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Marquette President: Stay in the Closet, or No Jobs for You

May 14, 2010

Image via Duke Magazine

You may or may not have heard about the situation at Marquette University that has academics all over the United States buzzing: after a months-long job search, on-campus interviews, and a job offer by the College of Arts and Sciences to serve as Dean, Marquette’s senior administration rescinded the offer made to Dr. Jodi O’Brien, a sociologist now teaching at Seattle University.  This, in itself, would be an embarrassment–to put it bluntly, such internal confusion doesn’t exactly make a university look good–but it gets worse.  Dr. O’Brien’s offer was rescinded because, according to the President of Marquette, Rev. Robert Wild, her ability to uphold the school’s “Catholic mission and identity” were in question.  This came as news to Dr. O’Brien, who currently teaches at a Catholic school (Seattle), and who has written on Queer Christian Identities and Queer Christian Social Movements.

But, apparently, that pesky “Queer” is throwing a wrench into things for Rev. Wild.  Of course, the University is adamant that this is not discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Instead, Wild claims, after reading Dr. O’Brien’s works–though he conveniently omits explicit reference to any particular work–he (and others) came to the determination that they contained “strongly negative statements about marriage and family.”  Which, one supposes, must be incompatible with teaching at a Catholic university–never mind the fact that Prof. O’Brien already does exactly this.  It is not surprising, then, that Marquette faculty protesting the decision have labeled this move by the university administration anti-LGBT discrimination, and have threatened to bring a Vote of No Confidence against Wild.

There are more than a few things to be disturbed about in this situation, of course: beyond being simply terrible treatment of O’Brien–who has not only been jerked around by Marquette, but publicly denounced as anti-family and intellectually dangerous–this doesn’t exactly bode well for academics in general.  Many of us spend our lives researching and writing on topics that are viewed by much of the public as threatening or subversive (or, for that matter, useless); part of the mission of the institutionalization of universities is to provide a space in which to conduct this kind of work without fear that we will lose our jobs for saying what we think or preserving areas of knowledge that are suspicious to the political majority.  The fact that Rev. Wild is attempting to justify his rescinding of O’Brien’s offer as being based not on her sexuality, but on the content of her work (which, of course, is about sexuality) is hardly better.  It both admits that academic freedom isn’t of value and reiterates the idea that there’s something threatening or unacceptable about Queerness–but wraps that idea in the jargon of Catholic mission and identity.

Of course, there’s something not terribly surprising about all of this, for those of us who have spent much time in the academic world–which, despite the rhetoric of Ivory Tower-dom, is often all too reminiscent of the corporate world: don’t do anything too crazy, or we’ll lose donors!  As Inside Higher Ed points out, while out LGBT people do get hired as professors (even at Catholic schools), it is often more difficult for such persons to rise through the ranks of the University administration, presumably because such jobs involve much greater public visibility.  It’s worth wondering, then, whether Marquette would have hired O’Brien at a lower rank than Dean, and whether supposedly “anti-family” writings that are acceptable when produced by lowly Professors suddenly become anathema by university administrators.

In any case, what’s happening here isn’t simply of concern to academics, but to anyone who is disturbed by the continued suggestion that LGBTQI people can be discriminated against with impunity.  Please consider participating in the protest efforts organized by the Marquette faculty (the vast majority of whom are outraged by this behavior on the part of Rev. Wild and the University administration).  An email from the Feminist Ethics and Social Theory listserv has the details:

Please call Fr. Wild, on Friday 14th of May and/or Monday 17th of May to show your outrage at this decision. Below, you will find the demands of the Marquette students who are protesting and seeking to reverse this terrible decision. Feel free to call in support of our demands, or to ask questions about the decision, or to give your opinion. Call as many times as you want. The number for Fr. Wild’s office is (414) 288 7223. It is open between 9.00 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.

Here are our demands:

1. We demand Fr. Wild’s immediate resignation. As the highest and final decision maker he is ultimately at fault. His decision to rescind the offer to Dr. Jodi O’Brien has caused immeasurable damage to Marquette University’s standing as a safe, diverse, and open institution of higher learning.

2. We demand a series of public apologies from Fr. Wild. These apologies should be directed to Dr. Jodi O’Brien, the search committee that he has overridden, the Marquette community, and the greater LGBT community. These apologies would be a concrete initial step toward the greater goal of reconciliation and healing from this disastrous decision.

3. We demand the offer be re-extended to Dr. O’Brien. The rescinding of the offer was unjust. This act would be a crucial step toward rectifying this injustice.

Again- Please feel free to voice whatever concerns you may have over this issue. We are not asking you to (necessarily) call and voice our demands.

Alternatively, if you’d like to write to Rev. Wild, or Darren Jackson, Chairman of the Board at Marquette, you can reach them at the following addresses (unfortunately, they’re apparently not net-savvy enough to be reached reliably by email):

Rev. Robert A. Wild, S.J.
President, Marquette University
Office of the President
Marquette University
PO Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201

Mr. Darren R. Jackson
Chair of the Marquette Board, Bus Ad ’86, President and Chief Executive Officer, Advance Auto Parts
Advance Auto Parts Corporate HQ
5008 Airport Rd.
Roanoke, VA  24012
Ph. 540-362-4991
Fx.  540-561-1448

As Marquette Senior Alyssa Gerber points out, Marquette was the first Catholic University to admit women students 100 years ago.  How depressing that this anniversary should be marked by such a terrible display of bigotry.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 15, 2010 9:29 pm

    Besides the fact that this situation is absolutely enraging, way to read her work before offering her the position, Marquette. FAIL.

    • marybullstonecraft permalink*
      May 17, 2010 8:46 am

      This is definitely a big-time FAIL on the part of the Marquette administration. Though to be fair, we should note that the relevant academic departments making the hire were familiar with Dr. O’Brien’s work. Typically, in academic hiring situations, the department (or departments) in question is most involved in reading/knowing the quality of the candidate’s work–since they are the most qualified people to judge this, as experts in the field. After they decide that they’d like to hire this particular person (which they do through a series of interviews, the final of which is an on-campus interview at which the candidate meets privately with members of the faculty and the administration), this decision has to be approved by the administration before an offer is extended. It’s not super typical for administrators to read a candidate’s work (especially if s/he is not in the same field as they are); instead their approval will be informed by a review of the candidate’s CV–how many books/articles have they published, does their ‘on paper’ record appear sufficient to the caliber of people the administration thinks the university should be hiring–and their sense of any meetings they may have had with the candidate (is this person stable/easy to work with?). What definitely isn’t supposed to happen is that the administrator goes and reads the candidate’s work for content, as the President of Marquette did in this case. Doing this amounts to a kind of souped-up Dirty Word Patrol: she talked about teh gayz!!!!1! No job!

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