BREAKING: May 6 movement seeks legal sanction against MU

Via their website:

Today, the May 6th Movement informed Marquette University President, Rev. Robert Wild, S.J. that they have contacted various legal and academic organizations calling for academic censure and legal action against Marquette for rescinding an offer of Deanship to Dr. Jodi O’Brien, a sociologist and the Louis B. Gaffney Endowed Chair at Seattle University, a Jesuit, Catholic school.

The May 6th Movement is a coalition of undergraduate and graduate students at Marquette, named for a student and faculty movement begun on May 6th, the day it was announced that Marquette would not fulfill its contract with Dr. O’Brien.

Dr. O’Brien was offered the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences after a two-year search, which included two separate applications from Dr. O’Brien, one explicitly solicited by Marquette. O’Brien accepted the offer, but before the appointment was officially announced, O’Brien was informed that Fr. Wild and Provost John Pauly would not execute the contract. The University has cited O’Brien’s academic publications on lesbian sexuality, gay partnership and the nature of the family as evidence that she would not fit in with the Catholic mission and identity of Marquette.

The decision to rescind the offer of Deanship to O’Brien was made on the basis of the content of her academic writings, which is a clear violation of Marquette’s commitment to academic freedom. In addition, the inclusion of her sexuality in the hiring decision is a violation of Marquette’s commitment to diversity and human dignity, as well as a violation of Wisconsin and Federal Law. Although Marquette is a private institution, the University receives federal funding for scholarships and grants, and therefore is bound by federal statutes of non-discrimination.

In a student forum on May 11, Fr. Wild announced that there was no outside influence on the decision to rescind the offer to O’Brien. On May 12, a letter from Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki was made public, in which Listecki expressed concern about the offer to O’Brien, between the time the contract was offered and when it was rescinded. In the wake of this news, the May 6th Movement requested a meeting with Fr. Wild multiple times, and he refused to meet with students in a timely manner. This refusal prompted the May 6th Movement to contact these academic and legal organizations, in order to illustrate how this decision has affected and will continue to affect Marquette’s standing in the community of higher learning.

The organizations contacted by the May 6th Movement include the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the American Civil Liberties Union, Campus Progress, Lambda Legal, the American Association of University Women, the American Association of University Professors, the American Philosophical Association, the American Political Science Association, the American Sociological Association, the American Anthropological Association and the National Women’s Studies Association.

Students released the following excerpt from correspondence with Fr. Wild today:

Dear Father Wild,

You taught us to listen to reason, to be open to discourse and to show concern for all on whom our actions will have impact. You taught us to respect the dignity and the inherent, unassailable value of every single human person. You taught us to love learning and to value the free and open expression of ideas. You taught us to be responsible and loving men and women for others. You taught us to follow our hearts and our consciences. You taught us to be the difference. You taught us well, and we will live these lessons, even when you fail to do so. We are who you taught us to be. We are Marquette.

Sincerely,

Concerned Students

Wow. For weeks I’ve been hearing vague, unsettling chatter about “escalation,” but nobody mentioned any lawyers. Wow.

This is a hell of a big thing to process. Right now, I have three questions, listed not in descending importance, but in the order they occurred to me:

First Question: How are students going to pay legal fees?

Second Question: Is MUProtestMay 6 in any way in contact with Jodi O’Brien herself? Has she herself expressed an interest in filing suit against MU? None of her post-rescinding interviews have indicated such an intention. Has she just never publically discussed the possibility? Or are the students acting alone?

Third Question: The letter and blog post–and for that matter, the MUProtestMay6 Twitter account–have no names attached to them. Which individual students, of the 3,414 who have expressed opposition to the rescinding, are the ones actually pursuing the suit ? (Can it even rightly be described as a lawsuit?) I have some guesses, but that’s not the point. I think in the interest of transparency, accountability, and openness, the students behind the legal action ought to name themselves. Like, immediately.

(Open identification might also curb the movement’s populist streak. If we know who they are, they will have to acknowledge they are merely someone and not everyone on their side of this issue, and acknowledge they speak for themselves and no one else.)

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4 Responses

  1. 4th question: Will MU’s lawyers have any problems exposing O’Brien’s “research” in a court case? Thus proving she should never have been made an offer.

    I love how young idealists think they can fix things here even though they have no legal standing.

  2. I’m disturbed by the idea of a censure of academic work. As soon to be graduating with a PH. D, I”m entering a very tough job Market, having Marquette “censured” will make it even more difficult for those like me to find work. How does the help anyone?

    Do these protestors give a damn about those of thus entering the job market who they have now made sure to harm? We may find ourselves unemployed because we come from Marquette.

    I am not amused.

  3. Don’t worry. A censure by academic organizations is a warning about an institution to alert those on the academic job market of potential for problems. So this only warns those considering coming to Marquette — not those leaving it to seek work elsewhere. (And Marquette, like most institutions, rarely hires its own.)

    Of course, yes, you may find yourself unemployed — but that’s because of the economy. Blame the governors, blame Congress, blame the White House for that.

  4. In response to the comment above — here is a quotation from the Milwaukee Express story about the censure effort:

    “If any of the academic associations agree to censure it would be a huge black mark on the university,” she said. “It would limit our ability to post jobs, to host a lot of speakers. It would be really damaging.

    The “May 6th” group has no institutional affiliation with Marquette University, and it is not a recognized student organization within the university. As such, any legal or academic claim to represent Marquette to outside organizations is nil. It is akin to 15 undergrads whose disappointment with the performance of the basketball team leads them to write a formal letter of complaint to the NCAA.

    As such, any basis for their complaint comes from their status as individual students enrolled at Marquette. These outside organizations can only consider their complaints on this ground. In this regard, it is interesting that the one student willing to go on record with her name in the Express story is a senior, who will — one would guess — be graduating soon. Is this because she figures she is beyond disciplinary action for these activities?

    Given that their effort is an attempt to do real damage to the interior academic and intellectual life of the university (again, please refer to the article to see the *intentions* of this group), they have an obligation to make their names known to their fellow students — such as Mr. Wion — whose lives will be affected by this effort.

    Of course, all of this presumes that this is serious, which it is not. When is the last time a dozen or so unnamed undergraduate and graduate students had their university censured by the AAUP, APA, or APSA? If this could occur, every university in the US would be operating under some cloud of censure. One can always find a dozen people at a college with a problem of one kind or another with their administration.

    Serious attempts to pursue academic and legal remedies against an academic institution isn’t done on Twitter or anonymous web sites. This is all theater. When students start speaking in their own names, then we’ll know that it is something more than that.

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