Some correspondence circulated amongst MU faculty on the O’Brien case

All of these are gleaned from John McAdam’s Marquette Warrior blog. As a faculty member, he’s simply privy to more sources than I am.

Javier A. Ibáñez-Noé, a scholar of German philosophy, characterized the Academic Senate’s resolution representative of a trend way from the university’s “traditional commitment to respect Catholic teaching” :

Dear colleagues,

I find myself obligated to express my disappointment, though not my surprise, at seeing that the resolution passed today by the University Academic Senate fails to mention, let alone to declare support for, the Catholic character and mission of Marquette University. Just as unsurprising is the fact that, in some of the exchanges relating to this resolution, the expression “Catholic Identity” appears in quotation marks and is not too subtly referred to as an outmoded thing.

I and my colleagues in the Department of Philosophy could have predicted this development. We have seen in the course of the past decade a sharp turn away from our traditional commitment to respect Catholic teaching. (I beg my readers to notice that I said “respect,” not “enforce” Catholic teaching). Indeed we at the Philosophy Department can also see, given recent domestic developments, how ironic it is that the University Academic Senate should appeal to the principle of shared governance. It is not quite two weeks ago that our departmental leadership, with the support of the Dean, effectively nullified a close departmental vote which, according to established procedure, indicated a clear preference for a candidate for the Donald J. Schuenke Chair who was both well-qualified and had a deep regard for the Catholic intellectual tradition.

I would hope that the University Academic Senate will find it in itself to show its commitment to inclusiveness by also defending the rights of the diminishing minority of faculty who, without necessarily being themselves Catholic, have an allegiance to the Catholic tradition of our university. I respectfully suggest that this could be done in at least two ways: (a) by refraining from defining “inclusiveness” in such an ideologically biased way that the definition ends up excluding central features of Catholic teaching, e.g., those relating to the nature of the family; and (b) by being prepared to apply the principle of shared governance not only when it is in the interest of the present dominating forces but also when it happens to favor the surviving Catholic-friendly minority.

Javier A. Ibáñez-Noé
Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy
Marquette University

Another philosopher, Robert Ashmore, Professor Emeritus, more or less concurs with Ibáñez-Noé’s thesis, writing that “political correctness” is trumping concerns of preserving a “Catholic or even Christian identity” for Marquette:

May 13, 2010

Dear Fr. Wild,

Nancy Snow’s calling for your resignation was the last straw that has prompted me to speak out. As a ringleader who gleefully tells the public in newspapers and on TV that “we move ahead with our protests,” after rejecting the Academic Senate’s actions as inadequate, Snow should be understood regarding the real agenda.

While rallying support of gullible faculty, administrators and students under the colors of academic freedom, diversity, and gay rights, the really serious purpose is to move MU away from core values that define its Jesuit and Catholic character. Persons who are theologically atheists and philosophically moral relativists sense growing strength.

Is it too strong to suggest that MU is reaping what it has sown? There are faculty (many of them silent) who believe that encouraging the likes of Snow has made the university vulnerable to what is now occurring. I experienced great sadness at your annual dinner for faculty last Thursday, when a platform was created for Snow, from which she smeared the administration, while you embraced her and lauded her as one of Marquette’s finest. In fact, if she and those similarly minded prevailed, MU would become unrecognizable for the values that it trumpets when recruiting students for $30,000 tuition payments.

May I remind those to whom this letter is addressed what has been my commitment to Marquette? I came in 1969, became full professor, served as director of the Graduate Program in Philosophy, served as Director of the Center for Ethics Studies, received the Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence, and obtained two institutional grants from NEH that funded successive summer institutes over six years. Against this background, I lament what has happened to my department and to the university.

I have witnessed under two successive deans of Arts and Science the acceptance and encouragement of a turn in the Philosophy Department that has radically fractured what once was a congenial faculty with a sense of mission that fit with MU’s core values. On the broader front, there has been lessened concern about hiring faculty and administrators who are committed to Catholic or even Christian identity at Marquette. Political correctness is seen as trumping those concerns.

