Academic Freedom

Marquette U. Professors Criticize Withdrawal of Job Offer to Lesbian Scholar

May 07, 2010

Marquette University has withdrawn an employment offer it made to a prospective new dean for its College of Arts and Sciences, provoking sharp criticism from several faculty members who see the move as a blow to academic freedom and diversity at the Jesuit institution, according to news reports.

The rejected hiree, Jodi O'Brien, is a sociologist at Seattle University and a lesbian who has written about gender and sexual-identity issues. A Marquette University spokeswoman said the withdrawal of the job offer to Ms. O'Brien was not about the quality of her scholarly work or her sexual identity, but about how some of her writings related "to Catholic mission and identity," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Nancy E. Snow, a philosophy professor, told the newspaper she believes the move was "all about her sexual orientation" and was motivated by administrators' fears of upsetting donors.

In an e-mail message to the Journal Sentinel, Ms. O'Brien confirmed that she had been offered the position at Marquette and had accepted it, "but there was an intercession by the president before my appointment was announced officially."

Marquette's president, the Rev. Robert A. Wild, was not available for comment. Members of the search committee that had recommended Ms. O'Brien and one other candidate as finalists said Father Wild and the university's provost, John J. Pauly, had met with them on Wednesday and told them they had failed to scrutinize Ms. O'Brien's scholarly works adequately.

Stephen L. Franzoi, a professor of psychology who was also on the committee, disputed that characterization of the panel's work. He told the Journal Sentinel that the committee had advised senior administrators not to choose Ms. O'Brien if the university was not willing to support her, if her sexual orientation or her scholarship became targets of criticism. "To say now that we were not careful enough is ludicrous," he said. "They should have been prepared to defend their choice."