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Marquette Students Rally for Shunned Prof

Marquette Students Rally for Shunned Prof


Marquette University students protested one of the biggest faculty events of the year Thursday evening in solidarity with a prospective dean whose job offer was allegedly rescinded because she is a lesbian.

Ph.D. student Margaret Steele told The Advocate Thursday that Seattle University professor Jodi O'Brien was offered a position as dean of the Milwaukee-based Catholic university's Klingler College of Arts and Sciences.

"Some of our sources within the faculty have told us that the withdrawal is due to complaints from donors, people in the law school, and people in the theology department," she said. "A lot of us feel that this is a very bad decision and a clear violation of Marquette's nondiscrimination policy."

O'Brien said Thursday that she had been previously recruited by a third-party firm for the same position in fall 2008. Despite being chosen for the short list of candidates, O'Brien declined the job for personal reasons in 2009, and the search was called off. Recruitment was then opened back up, and this time Marquette's newly staffed selection committee approached O'Brien directly, asking her to reconsider, which she did. She said an offer was made to her in March, and by mid April she had accepted the position. But then she learned this week that the offer would be rescinded.

"They have a tremendously strong and vibrant faculty and a great university," she said. "I was very much looking forward to being their dean."

She later added, in a statement, "This decision represents a missed opportunity for everyone involved. I'm in conversation with the University and hope to reach an agreement that acknowledges the tremendous importance of diverse voices in contemporary higher education, especially in positions of leadership."

In response to the outcry, Marquette University has issued a statement regarding the vetting process. Three candidates visited the campus, and one candidate, whom the committee did not identify, was offered the position. However, the selection committee said that after the offer was made, they felt that none of the candidates was suitable for the role as dean.

"To be appointed as the Klingler College dean requires a unique combination of scholarly accomplishment, administrative experience, and the ability to represent our Catholic identity," the statement said. "The search committee had, in fact, forwarded two names to the provost for further consideration, in each case identifying issues for further discussion, as was its charge. Some of the concerns identified in the process should have had more careful scrutiny, and publications relating to Catholic mission and identity should have been more fully explored early in the process. While we did make an offer to one of the two finalists, in retrospect that was done prematurely without as much due diligence as was warranted. While this person has an excellent background, a record of achievement and a strong academic track record, it was decided after further analysis that this individual was not the person who could best fill this very important position. "

According to her curriculum vitae, O'Brien earned her master's degree and Ph.D. at the University of Washington. She currently holds the Louis B. Gaffney Endowed Chair at Seattle University and is chair of the department of anthropology and sociology. She has been published in dozens of books, anthologies, and journals, including the Encyclopedia of Gender and Society, Culture and Religion, and Teaching Sociology.

Steele added that while the university does have the right to uphold its Catholic mission, the two student groups of which she is a member, named Justice and Empowerment, are staging a protest Thursday night during the Pere Marquette Dinner, one of the university's "biggest evenings of the year." Some faculty members will reportedly wear pink carnations or ribbons to show their solidarity with O'Brien.

The statement by Marquette also asserted that it has made "significant strides in the area of diversity, making the university a more inclusive space to learn and work. This personnel decision was not about sexual orientation. Marquette takes seriously its nondiscrimination statement and our Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity."

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