Are they wrong who see you as hoisted on your own petard? I trust that it is not too late for a recovery of the sense of identity that Marquette advertises, while many of its hiring and promotion decisions have undercut this. “Diversity” and “academic freedom” (which I support) are being used as slogans that turn heads and mask agenda that should jolt lovers of Marquette into choices that are being challenged today.

Sincerely,
Robert B. Ashmore
Professor Emeritus of Philosophy

If the philosophy department at MU is indeed drifting away from Catholic-Christian commitments, it could be in part from hiring practices—though gauging a person’s religious beliefs in a job interview is taboo if not illegal in many settings. Moreover, most religious philosopher’s main area of expertise is outside of the philosophy of religion or arguments for the existence of God, so their published work is no guide either.

Moreover, the alleged Dechristianization of the MU philosophy department would only be reflective of trends in philosophy on a whole. A Phil Papers survey of working philosophers found that  68.1% percent are atheists while only 20.8% are theists, and 11.1 percent subscribe an “other” theological position. Presumbaly the 11.1 percent represents mostly deists, pantheists, or agnostics without religious commitments, though some religious panentheists are likely also included in that figure.

 There are important Christian philosophers working today—Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, Peter van Inwagen, John Polkinghorne —but they are a distinct minority. Making an effort to conscientiously hiring Christian philosophers would be difficult in the same way conscientiously hiring ethnic minorities or women would be difficult; all three groups are underrepresented in contemporary philosophy.

Meanwhile, Nancy Snow continues to rally for support, this time listing explicit courses of action:

Dear Colleagues:

I’m appalled, but not surprised, that the Archdiocese and other outside influences were involved in this decision. I will tell you that Fr. Wild told me in no uncertain terms during our conversation on Tuesday, May 4, that Marquette has autonomy from the Archdiocese and that the decision to rescind the offer was his. Yet, the Archdiocese had considerable and in my view, inappropriate, influence. Fr. Wild has not yet told the truth about this. The admission came from the Archdiocese. The academic autonomy and integrity of our University have been compromised.

Here is the link to the photos from yesterday’s “listening” session. Please share the link to see the level of activity this controversy has generated. Marquette has never seen anything like this. http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=212086&id=729450126&l=d5b199eeba

Next steps:

1. Faculty and student groups will be continuing protests during senior week and at commencement. Please join these if you can. We must stand up and stand together.

Exactly how disruptive will the graduation protests be? I mean, I hope there’s some big and loud (but still respectful) gesture on behalf of O’Brien/against Wild, but it still shouldn’t be the centerpiece of the day.

2. Concerned colleagues from Seattle join our protest. Among other efforts currently underway there, they are now exerting pressure on their Jesuit president to make a statement.

3. I attach a joint statement to be signed by concerned faculty of the Colleges of Arts and Sciences at Marquette and Seattle Universities. I ask supportive department chairs of the MU College of Arts and Sciences — James South, Kristy Nielson, Krista Ratcliffe, and Jim Marten — to make copies of this letter available in your department offices for faculty to sign, and to publicize this letter in your departments. I ask these chairs to intervene with other Arts and Sciences chairs to request their cooperation in gathering signatures. Similar actions will be taken at Seattle University. Let us get as many signatures as possible. We will purchase full page ads to have the letter published in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Seattle Times, Chronicle of Higher Education, and, if possible, Chicago Tribune and New York Times. Please sign and urge your colleagues to sign as soon as possible. Let’s aim to have all signatures in by Tuesday of next week.

4. Colleagues here are trying to schedule a date and time for an open forum on this issue. Please stay tuned as plans solidify.

We must take back our College and our University. I fully support re-extending the offer to Dr. O’Brien, with an apology.

Best,

Nancy

Nancy E. Snow
Professor of Philosophy
“Be the change you seek in your world.” – Gandhi

The “joint statement” referred to in no. 3 reads as follows:

Statement from Concerned Members of Marquette University

Regarding the Rescinded Offer of Deanship to Dr. Jodi O’Brien (joined by concerned colleagues from Seattle University):

– We condemn the decision to rescind the offer made to Dr. Jodi O’Brien to serve as Dean of the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts and Sciences.

– We condemn the involvement of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and other outside influences in this decision. The academic autonomy and integrity of Marquette University was compromised in this decision-making process.

