Sunday, May 9, 2010
As the New York Times reported last week, Marquette University offered Seattle University Professor Jodi O'Brien the deanship of its College of Arts and Sciences...and then rescinded the offer. Professor O'Brien teaches sociology, is openly gay, and writes about sexuality and marriage. Some of O'Brien's supporters argue that Marquette withdrew the offer because she is a lesbian; Marquette's party line is that it backed out of its offer after the President and and other university management read her work. They claimed that they found negative statements about marriage and family and believed she'd be unable to advance the university's mission.
Marquette is a Catholic university. Under Wisconsin law, it has the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation as long as the position is clearly linked to the religious teachings of the institution. Perhaps the dean of arts & sciences fits this rule - though it's a close call at best. (The school can, of course, hire based on ideology.)
Whether or not Marquette's offer withdrawl was in fact inspired by sexual orientation discrimination, or perhaps homophobia, or most generously, its discomfort with O'Brien's ideology, one thing is certain: there is some serious incompetence over in University Hill. When you're the provost of a religious school, your institution is skittish about certain hot-button issues involving homosexuality, and you're hiring a lesbian scholar who focuses centrally on the relationship between homosexuality and marriage and religion...you'd probably want to circulate your candidate's cv to upper management before extending an offer. You owe it not only to the institution, but to the candidate.
Whatever Marquette's rights, the university will is being rightfully punished with public shaming. And the embarrassment, as well as the possible lawsuit, are richly deserved.