THAT IS NOT A RHETORICAL QUESTION. THE SCANDAL OF THE APPOINTMENT OF DEAN GARVEY TO THE POSITION OF PRESIDENT OF THE CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY OF AMERICA COUPLED WITH THE SCANDAL OF THE APPOINTMENT OF JODI O’BRIEN AS A DEAN AT MARQUETTE UNIVERSITY COUPLED WITH THE SCANDAL OF NOTRE DAME/OBAMA STILL FRESH IN OUR MEMORY PROMPTS THE QUESTION. THERE SEEMS TO BE NO END TO THE REBELLION AMONG OUR CATHOLIC INSITUTIONS OF HIGHER LEARNING AGAINST THE MAGISTERIUM OF THE CHURCH.
Another Catholic University Fails a Litmus Test
What was Marquette’s mistake?
By ANNE HENDERSHOTT
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
JUNE 18, 2010
Marquette University’s decision to withdraw an offer to Jodi O’Brien, a self-described “sexuality scholar” to become Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the Jesuit-led institution continues to divide the faculty. Although Ms. O’Brien reached a settlement with the University last week, her supporters maintain that she is the victim of homophobia. Teachers who criticized the initial job offer say that Ms. O’Brien’s sexual orientation is not what disqualifies her, but rather the fact that her publications disparage Catholic moral teachings on marriage, sexuality and the family.
In a post-settlement letter sent June 9th to the Marquette community, University President Father Robert A. Wild wrote, “[W]e have apologized to Dr. O’Brien for the way in which this was handled and for the upset and unwanted attention that we have caused to this outstanding teacher and scholar.” Yet Fr. Wild also added that he stands by his decision to rescind the employment offer, a decision “made in the context of Marquette’s commitment to its mission and identity.”
The specific nature of the job at issue—as dean Ms. O’Brien would have been charged with helping to implement Ex Corde Ecclesiae, Pope John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution intended to revitalize Catholic higher education—may have driven Marquette to back off this particular appointment. But the real story here is that in the upside-down world of Catholic higher education, there is more status in hiring a sexuality scholar who denigrates Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage than in choosing a serious scholar who might actually support Catholic teachings.
Of the three finalists for the position, Ms. O’Brien was the first choice, even though her publication record was minimal in comparison with the others. Though all three had led academic departments, the two male candidates also had grant-writing success and prestigious publication records.
Ms. O’Brien published articles such as “How Big is your God? Queer Christian Social Movements.” One of the male finalists wrote a book on the French Revolution that won an award from the American Historical Association. Ms. O’Brien published a “gender switching” article describing online homoerotic behavior entitled “Changing the Subject.” One of the other finalists received funding for 17 major research grants and listed dozens of publications on his 19-page vita.
Ms. O’Brien’s faculty supporters remain angry about President Wild’s decision to rescind the job offer to her. About 100 faculty members (out of a total of 1,161 teachers) signed a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 24th demanding that the university apologize and award the position to Ms. O’Brien.
Others criticized Marquette from a different direction. For Professor John McAdams, who blogs at Marquette Warrior, revelations about the school’s concerted effort to recruit Ms. O’Brien confirmed his belief that she was “pushed by some faculty and administrators as adding the right kind of diversity to the school.”
Not surprisingly, the O’Brien fiasco has brought claims of homophobia at Marquette—and beyond. Scott Jaschik of the online publication Inside Higher Ed, asks: “Do gays face a stained glass ceiling at Catholic colleges?”
Seton Hall Professor W. King Mott, who is gay, claims they do. “There is no way the current hierarchy will allow a gay person to hold a position of authority,” Mr. Jaschik quotes him as saying, “unless they are closeted and self-loathing,”
Mr. Mott, a tenured full-professor of political science, has served as chair of Seton Hall’s faculty senate—the most powerful position a faculty member can hold. Hardly a marginalized man, Mr. Mott also served as one of 12 members of the search committee for Seton Hall’s next president. There are openly gay men and women in leadership positions at a number of Catholic universities and colleges.
As for the charge of dissenting opinions not being welcomed, Marquette itself has a long history of respect for the academic freedom of faculty members who are willing to denigrate Church teachings. Daniel Maguire, a tenured theology professor there, continues to call abortion a “sacred choice” and writes in his pro-abortion book, “Sacred Choices,” that “sometimes ending incipient life is the best that life offers.”
Indeed, there are enough faculty members with views like Mr. Maguire’s that some observers regard them as a kind of fashion statement on Catholic campuses. At Marquette, Professor Emeritus Christopher Wolfe recently lamented that the school “has moved quietly but consistently away from its distinctively Catholic roots.”
In a published statement ,Ms. O’Brien stated that she hoped her agreement with the school would lead to a “legacy of community betterment at Marquette, including research and education regarding issues of gender and sexuality.” Ms. O’Brien’s faculty supporters say they “reject an intellectual litmus test for our faculty, staff and leaders in the administration.”
Unless the Marquette community addresses the issue of whether candidates for senior leadership positions need to respect and support the mission and identity of Catholic higher education, it is likely that hiring decisions will continue to be contested.
Ms. Hendershott is head of the politics, philosophy and economics program at The King’s College in New York, and the author of “Status Envy: The Politics of Catholic Higher Education.”