Imagine that you are an assistant professor of sociology at Seattle University, a Jesuit school, during the late 1990s. You are an out lesbian. Your research areas include gender, sexuality, religion, social inequalities, social psychology, social theory and qualitative research methodologies.
You write books and articles that are vetted and published in peer-reviewed journals in your academic discipline. Two articles contain first-person vignettes about lesbian sexuality. You analyze these carefully constructed first-person vignettes from various angles, using the tools of your discipline. This qualitative research methodology is standard practice in your and other academic disciplines.
Minor point, but a lot of this seems a little over the heads of the probable average Journal Sentinel reader, who only has a fuzzy idea what sociology is, and is left adrift by phrases like “vignette” and “qualitative research methodology.”
Of course, Snow ought to be discussing what O’Brien, like, does. But given that Snow is also writing the piece for a broad audience, she’s not always reaching them halfway.
A few years later, same-sex marriage becomes an issue. You publish peer-reviewed articles on this in academic venues. Your research is fundamentally about the sociology of sexuality but is informed by your evolving understanding of the mission of Jesuit universities. You believe you have academic freedom. Eventually, you are honored with the Louis B. Gaffney Endowed Chair, recognizing your outstanding contribution to the Jesuit mission of Seattle University.
Fast forward to the fall of 2009. A representative from Marquette University comes to Seattle to recruit you to reapply for the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Your 11-page academic résumé includes two university administrative positions, three visiting and affiliate appointments, 14 books and edited volumes, 17 articles and book chapters, 11 book reviews, one edited book series and 58 presentations, 32 invited. Other entries list more professional and service activities.
Your candidacy makes the short list, and in the winter of 2010, you are invited to Marquette. You meet the president, the provost, the executive director of mission and ministry, the vice provosts, the deans, the chairs of the College of Arts and Sciences, alumni, faculty and students. An offer is made, and you and your partner visit Milwaukee. An out lesbian professor from the College of Arts and Sciences, whom you met during your job interview, has been asked to show you around. She assures you that life is good for gays and lesbians at Marquette. The institution has been on an inclusive trajectory.
Before leaving Milwaukee, you accept the job offer. Marquette and you sign a written contract. You take this contract to your institution and resign your position. You are ready to go. On May 3, it unravels. The provost and president of Marquette phone you to say the offer is being withdrawn. You are stunned. Now what?
From here on, I can’t ask you to imagine what it’s like to be Jodi O’Brien, because I don’t know. As the person who took O’Brien and her partner around Shorewood, I can say that on May 4, when I was called to the provost’s office at Marquette and told that Father Robert A. Wild was rescinding the offer, I felt the ground open up and swallow me. Dr. John J. Pauly, the provost, talked about an article describing a fantasy with a sex toy. Father Wild, the president, mentioned an article published in 1999 and something else about same-sex marriage. Neither the president nor the provost was clear about what the article was, what the issue was, which passages were objectionable, how they related to church teachings and why, after Dr. O’Brien had visited campus and been found to articulate the mission of the university far better than her competitors, she was now, after the completion of the entire process, being disqualified. Her overall publications record was not considered. Nor was the fact that she had served in leadership positions at another Jesuit University. In conversation with me, Father Wild stressed that Seattle is not Milwaukee. Didn’t people know that when she came here? She hid neither her sexual orientation nor her publications record. Twice.
Now we know that the Milwaukee Archdiocese intervened at the 11th hour to scuttle the job offer. Now the faculty and students at Marquette know that we are no better than a grammar school playing “father knows best.” Now we know that we have no academic freedom and neither academic autonomy nor integrity in our decision-making. Now we know that we are not competent to decide who best articulates and represents the mission of our university.
Now we are told that different research standards apply to those in leadership positions. Does this mean that only those with “safe” research can be considered for deanships at Marquette – as if anyone worth their salt in faculty ranks could or would calibrate their research to please a conservative archbishop?
Now we are told to “heal,” to “move on,” to end this fiasco quickly, as if the kind of damage done here can simply be swept under the rug. Yet for an entire year, we were encouraged to discuss changing the name of the basketball team. Marquette students and faculty are heartbroken. Marquette, get your house in order.
“Heartbroken” isn’t how I would describe the disgruntled students. Rather, we’re pissed.
Overall, Snow keeps a more even tone than she has in many of her on-campus statements and gestures. She described the resolution of condemnation passed by the Academic Senate as “weak.” She was among the faculty members outside the doors of the listening session applauding the students disrupting the event with script-reading and walking out. But on the broader platform of the Journal Sentinel, she exercises better PR than on the small stage of Marquette.