Marquette University has reached an out-of-court settlement with Dr. Jodi O’Brien regarding Marquette President Fr. Robert Wild’s decision to rescind the job offered to the openly lesbian O’Brien as dean of Marquette’s College of Arts and Sciences.
The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
“We have apologized to Dr. O’Brien for the way in which this was handled,” Fr. Wild said in an email to the University’s faculty, “and for the upset and unwanted attention that we have caused to this outstanding teacher and scholar.”
As a Marquette University statement has explained, O’Brien’s job offer was rescinded because her writings ”relating to Catholic mission and identity should have been more fully explored early in the process [of finding a new dean].”
O’Brien’s curriculum vitae contains works with titles such as “Phone Sex, Fantasies and Disembodiment,” “Heterosexism and Homophobia,” and “‘Do it on the Web’: Emerging Discourses on Internet Sexuality.” In one essay detailing “gender fluidity” in online sexual encounters, a nude male torso in an online sex advertisement causes O’Brien to fantasize: “I imagine pressing my palm into the smooth curve where torso slides into hip. I need some action!”
Many had accused Fr. Wild of rescinding the offer because of O’Brien’s homosexuality. A group of faculty members at Marquette had demanded in a full-page ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the job be re-offered and an apology issued to O’Brien.
In his recent email, Fr. Wild again confirmed that it was O’Brien’s academic works and not her private life that caused the University’s action.
“Throughout my administration, and with my active support, openly gay faculty and staff have been hired and received promotions and tenure based on academic merit and accomplishments,” he pointed out.
Others said that, because Fr. Wild spoke with Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki about the issue before rescinding the offer, academic freedom and independence had been compromised by an outside influence. Fr. Wild stated that the input he received from Archbishop Listecki was similar to that he would have received from anyone else.
“My conversation with Archbishop Listecki,” said Wild, “was like the others: he gave me his thoughts, and at no point did he attempt to tell me what to do.”
“The decision, as it should be, was ultimately mine alone.”
O’Brien also issued a statement, in which she said that she had “received hundreds of messages, including many from local Catholics, expressing dismay at the university’s decision to suddenly cancel my hire.”
Such dismay was not universal. Christopher Wolfe, emeritus professor at Marquette University, had said that “the question that should be asked is not why Marquette President Father Robert A. Wild backed off the hiring, but how in heaven did the hiring ever occur in the first place?”
The “trendy post-modernism” of O’Brien’s writings, Wolfe continued, made her unfit for the position of dean simply because of Marquette’s commitment to reason–even leaving aside its commitment to Catholicism.
He therefore concluded that it was not merely “the Jesuits who built up Marquette over decades, to foster the pursuit of truth in light of the Catholic faith, who are turning in their graves.”
“Anyone who cares about the serious pursuit of truth at all should be shaking their heads.”