Officials at Marquette University in Milwaukee said Thursday that a lesbian scholar from Seattle University who has published works on gender and sexual orientation will no longer be offered a job as dean for the college of arts and sciences.
MILWAUKEE — Marquette University officials said Thursday that a lesbian scholar who has published works on gender and sexual orientation will no longer be offered a job as dean for the college of arts and sciences.
The decision to withdraw the offer from Seattle University professor Jodi O’Brien wasn’t about O’Brien’s sexual orientation or the quality of her work, said Marquette spokeswoman Mary Pat Pfeil. But, Pfeil said, some of O’Brien’s published writings “relating to Catholic mission and identity” were a factor.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the decision drew criticism from some Marquette faculty members. About 100 students protested Thursday, carrying signs in front of Marquette’s Alumni Memorial Union.
O’Brien told The Associated Press in an e-mail Thursday night that the situation is disappointing.
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“At this time the only comment I can offer is to confirm that I was offered the position of Dean and I accepted it, but there was an intercession by the President before my appointment was announced officially,” O’Brien said in the e-mail. “I’m very disappointed. The College of A&S at Marquette is strong and vibrant and I was looking forward to working with the students and faculty there.”
She has been with Seattle University since 1995 and has been chairwoman of its anthropology department since 2002.
“This was a decision based on a totality of factors, specifically related to the fit for the candidate to the college,” Pfeil told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
In the end, the school did not find an “acceptable candidate for permanent appointment,” Pfeil said in a statement to the paper.
Marquette is a Jesuit school, as is Seattle University. Some Marquette professors said they were concerned about academic freedom and wondered whether the university was questioning the topics of O’Brien’s published work rather than the quality. Her works include a sociological study of vignettes of lesbian sex.
Nancy E. Snow, a philosophy professor who helped O’Brien hunt for houses last month, said O’Brien’s work is not the real issue. “I think it’s all about her sexual orientation,” she told the newspaper.
Snow called the withdrawal of an offer to O’Brien “a public disgrace and an embarrassment.”
“This is a travesty that will have long-term impact for our ability to retain and hire high-quality faculty,” she said.
In an e-mail to faculty members, Snow said she suspects that the university’s president, the Rev. Robert Wild, feared losing the support of donors.
Pfeil said she didn’t know of any donors threatening to pull funds. She defended Wild, saying he has a reputation of being inclusive of gays and lesbians. She said Marquette has made strides in diversity in the past decade.
“We have on our faculty and staff individuals of various faiths, ages, ethnicity and sexual orientation,” Pfeil said in a statement on diversity given to the newspaper. “These differences help us to promote a culture of learning, appreciation and understanding.”
Psychology professor Stephen Franzoi, who served on a search committee for the dean post, said the decision couldn’t be separated from O’Brien’s sexual orientation.
“I guess if she was a lesbian but her research was on microorganisms, she might have been acceptable,” Franzoi said. He added that the issue of sexual orientation “has always been a problem with Marquette officials.”