Last month Marquette University –a Jesuit University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — offered esteemed Sociologist Jodi O’Brien the position of Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. After carefully weighing the vast professional and personal transitions that such a move would entail, O’Brien accepted the offer. She signed the contract and mailed it back to Marquette. She and her partner were preparing to put an offer on a house in Milwaukee. But early last week, after pressure from unnamed sources, Marquette backtracked. The official reason? As Marquette President Father Wild told the New York Times,“We found some strongly negative statements about marriage and family.”
This abrupt turn away from O’Brien — a job candidate actively pursued by search committees at Marquette for the past TWO years — has left O’Brien’s extensive and loyal network of colleagues, friends, and students vacilliating between complete disbelief and rage. Hundreds of her would-be Marquette colleagues and students are also shocked by this news and have organized several protests. Two Facebook support groups have emerged, one originating from Marquette, one from Seattle University. Marquette Professor of Theology Daniel C. Maguire has written a scathing open letter to Marquette President Robert Wild and Provost John Pauly, calling for Wild’s resignation and for Wild’s successor to re-offer the job to O’Brien.
In this post we will simply list some of the facts of this case. We will provide an overview of O’Brien’s scholarship, as well as the legal and social implications of Marquette’s actions in a follow-up post.
- Jodi O’Brien has been a leader at her home institution of Seattle University (a Jesuit University) since she arrived as an Assistant Professor in 1995. She quickly became promoted to Associate Professor and has served as Chair of the department of Anthropology, Sociology, and Social Work for seven years. O’Brien was promoted to Full Professor since 2005. In 2007 she received the honor and responsibility of being named the Lewis B. Gaffney Endowed Chair, a two year rotating position that carries with it the mandate of connecting academic and community life with the Jesuit mission.
- Dr. O’Brien has a long history of leadership positions in national professional organizations including the American Sociological Association and the Pacific Sociological Association. From 2008-2009 O’Brien served as President of the Pacific Sociological Association.
- O’Brien is the author of dozens of articles and the author and editor of several books, including Everyday Inequalities, and The Production of Reality (now in its 4th edition), a leading textbook in the field of Social Psychology.
- Dr. O’Brien’s cover letter to the University makes clear her match and affinity with the mission of Jesuit education and her strong academic background. The letter also openly makes clear how her published work grapples with managing perceived contradictions between Christianity and homosexual identities.
- O’Brien was an out lesbian during the entire interview process.
- O’Brien was offered the job. She accepted the job, signed the contract, and mailed it back to Marquette.
- When Marquette rescinded their offer, Marquette spokeswoman Mary Pat Pfeil told the Journal Sentinel that this was not specifically due to her sexual orientation but because of some of her scholarship “relating to Catholic mission and identity.”
Marquette’s excuse for reversing their offer is not sitting well with many, including those deeply committed to the Catholic and Jesuit mission. In his letter to Marquette University President Father Wild, Professor Maquire is incredulous that although Father Wild and Provost Pauly based their “decision on an interpretation of what was or what was not compatible with Catholic teaching,” they did not consult Catholic theologians in their decision. Maguire scolds:
(Y)ou did not consult the faculty experts on Catholic moral teaching on this campus. The Theology Department is one of the major theologates in North America, just a few yards away from your offices.
As well, Maguire reminds Father Wild and Provost Pauly that they also “ignored teachers of ethics in the Philosophy department and professors in Sociology, Dr. O’Brien’s field.”
As professors in Sociology and long term colleagues of Dr. O’Brien, we are most happy to offer our assessment of O’Brien’s scholarship on religion and sexuality. Stay tuned.
Referenced news articles:
Dillon, S. “Marquette rescinds offer to Sociologist.” New York Times. May 6, 2010.
Durhams, S. and K. Ferral. “Marquette on hot seat for rescinding job offer to Lesbian.” Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Wisconsin. May 6, 2010.
Finnegan, L. “Marquette Withdraws Job offer to Lesbian Dean Candidate Jodi O’Brien.” Huffington Post. May 7, 2010.
“How to not hire a dean.” Editorial. Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Wisconsin. May 7, 2010.