– We believe this action has caused significant harm to the reputation of Marquette University. It threatens our credibility and integrity as a university. It has caused suffering among students, alumni, staff, and faculty, and it will cost Marquette considerably in terms of community relationships, research, and recruiting and retaining students and faculty.

– We reject the public rationale offered for this action: examples of Dr. O’Brien’s scholarship disqualify her from being able to represent Marquette University in its Catholic mission and identity. We reject the idea that scholarship published in peer-reviewed journals or presented at universities or academic conferences can disqualify a faculty member from leadership at a Jesuit University.

– We strongly believe the decision puts academic freedom at risk at Marquette University. We reject an intellectual “litmus test” for our faculty, staff, and leaders in the administration. Indeed we find the very idea of such a “litmus test” to be contrary to the tradition of excellence, faith, service, and leadership advanced by American Jesuit Colleges and Universities.

– We believe that the rejection of Dr. O’Brien because of her scholarship examining the social institution of marriage and the fluidity of gender roles and sexuality exposes a culture of unease and suppression at Marquette University, a culture which frowns upon the frank intellectual discussion of human – and especially female – sexuality. This is particularly chilling and ironic as we celebrate the Centennial of Women at Marquette.

– We believe that this course of events undermines Marquette University’s faith commitment to both foster diversity and honor the human dignity of every individual regardless of culture, faith, race, gender, and sexual orientation.

– We pledge to work to restore the integrity of our university.

– We pledge to defend academic freedom for all of our faculty, and the spirit of academic freedom for all students, staff, administrators, and leadership. We will reject vigilantly the imposition of “litmus tests.”

– We pledge to confront directly the chilly climate on campus for scholarship and discussion concerning issues of gender and sexuality. We demand that these issues be allowed the broadest horizons for inquiry and debate. We cannot allow the intellectual discussion and academic investigation of human sexuality to be constrained by overly narrow understandings of Jesuit mission and Catholic identity.

– We pledge to honor Marquette University’s Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity. We must not only talk the talk of nondiscrimination and inclusiveness; our rhetoric must be matched by courageous action.

– We pledge to help our students make sense of what has transpired here. We desire for them to inherit a tradition of Excellence, Faith, Leadership, and Service that is inclusive, fosters moral courage, and supports the free and open inquiry necessary to attain the highest standards of scholarship.

– We hope to engage in conversations with all levels of university administration to ensure more transparent process for hiring in the future and to develop a more open environment generally.

– We note with chagrin that while the administration encouraged the university community to discuss the name change of our basketball team or a full year, less than two weeks after this egregious action, which strikes at the heart of our functioning as a university, we were told it is time for “healing” and “moving on.”

Ouch.

 

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One Response

  1. Thank you Bento for posting this in detail. I do not know enough about Ibanez to speculate on his precise positions. I do, however, know Bob Ashmore relatively well. I’m quite sure the Dr. Ashmore does NOT support the rescinsinding of Jodi O’Brien’s job offer. I think he is more of th frame of mind that certain people in our department, Dr. Snow, and several of the PH. D. candidates are using this unjust episode to further their radical race and gender theory agenda.

    I would like to emphasize that for many reasons I will NOT side publicly with Ashmore or Snow or against either. I will say, quite publicly, that I am in totatl agreement that Marquette was unjust in rescinding the job offer and morally wrong to do so. I will also say that I think much of the anger and protest is totally justified.

    But both Ibanez and Ashmore write from their side of a deeply divided and even hostile Philosophy department. Some members of our faculty and many of our students are fiercly pushing the department into race and gender studiies, and area they think should be at the forefront of philosophy. Other faculty members are deeply oppossed to this, for various reasons. Most notably they wish to keep the deparment focused on history of philosophy, and fear that it is being turned into a race and gender studies only club.

    I do not personally have any interest at all in the philosophy of race and gender. I do not study it, nor have any desire to do so. I do not, however, possess the expertise to assess its merits. Nor is it my place to have any say in these department struggles, nor take a side. I am not facutly here and it is not my place to have any input in how the department goes

    My purpose in writing this is to put Bob Asmore into context and to separate his concerns from those of McAdams and probably from those of Ibanez as well.

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