Catholic ideology is quite dangerous. (You might note that Dr. O’Brien wrote most of the “concerning” pieces as an Assistant Professor). That speaks pretty loudly about the reality of academic freedom at Marquette.
This, quite simply, is complete nonsense. Faculty can do all kinds of things that make them ineligible to hold a Dean’s position. The people who make this argument would be the first to want to veto as dean a psychologist who felt that black people are innately inferior in intelligence to white people. They would quickly mobilize against a candidate who opposed feminism, and felt that patriarchy is inevitable.

The truth is that any dean candidate whose political positions create huge controversy that would overshadow his or her academic duties is ineligible. Faculty have a right to be controversial (as Marquette’s toleration of Dan Maguire shows). Deans don’t have that right.

Indeed, we have heard that certain possible dean candidates are not really well-qualified because they cannot “work a room,” meaning glad-hand potential contributors effectively.

And certainly, anybody who chooses to have a blog that airs the dirty laundry of Marquette bureaucrats can never be an administrator, since the person is not a “team player” willing to conceal information that the Administration might want concealed.

Anybody who does that can be assumed to have no aspirations whatsoever to an administrative role!
Financially, there are many donors who would be encouraged by this decision. Perhaps they are even the largest donors. But there are also many, many alumni and MU-affiliates who are equally discouraged and will decide that Marquette will never receive their donations. The great irony is that those most closely affiliated with the College of Arts and Sciences likely represent the highest proportion of those who will be discouraged, just at the time when we seek to extend better reach to our alumni as donors. In that event, the damage will be felt for a long time to come.
This is an interesting argument, since O’Brien’s supporters have suspected (out loud) that Marquette made the decision at least partly to placate big-bucks donors. This has been seen as equivalent to Marquette selling its soul for filthy lucre.

But it seems to be OK if Marquette placates liberal alumni! Indeed, one such implicit but clear offer of money if Marquette is sufficiently “gay friendly” has been made.

So it seems that Marquette selling its soul is OK, just so long as the right people are buying!
This process also makes a mockery of our diversity statement. We all look to our leaders as models of our society; whether or not they want to be, they are role models. If our leaders must pass litmus tests, so must the rest of us. We cannot achieve a culture that respects diversity of thought and being if we cannot allow it in our leaders.
See above. Politically correct people are the last people who actually respect diversity of thought.
In this centennial year of co-education at Marquette, we need to be reminded of the courage it took to reject outdated ideas and loud opposition at the time to pursue progress and openness. This is nothing different. As a scholar, Dr. O’Brien has evaluated issues from a perspective that is not traditional and can cause discomfort. But that is the path of progress. When once educating women along with men seemed outrageous, at least most of us cannot fathom that today. It is through the examination and free discussion of such issues that we progress — an approach fitting with Jesuit ideals.
The problem here is that there is nothing in Catholic teaching that says there is anything wrong with coeducation. Further, it wasn’t in fact that controversial having been the norm in public colleges and universities during the late 19th century.
Regardless of your personal opinion on the candidacy of Dr. Jodi O’Brien as the Dean of Arts and Sciences, and regardless of your opinion on her scholarly work or her ability to represent Catholic identity at Marquette, as a Senator, it’s hard for me to believe that any of you would not support a strong vote of censure on Fr. Wild for how this situation was handled. This is where we find out if we do or do not have the courage to fight for shared governance. All of these events are attributable to the manner in which this decision was made — had it been decided early that Dr. O’Brien was not the best person to lead our College for “Catholic identity” reasons, I would have been disappointed and perhaps angry, but not surprised at Marquette. But to handle it in this manner is far more injurious to all parties and is poor leadership. More, given the supposed role of the Senate to “evaluate and endorse” administrative decisions with academic impact, yet the lack of role of any of the faculty bodies in the reversal of the decision, shared governance is in doubt at Marquette. Meetings and listening sessions only after the fact are fitting examples of the perpetuation of secrecy and top-down control of all meaningful aspects of our institution. It is our responsibility to assure that shared governance is a reality, not just a convenient fiction that can be pointed to when it is convenient.

Sincerely,

Kristy Nielson
Professor and Chair, Psychology
Former Chair, University Academic Senate
There can be no doubt that the process misfired terribly. And this has implications for the process as we move forward to find a dean.

The search process that led to the hiring of Michael McKinney as dean was likewise as fiasco, although not one so embarrassing as this. After three external candidates bombed, McKinney (who had served as interim dean) was chosen. A known quantity with years of service to Marquette and widely respected good judgment, he was a much better dean than Marquette had any right to have, given the incompetent selection process.

Is something like this the right course now?

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