Dr. Jodi O’Brien: A follow up.

May 11, 2010

McAdams has been all over the MU fall out and further news since the first story broke. Feel free to read the MU-Warrior for more emails between faculty and far better analysis.

Professor of Marketing and former Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Gene Laczniak put this letter of support out on facebook.


The events of the past week are a grave and serious matter to all of us because they reflect on Marquette University’s national reputation as an academic institution–specifically, whether we are open to the diversity of leadership, opinions and ideas that the “sifting and winnowing for the truth” in all serious universities demands. The fallout from the withdrawal of a formal offer of the A&S deanship to Dr. O’Brien (notably, a full professor and department chair at a companion Jesuit, Catholic university!) will greatly influence Marquette’s ability to recruit and retain faculty (especially women), will diminish our intellectual standing in the eyes of other institutions of higher education and, depending on how Dr. O’Brien decides to proceed, possibly result in censure (again) for Marquette from the AAUP.

For starters, let me say the following, for purposes of complete disclosure. If I had been Provost, and two “acceptable” dean candidate names had been forwarded to me (as reported in this instance), after reviewing the record, I might not have selected Dr. O’Brien. It would NOT have been because her research is somehow contrary to Catholic Church teachings or unsuitable methodologically, but rather, given all the daunting fiscal challenges that Marquette already faces, her writings could prove to be an avoidable distraction to completing other important tasks as dean. That said, after a full review cycle by Marquette University, including (presumptively) the required dossier analysis about what candidate O’Brien contributes to the Catholic, Jesuit nature of our university, an offer of employment as A&S dean was made to her–supported by the search committee and Provost. According to Dr Snow, O’Brien in fact accepted that offer.

Now, some specifics, all of which imply deeply troubling questions for our university. To these, senior faculty should press for answers. Meaningful involvement in university governance, a faculty responsibility, requires no less at this defining moment.

The “objectionable” excerpts of Dr. O’Brien’s scholarship, drawn from on-line postings by gay females and conducted by her as a sociologist involved in scholarly gender studies, include explicit vignettes of lesbian sex, that no doubt some readers would find offensive or off-putting. At one point in those writings, Dr. O’Brien implies empathy with such practices, but that clearly ought NOT be a problem, given that our Marquette University diversity statement explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. The more potent objection may lie in Ms. O’Brien exploring areas of sexuality that do not reflect well on our “Catholic identity”, a term used in the University press release on this matter and, perhaps, also utilized as a synonym for Christian “family values”. This is not the place for a detailed tangent directed to those gentle (Alumni?) souls offended by Dr. O’Brien’s quotations, but it is worth noting that that the God of the Old Testament, at one time, calls on his followers to murder of all the people of Jabesh-gilead, except for the virgin girls who are to be taken and forcibly raped; at other times that same God seems to allow for slavery, including selling your own daughter as a sex slave, child abuse and bashing babies against rocks.

The point is, exactly what are the “family values” of Judeo-Christian religiosity that cannot be intellectually discussed and debated within the confines of a university?

In a letter to A&S faculty, Prof. Nancy Snow of the Philosophy Department states that Provost John Pauly favors this appointment. Does he now NOT support it? Was the Provost told to change his mind or resign OR did he quietly acquiesce? Did he protest on behalf of faculty prerogatives at all? It seems to me that Dr. Pauly also owes the university faculty a clear explanation concerning precisely where the objections to this appointment originated since I would assume that his name, and perhaps Rev. Wild’s as well, were on the appointment offer.

In the University news release on this matter, the administration also states that the work of the search committee unfolded “without as much due diligence as was warranted.” Yet members of the A&S dean search committee have consistently and forcefully maintained that the nature of Dr. O’Brien’s scholarship was precisely laid out for all to discern. This “blame the search committee” strategy, disturbing in itself as an independent event, seems now to have been abandoned.

Is the post facto “veto” to Dr. O’Brien originating from “big” donors or influential trustees? Dr. Snow has implied this could be the source of the reversal. If so, who exactly are these individuals and what is the nature of their objection? If it is to Dr. O’Brien’s sexual orientation, they seem to advocate Marquette violating Wisconsin law as well as its own HR policy. If the university takes such advice fearing a reduction in donations, that speaks devastatingly to the motivations and moral courage of our upper administration.

