Nearly 100 students marched on the Alumni Memorial Union Thursday to protest a decision by Father Wild to rescind an offer of deanship for the College of Arts and Sciences to Jodi O’Brien who is currently a sociology professor at Seattle University. After a two-year vetting process the Arts and Sciences search committee extended an offer to O’Brien, but took it back earlier this week after what protestors said was “pressure” from donors and Board of Trustee members.
O’Brien was the top choice for the Arts and Sciences selection committee, who last year had to begin their search again after they did not receive enough qualified applicants. Marquette confirmed the decision to take back O’Brien’s offer through a university statement Thursday afternoon. ”This personnel decision was not about sexual orientation,” according to the statement. The university admits to “certain oversights in the search process,” and also expressed regret at the initial offer to O’Brien. ” As a result of this search, the university will revise some aspects of the search process,” according to the statement.
Students expressed their outrage at the decision Thursday when a group of students marched down Wisconsin Avenue, then brought the protest into the rotunda in the AMU. Protest organizer and doctoral candidate in the philosophy department, Margaret Steele addressed the crowd and said “we are here, we are committed to standing up for dignity of all persons in the community.”
After moving inside the union, protesters began shouting “shame on you,” and chanting, “we are here for education, not for your discrimination.” Student signs read “MU cannot serve both God and money,” “Academic freedom is for sale,” “Since when is discrimination a Catholic value?” and “Fr. Wild is this your legacy?”
Students started to dance and jump when Philosophy Professor Dr. Nancy Snow, addressed the crowd. She read some prepared remarks and talked about her history with Marquette as a proud alumnus. Snow attended Marquette for undergraduate and graduate study and said she has had “the honor of working here.” She announced that O’Brien will “not be coming as dean,” but emphasized that Father Wild is “a good man.”
Snow circulated an e-mail Thursday afternoon encouraging students to express their disappointment with the decision, and was recieved warmly by students when she addressed her own sexuality. ”I am a proud out lesbian,” she said. Snow said she was recently promoted to full professor in the philosophy department and joked, “I hope that offer is not rescinded.” She then read Marquette’s statement on diversity, “Marquette seeks to become a diverse community dedicated to the promotion of justice.” She went on to say each member of the MU community is taught to celebrate differences, “this call to action is integral to the tradition we share.”
Snow went on to say O’Brien’s writings are ”unobjectionable pieces of sociological scholarship that contain vignettes of lesbian sex, that are then analyzed for the purpose of sociological study.” She said in an e-mail that she suspects detractors of O’Brien’s work to be ”donors, and that Fr. Wild fears losing their support.”
Addition excerpts from Snow’s e-mail include:
“Good morning, everyone. As many of you know, I’ve been involved with discussions with Fr. Wild and Dr. Pauly over the last few days regarding the possible withdrawal of the offer to Jodi O’Brien. Dr. Pauly is clearly in favor of Dr. O’Brien. Fr. Wild believes he must withdraw the contract. Apparently, much of the issue centers on concerns that she will not be able to represent the Church’s position, and will need to spend an inordinate amount of time defending herself from detractors, thereby compromising her ability to perform her duties as Dean. Much of the controversy centers on publications she wrote in the late 1990’s. I’ve read both of these (available online) and find them unobjectionable pieces of sociological scholarship that contain vignettes of lesbian sex, that are then analyzed for the purpose of sociological study.”
In an e-mail from the university sent out to Arts and Sciences faculty, admitted to offering the position to O’Brien prematurely.
“Some of the concerns identified in the process should have had more careful scrutiny. After examining the cumulative published records of the candidates, particularly as they relate to Catholic mission and identity, subsequent discussion raised issues that had not been fully addressed earlier. We did make an offer to one of the two finalists; in retrospect that was done prematurely…This decision was not based on any candidate’s personal background nor does the decision in any way challenge a faculty member’s freedom to write in his or her area of scholarly expertise.”
The e-mail affirmed that Jeanne Hossenlopp will remain the interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, until Provost John Pauly names her successor.