Seattle University humanities dean Jodi Kelly, who was on administrative leave, has retired.
Jodi Kelly, the dean who became the focus of student protests at Seattle University this spring, has retired, ending one of the main points of contention between the protesters and the university.
Kelly has been on leave since June 1, after students and faculty criticized her leadership of Matteo Ricci College, an elite humanities college at the Catholic institution.
In announcing her retirement, President Stephen Sundborg praised Kelly’s passion for teaching and commitment to Jesuit education, and said she will be appointed to the emeriti faculty.
“I am grateful for the devotion and dedication she brought to Matteo Ricci College, Seattle University and our mission,” Sundborg wrote.
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The protesters called her departure a success, but were displeased with Sundborg’s warm words for Kelly.
His statement, they said, “erases and disrespects all the trauma and pain suffered for years by students, alumni, faculty, and staff and the ongoing work currently being undertaken to address issues of culture, climate and curriculum.”
In early May, students began a sit-in in the lobby of the university’s administration building and demanded an overhaul to the school’s curriculum, saying it gave too much emphasis to Western history and philosophy.
After 22 days of protest, interim provost Bob Dullea placed Kelly on leave after formal complaints of discrimination filed by faculty.
“Successful operations of the college at this time require that she step away from day-to-day management and oversight,” Dullea wrote in an email.
A day later, on June 2, Sundborg told The Seattle Times several faculty members wanted Kelly to step down, too. Some professors said the work environment at Matteo Ricci was hostile. Students stopped the sit-in the next day.
Kelly’s supporters, meanwhile, countered that the university had unfairly capitulated to the students and abandoned her.
Known as a strong teacher, Kelly won Seattle U.’s Outstanding Faculty of the Year Award in 2011.
Kelly Ogilvie, who attended Seattle U. from 1998-2001, said Kelly played an important role in his life and that he was disappointed to see her retire amid “mudslinging” and negativity.
“In college, I went through a lot of personal turmoil and things that distracted me,” he said. “She was there. She made sure I was on track. She checked in with me. She made sure I registered for classes. No teacher has done that.”
Seattle University officials did not answer questions about Kelly’s retirement, including whether the investigations into the complaints against Kelly will proceed.
Kelly also did not respond to requests for comment, but Sundborg included some words from her in his statement.
“I leave with gratitude for the opportunity to have served the students and alumni of Matteo Ricci College for 40 years and I deeply appreciate the colleagues who supported me in that work,” she said.
Several faculty members said they were glad to see Kelly celebrated as a teacher despite concerns about her leadership.
“There’s no question — she was a superb educator,” said David Madsen, an associate professor at Matteo Ricci College. “I think she made some decisions that were imprudent, but I don’t think they were ill-intentioned.”
Audrey Hudgins, an instructor at Matteo Ricci, said Kelly “had a really long period of great service that sort of ended on a bad note.”
“I was really glad to see that they gave her emeritus status,” she said. “Father Steve (Sundborg) took the step to honor her service with the emeritus designation. That’s what you do when you have faculty who serve a long time and do good work with the institution.”
Hudgins, who supported the students’ right to protest though she didn’t necessarily agree with their tactics, said the months leading up to Kelly’s retirement had been tense. She said she was uncomfortable with Kelly’s management style at times.
“There was certainly a lot of discord within the student body and within the faculty and staff as well. Everyone had a different position,” Hudgins said. “Now that it’s over and the healing has begun, it’s more comfortable, but there’s a lot more relationships that need to heal.”
Members of the student-led coalition said they were disappointed by the tone of the announcement.
“It was almost like a celebration — a congratulatory email,” said McKenzie Bravo, who will be a junior at Seattle U. next year. “It undermined a lot of the work we (the coalition and other students) did.”
Bravo said she also was sorry that Kelly has not apologized to students.
“As a queer woman of color, I feel as though the culture Jodi Kelly allowed in MRC (Matteo Ricci College) was toxic to a lot of us,” she said. “Jodi Kelly never apologized or admitted a flaw … she’s not being held accountable.”
Shandra Benito, a 2014 graduate of Seattle U. who supported the protest and organized alumni support for it, said she also had hoped Kelly would apologize.
“It’s common that people in positions of power that make mistakes are allowed to walk away quietly with a reputation intact, and I think that’s a really privileged thing that happens for people,” she said.
Hudgins said she was hopeful the college will grow as a result of the turmoil.
“It has a great educational tradition that can be more exciting with these changes,” she said. “It’s nice to be thinking about what’s next.”
She said the sit-in and Kelly’s removal had been distracting.
“Fortunately, I teach leadership,” she said. “It was a live case study.”