Marquette University Hires Lesbian Dean, Then Rescinds Offer

Marquette Not so Welcoming for LGBT Students

"I wouldn't say this is a comfortable place on the whole for LGBT students," said Valentine, a gender studies major who was told she could not bring a transgender speaker to campus.

"I feel like the people on campus are very supportive," she said, "but it gets more difficult on an institutional level."

"Marquette was moving in the right direction in the area of diversity, especially LGBT issues, but when this broke, it was a huge set back," said Valentine. "I appreciate my Jesuit education, but my great love comes with great disappointment."

O'Brien was hired by Seattle in 1995 to teach sociology, anthropology and women's studies. Since 2002, she has been chair of its sociology department.

According to an interview with The Advocate, O'Brien said Marquette had recruited her in 2008 and after she made the short list, she withdrew her name. Again in 2009, she was a finalist and accepted the post in mid-April.

The Rev. Robert A. Wild said the school changed its mind about O'Brien after reading a sociological study of lesbian sex she wrote.

"We found some strongly negative statements about marriage and family," he told The New York Times.

Julie Wolf, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, said Archbishop Jerome Listecki had been "very vocal" and "transparent" in discussions with Wild, but does not interfere with hiring at Marquette, which is under the Jesuit Order.

His objections "had nothing to do with her sexuality," said Wolf. "It was some of her writings."

Marquette spokeswoman Mary Pat Pfiel referred press to a prepared statement that said the university "remains steadfast in its opposition to any and all forms of discrimination, as reflected in our Statement on Human Dignity and Diversity. In rescinding the employment offer to a recent candidate, the university was aware that there would be those who opposed the decision, and Marquette President Robert A. Wild, S.J., has acknowledged that the search process requires review.

"This was a substantive decision, even if a difficult one, that Father Wild made based on what he believes to be in the best interests of Marquette University and its mission of excellence, faith, leadership and service. It was certainly not a decision based on fear, outside pressure or, as has unfortunately been alleged, on discrimination because of sexual orientation. Nor does this decision challenge a faculty member's right to academic freedom."

Some community members had suggested that there may have been interference from other conservative decision makers at the school.

"We hear opinions and viewpoints from multiple people and from various constituencies," said Pfiel, who said although the university was autonomous when it comes to hiring faculty, O'Brien was a "leadership hire."

Marquette has also pledged to have an "ongoing dialogue next year with students, faculty and staff about academic freedom, our Catholic identity and the needs of the LGBT community."

Pfiel said the university was a "welcoming community," but some faculty and students said that was not the case.

"It's OK," said Nancy Snow, 51, who is a professor of psychology and one of about five gay faculty members on campus. She was asked to show O'Brien and her partner around the campus in mid-April before the offer was rescinded.

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