Or, are these events based on an intervention from Bishop Listecki? Fr. Wild reportedly hinted at this in a recent meeting with A&S department chairs. A strict reading of Ex Corde Ecclesiae (The Vatican document on the Catholicity of universities) would put decisions that affect the Catholic nature of the university under the jurisdiction of the local Bishop. But universities with firm moral grounding have regularly resisted such interference, with Notre Dame, refusing to rescind their campus speaking invitation to President Obama (despite his pro-choice policy), being a recent example. Indeed, in the past 60 days, Marquette itself has reiterated the academic freedom of theologian Dan McGuire, who calls for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for his alleged role in the decades long cover-up of pedophilic priests. Should the O’Brien reversal flow from the local prelate, does the Archbishop Listecki now have veto power over future academic appointments at Marquette University OR is this just another blame deflecting ploy by administration? Faculty should press the question.

And finally, how did all this come about at the eleventh hour? Who exactly convinced Rev. Wild to become suddenly engaged and, what precisely was the nature of those overt persuaders’ objections and/or veiled contingencies? The Journal-Sentinel reports that Marquette University canceled a scheduled interview on this matter because this situation had now become a legal issue. One hopes Marquette’s strategy of last resort is not to pay off Dr. O’Brien for her future silence on this matter, while hoping another round of campus “listening sessions” will mollify the faculty before they disperse for the summer. While I do not begrudge Prof. O’Brien some compensation from this shameful matter, Marquette faculty members need only surf on-line comments and Twitter postings about these events to ascertain how much perceptual damage to our university reputation has been done by this magnificent ineptitude.

It is often said, but with varying levels of belief depending who says it, that “the university is its faculty.” Any current internet search (see recent articles in the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education) will reveal that our university standing has been palpably damaged around the country by this clumsy and unfortunate set of events. The faculty of Marquette deserves a detailed response concerning how our leadership intends to go about rectifying the damage to our most precious possession–our university integrity.

Gene Laczniak

Laczniak’s letter does bring up some good points but it is full of vague words, faulty arguments, cheap shots at alumni and seems to use common talking points of people that attack Christianity.

There was a meeting of the Academic Senate yesterday. It was quasi-live blogged by Word Warrior.  The thing to take away from that is:

Aftermath: I was struck by the outpouring of support at the busiest time of year. Moreover, the diversity of the students showing support was heartening for the future–I saw an acquaintence deeply involved in liturgical choir, and possibly the most devoutly Catholic women I know spoke of being “fired up,” and brainstorming possible gestures of protest at graduation.

This isn’t just secular humanists protesting. (Ahem.) The Catholics also see this as an affront of Marquette’s stated values, Jesuital ecclecticism, and basic human decency.

Results: The Senate did pass a resolution condemning, among other things, a lack of transparency and committment to shared governance on behalf of those responsible for the rescinding of O’Brien’s offer. I will post the full text of the resolution when it becomes available. MUMay6Protest is not pleased:

No censure. No vote of on confidence. Thex reaffirmed the non discrimination policy. Considering a vote of no confidence in the fall.

Dr. Nancy Snow, probably O’Brien’s fiercest advocate on campus, described the decision as “weak” and encouraged students to “keep the pressure on.”

Note the tweet above from MUProtestMay6. Nice to know there are all of 74 people following this account, even though I hope they don’t all believe in the concept of Protesting whenever they don’t get their way is a good diea.

Here is the full text of the Resolution:


We, the University Academic Senate

Reaffirm our strong support for the official non-discrimination statement of Marquette University;

Express our approval of and support for the work of the A&S Dean Search Committee;

Condemn both the process and decision to rescind an extended offer, and we express our regret for the immense harm that this has caused to Dr. O’Brien, our fellow faculty, staff, students and alumni;

Request that Father Wild & Darren Jackson, Chair of the Board of Trustees, meet with the UAS at some time prior to the September 2010 Board of Trustees Meeting to discuss Marquette’s commitment to both academic freedom and shared governance;

Demand adoption of a revised search protocol that clearly affirms academic freedom and no disqualification from leadership positions for candidates pursuing legitimate lines of academic inquiry professionally recognized in their discipline;

Condemn the lack of transparency in sharing the reasons for the decision; and

Recommend that the UAS evaluate whether there has been demonstrable progress in achieving these objectives when considering whether to entertain a vote of no confidence in the President in fall 2010.

Approved May 10, 2010

In talking to some of my friends, they’ve suggested that O’Brien will sue over this. Now, will their be some sort of settlement between MU and O’Brien? Yes. Will it go to court? I highly doubt it. It would be professional suicide of O’Brien were to sue. The burden of proof is on her to prove that MU did not rescind her offer because of her sexuality (which it wasn’t). MU would easily be able to argue that her CV and a lack of competent vetting was the case. It would be damning to her own case to give lawyers a chance to pour over her CV and whatnot.


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