JS weigh in on O’Brien: “How not to hire a dean”

Via the editors of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Marquette University is a private Jesuit university but, as President Robert A. Wild acknowledged in comments Thursday, discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation can still be illegal.

Some are contending that discrimination is in fact at work in a university decision to withdraw a job offer from an openly gay candidate for a dean’s post. Certainly, the sequence of events is troubling. No organization is obliged to hire someone who opposes its mission, particularly for a prominent leadership position. In withdrawing the job offer, the university said the decision had to do with the candidate’s writings “relating to Catholic mission and identity.” Jodi O’Brien’s scholarly publications include a sociological study of vignettes on lesbian sex. Her writings are sometimes graphic and likely would be offensive to many readers.

Yet questions aplenty persist:

• A search committee reportedly flagged O’Brien’s sexual orientation and her writings to Wild and the university provost, with a caution that, between the two finalists forwarded, she should not be chosen if the university was unwilling to support her. If unsuitable, why then was she chosen?

• Should Marquette scholars now be fearfully looking over their shoulders lest their writings not match Catholic teachings? Or is this a matter of writing that is over the top because of its graphic nature?

• Do the scholarly writings of others at Marquette pass this test of jibing with “mission and identity”?

• If she is unsuitable to be a dean at Jesuit Marquette, why is Jesuit Seattle University OK with her as chair of the department of anthropology and sociology? One is a higher position, but both are management positions.

• Did Marquette’s last-minute withdrawal of the offer occur because of intervention of donors or others? If O’Brien is unsuitable, how did the process get this far?

Wild has offered assurances to Marquette faculty that the university remains inclusive. To be otherwise, he indicated, would be neither legal nor Catholic. Good, but even knowing and admiring Wild as we do, questions persist. We would have liked to have asked them, but a university spokeswoman canceled a call between the Editorial Board, a reporter and Wild on Friday, saying that this was now a “legal situation.”

Yes, it’s quite likely that a court will decide this. But we don’t need a court ruling to know that this job search was mishandled and that this reflects neither Catholic mission nor identity.

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