Marquette Warrior: Dean Search Fiasco: More Push-Back From Faculty Supporting Catholic Mission

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Dean Search Fiasco: More Push-Back From Faculty Supporting Catholic Mission

While the most assertive voices among Marquette faculty have been supportive of the appointment of outspoken lesbian Jodi O’Brien to be Dean of Arts & Sciences, some significant opposition has arisen.

While the Academic Senate seemed to support her when it voted to condemn the decision to rescind her offer, doubtless a substantial number of those senators would not have selected her in the first place. as Marketing Professor Gene Lacniak admitted was the case with him.

It’s also the case that the Academic Senate doesn’t necessarily represent the attitudes of all faculty.

Still, it would be premature to say that statements like those of Bob Ashmore, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy or Associate Professor Javier A. Ibáñez-Noé represent a “silent majority” of faculty.

But add in statements like the one below, coming from two Theology faculty, and it becomes obvious that there is considerable faculty resistance to O’Brien.
Our purpose is to invite discussion on the hiring decision regarding Dr. O’Brien from the perspective of Catholic mission and identity.

In recent days there has been much consternation at Marquette University over rescinding the offer of the deanship of the Klingler College of Arts and Sciences to Dr. Jodi O’Brien of Seattle University. At a procedural level, there is little that is defensible in making an offer and then withdrawing it (though, of course, if pre-hiring decisions were mistaken, the university should not necessarily be prevented from rectifying those mistakes before it has made any contractual commitments). For many faculty members, it remains a mystery how things proceeded from the search committee’s forwarding of names to the provost, to what took place between him and the president of the university and others in making a final decision and extending an offer. Protests have been registered over these procedures, including the unfair treatment of Dr. O’Brien in the matter.

However, other substantial issues have also been raised. One letter circulated refers to “more fundamental concerns about our institutional commitment to diversity, inclusion, and academic freedom.” Many feel that the decision by Fr. Wild and Provost Pauly to rescind the offer violated these principles. Apart from the procedural issues involved and affirming these principles, we believe even more is at stake for Marquette University.

We defend the stated reasons in the Wild/Pauly letter that the primary concern for rescinding the offer had to do with Catholic mission and identity. Since this is not a regular faculty hire (where “hiring for mission” must also be taken into consideration) but a significant public leadership position at the university, it is important that the candidate be able to represent that identity and support it before constituencies on and off campus, as it is well spelled out in our official mission and identity statements, and more significantly, not oppose it in action or scholarship. There is little to dispute that Dr. O’Brien’s advocacy of “queer Christianity” (her nomenclature in her article “Seeking Normal? Considering Same-Sex Marriage”) and LGBT cultural strategies vis-à-vis the family, same-sex marriage and alternative partnering (not to mention her analysis and apparent promotion of cyberspace promiscuity-- see her article “Changing the Subject”) cannot be squared with Catholic teaching on this very public issue, which is so controverted in our society, and in Christian churches—witness its divisive effects in nearly every mainline Protestant denomination. As these viewpoints are integral to her scholarly vocation why should a Catholic university invite her to lead its “flagship college” which cultivates the arts and sciences, when from the perspective of Catholic vision and Christian humanism such advocacy undermines human flourishing?*

No doubt, many (faculty and students alike) will disagree with this Catholic vision or say that they take exception to this particular manifestation of it as it concerns theological and philosophical conceptions of the human person, of human sexuality, and of the moral life. Even many Catholics (some Jesuits included) do not accept this teaching. Nevertheless, it is not a foregone conclusion that in the interests of preserving Catholic identity -- an issue that we agree should remain dialogical -- the university somehow violates principles of the academy if it does not offer major governance positions to candidates who oppose aspects of that same identity. After all, Catholic universities exist “From the Heart of the Church,” the English title of Pope John Paul II’s 1990 Apostolic Constitution on Catholic universities, Ex corde ecclesiae. This applies not just to theology departments and campus ministries, but to all units of the university because they are at the service of truth and of Catholic intellectual life. Marquette University does state under the rubric of faith that:
As a Catholic university, we are committed to the unfettered pursuit of truth under the mutually illuminating powers of human intelligence and Christian faith. Our Catholic identity is expressed in our choices of curricula, our sponsorship of programs and activities devoted to the cultivation of our religious character, our ecumenical outlook, and our support of Catholic beliefs and values.
It is true that not all faculty members at Marquette University see themselves as agents of Catholic intellectual life, and the dialogical nature of a university invites critical discussion and disagreements over a vast array of issues with other Christians, adherents of other religious traditions, and all people of good will who can support the mission of Marquette University. Nevertheless, it is difficult to imagine how Dr. O’Brien’s scholarly project is consistent with “Catholic beliefs and values.” Therefore, while we regret the procedural debacle and any injustice done to Dr. O’Brien, we are grateful that in the hiring process for an Arts and Sciences dean, Catholic mission and identity became a deciding factor.

Ralph Del Colle
Associate Professor of Theology

Mark Johnson
Associate Professor of Theology

*The Catholic position on homosexuality was succinctly stated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in their 2006 statement Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care which (quoting a Vatican document) says the following:

“Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, which is contradicted both by approval of homosexual acts and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons.”
Nobody, and certainly not Del Colle and Johnson, defends the absurd process that resulted in the offer of the job to O’Brien, and then the rescinding of the offer when word got out that O’Brien was a very controversial person indeed.

But we need to know exactly what process led to an offer to a person so controversial. It’s obvious that she was pretty much the pet of some in the Administration and then of the Selection Committee long before the offer was made.

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