There are those, well-represented in my philosophy department, who immediately decided that Dr. O'Brien was discriminated against because of her sexual orientation (O'Brien is an out lesbian), and on the basis of that began at once to write letters, make phone calls and engage in public protests. Fair enough. The anger over this recension is quite understandable. To be quite clear, I agree that the recension of the job offer to Dr. O'Brien was, without qualification, deeply unjust. Protests are a good way of fighting this unjust decision.
Then there are those who represent, in their mind at least, "traditional catholic values." This Group has blogged, and written letters supporting Father Wild (Some had called for his immediate resignation) and expressing their concern that the "protesters" do not value catholic mission and christian identity. At its worst some members of this group are just plain homophobic and using the banner of their faith to legitimize their bigotry. Just see former Marquette Prof. Chris Wolfe's rather vile Op-ed on the subject
For detailed expression of the views and arguments of both sides, I refer my readers to Bento, at the Word Warrior and John McAdams over at Marquette Warrior. Among the issues disputed are (1) was Jodi O'Brien truly the best candidate or a "diversity" hire? (2) was the offered rescinded because of her sexual orientation or because of certain themes in her scholarly work? And (3) is it appropriate for a private Catholic University to hire or not hire for administrative positions based on Catholic teachings on human sexuality, and (4) did forces outside the University pressure Father Wilde into rescinding the offer.
Here, for what it is worth, is my analysis:
We now know the answer to (4). The Archbishop of Milwaukee did ask Wilde to rescind the job offer. He has admitted as much. Another claim, widely circulated among the student body - and originally speculated by the leaders of the protest groups - that wealthy conservative donors threatened to take their money away if O'Brien was hired has not been substantiated and remains mere speculation.
As to (1), I am no expert in who would count as the best candidate. From what I can tell Dr. O'Brien was qualified. Some have argued that her scholarly work wast not as good as other candidates. I do not have the expertise to examine such claims. I see no reason, however, to suspect the search committee failed to do their job. Some of the voices questioning O'Brien's scholarly ability seem to have an issue with what she writes about, that is mere bias, and irrelevant to her actual accomplishments. Furthermore, it is standard procedure for someone like Father Wilde to trust the judgment of his search committee. The claim by some, most notably John McAdams, that O'Brien was a "diversity" hire is nothing more than an ideologically motivated speculation.
Looking at (2). I firmly believe that Father Wilde did not rescind the offer because of sexual orientation. The recension was indeed based on passages in O'Brien's work. I do not think Father Wilde is a "nasty homophobe." This is, of course, merely my impression of the man, but there it is for what it is worth. Of The Archbishop's motives, I could only guess. Guessing is not helpful here, so I won't. On a side note, I think some of the criticism of Father Wilde and demands for his immediate resignation seem to me too extreme. He must indeed answer for his actions, but must he be vilified? Is that fair? Was he "caving to bigotry"? Or honestly doing what he thought best for Marquette - though, I stress that his actions were actually what is worst for Marquette!
Number (3) is the most difficult to address. There is certainly nothing wrong with a catholic college hiring in accordance with a catholic mission. Would O'Brien's hire really go against catholic mission? That is a highly charged theological query, which is beyond the space of this post. I will note however that catholic clergy, laity, and theologians are quite divided here. This makes the matter very difficult to assess from a catholic perspective. The present Catholic Church is in a state of slow and painful transition on matters of human sexuality.
Speaking as a non-catholic Christian, I will say that I do not personally believe homosexuality to be a sin or any kind of wrong-doing. I see neither same-sex marriage nor other aspects of the work O'Brien has written on to conflict with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Message of Jesus is to feed the hungry, heal the afflicted, forgive our fellows, soothe the brokenhearted, and champion the oppressed and down-trodden. Issues of human sexuality are, it seems clear to me, outside of that Gospel.
In short, I side with the protesters in thinking that Dr. O'Brien, once picked by the search committee and offered the job, should have been hired with no fuss (and by the way, many of those concerned with "Catholic mission" agree on this point as well, they are not all opposed to Dr. O'Brien). I think also that the voice of the Archbishop should not have prevailed on Father Wilde.
But I want to make a plea to those who share my view that Dr. O'Brien was deeply wronged.
Several faculty members have voiced their concern that Catholic mission and Christian identity is being brushed aside in favor of political correctness. I do not claim that this assertion is true. I do not know enough about the inside players to enter that dispute.
I am concerned, however, that anyone who writes in favor of Catholic mission, or against some of the tactics of those protesting the rescinding of O'Brien's offer are dubbed by a few parties as "homophobes" who are peddling "the traditional catholic agenda." Some have seen these faculty members as mere "bigots." In certain cases that is probably true.
But I cannot and do not believe that all of those writing about their concern for catholic values and catholic mission are raging homophobic bigots. And I do not think we gain much from writing them off as such.
There is a deep divide at Marquette. There are those committed to Catholic faith, or at least Christian faith broadly construed, who see that faith threatened by groups pushing a secular agenda on campus. This may very well be a false perception on their part, but they do feel this and it is worth trying to figure out why they do. Even if totally wrong, and they may be, their concerns come from somewhere, and not all people with such concerns are mere "bigots."
Like it or not, Marquette University is a Catholic Institution and Catholic identity is a factor that should be central in University life. This does not, of course, mean Marquette must slavishly enforce Rome's theology, but it does mean that the concerns of certain parties regarding what they perceive as the down-playing of catholic mission can be take seriously, can be listened to and dialogued with.
Simply staging walks outs and shouting in megaphones is not always as effective as dialogue, listening, and open struggling with conflicting positions.
I must ask my friends protesting what they are trying to accomplish. Are they hoping to take the university forward? Are they hoping to bring about positive transformation? Do they think their tactics will accomplish this? Is nothing to be gained from an attempt at dialogue with those who value "catholic mission"?
Real progress, real transformation, these are what we should work toward.
Written by Mat Wion