Marquette University faculty members condemned the school’s decision to pull a job offer from a scholar who has written on sexual topics, and recommended Monday that their representatives consider a vote of no confidence in university President Father Robert A. Wild in the fall if the university doesn’t take steps to reassure them that their advancement at the university would not be hindered by the topics they research. The university’s Academic Senate also criticized the university’s decision-making process in a job search for the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences that ended after Wild and Provost John J. Pauly pulled a job offer last week that they had extended to Seattle University professor Jodi O’Brien.
“In a university environment, we encourage open discussion among all members of the Marquette community, and in this situation many opinions are being voiced,” spokeswoman Mary Pat Pfeil said. “As the representative voice of our faculty, the University Academic Senate plays an important role in such discussions, and Father Wild respects and is always willing to work with the senate.”
Students and faculty spoke during a portion of the three-hour Academic Senate meeting, but members of the group’s executive committee went into a closed session for much of the debate. Meanwhile, about 200 Marquette students gathered outside the room where the Academic Senate was meeting Monday afternoon. On their shirts, they wore small pieces of paper decorated with rainbows and held signs that said “Hold Fr. Wild Accountable” and “We Support You.”
Academic Senate Chairman Edward Fallone, a professor in the law school, said he could not share other options that the senate might have considered during its closed-door deliberations. The campaign to challenge Wild started last week after Marquette announced it was rescinding an offer to O’Brien, a lesbian whose research has included an examination of vignettes on gay and lesbian sex, to take the deanship. Marquette has said O’Brien’s sexual orientation was not a factor in the decision to pull the job offer. Some of O’Brien’s published works “relating to Catholic mission and identity” were the issue, according to a university spokeswoman. A no confidence vote or a call for resignation by faculty typically has no binding effect, but it can undermine the president’s authority. Wild had announced earlier this year that he planned to retire as Marquette’s president in June 2011 after 15 years in the post.
Officials haven’t provided more detail about what writings might have raised red flags. But Wild told members of the dean search committee last week that there was an article in which “sex positions” and “sex toys” were mentioned, and that the passage could be interpreted as autobiographical, said psychology professor Stephen Franzoi, who served on the committee. Franzoi said members of the search committee reviewed the work again and did not believe the passages were autobiographical and that the article was a scholarly work. Wild also told search committee members that some of O’Brien’s writings on same-sex marriage weren’t consistent with church teachings, Franzoi said.
O’Brien is dean of the anthropology and sociology department at Seattle University, which, like Marquette, is a Jesuit school. She had already visited Milwaukee on a house-hunting trip and said last week that she was “stunned and disappointed” at the decision to withdraw the job offer. The action by the faculty leaders didn’t satisfy some faculty who wanted the academics to make a stronger statement, said Nancy Snow, a philosophy professor. “We move ahead with our protests,” she said.
This is finals week at Marquette. Several students sat on the carpeted floor of the Union cradling laptops that sported protest signs attached to them. One of the organizers of the gathering, Melissa Mosko, said it was not a protest but a show of support for faculty. “The Marquette community has been hurt, Marquette’s reputation has taken a blow. Someone has to take responsibility,” said Mosko, 27, a graduate student studying philosophy. Alyssa Gerber, 22, an English major from Morris, Ill., said she chose Marquette because of its Jesuit teaching and values. “But these actions are not reflecting Catholic values.”
Gerber noted that Marquette was the first Catholic university to admit women 100 years ago, a milestone the campus is celebrating.
“You can’t expect excellent scholarship and restrict someone’s academic freedom,” said Gerber. More than 2,700 people have joined a Facebook group called “Marquette: Do Not Discriminate Against Jodi O’Brien.”
Marquette academics have been scrutinizing O’Brien’s work for more than two years. The university’s College of Arts and Sciences has been searching for a dean since the previous dean stepped down in December 2007, and the university has conducted two searches. O’Brien previously had been recruited by a third party for the job during the first search and was placed on a short list of candidates, but she declined the job for family reasons, Franzoi said. Recruitment reopened and the new selection committee approached O’Brien directly, asking her to reconsider her application, Franzoi said.
Marquette’s student government plans to hold a student-only listening session Tuesday at the student union to discuss the dean search. Wild, Dean of Students Stephanie Quade and Father James Flaherty, who serves on Marquette’s board of trustees, plan to participate.
Posted on May 10, 2010 by Bento