An Offer Rescinded And A Controversy Sparked
So what's the big deal?
That's the tone of a couple of e-mails I received concerning our coverage of Marquette's decision to rescind a job offer to Jodi O'Brien. She was to become an MU dean, but the school yanked the offer to the admitted lesbian, not because of her sexual orientation but because of things she had written that Marquette deemed were inconsistent with church teachings. MU won't get any more specific than that, citing confidentiality concerns. Professors are upset, and the faculty senate condemned Marquette President Father Robert Wild this past week. Others are wondering if donors or the archdiocese said/did something to change the school's mind. Wild said that he would let Archbishop Jerome Listecki "speak for himself" during a sit-down with angry students this week, and the Journal/Sentinel reported the next day that Listecki had, indeed, told Marquette officials of his concerns with the O'Brien hire.
Here's one e-mail I received:
"I usually enjoy listening to the morning show but the last two days have been very difficult. I just don't get what the big deal is about the Marquette University changing it's mind about a potential staff member. I don't think that is is very unusual that this happens (maybe not ordinary but certainly not unusual.)...I really hope that this isn't "Catholic" bashing again...Don't you think that since Marquette is a PRIVATE school that their administration should adhere to its' parents and students and not the popular press? I hope that your editorial staff gets it's act together soon."
We're not doing our jobs if we don't ask questions, as uncomfortable as they may be. To rescind a job offer is, indeed, unusual and the decision certainly triggered an on-campus reaction that can't be ignored. Faculty and students are demanding an explanation and it's our job to report both sides. I can't speak for the entire newsroom, but I know that our morning show made reaches to both the school and to O'Brien advocates in the course of our coverage. MU didn't provide anyone to give it's side. Sure, Marquette is a private school, but that doesn't mean that it's decisions are above reproach, especially when such moves are so awkward--O'Brien was already looking for a house in the area when the school yanked it's job offer--and when they arouse such passion.
...and then there's this one...
"I don't see the big deal about the Archbishop giving MU his opinion on the hiring of a Dean. For the last week we have been hearing from students and tenured faculty regarding their opinion. If students can express their opinion of the selection of a Dean - and we listen to tenured faculty who think they can select their boss, why shouldn't the Archbishop be able to give his two cents ? It is being reported as something sinister. I don't see it that way at all. In fact, if the Archbishop did not give his opinion, I think he would be derelict in his duties."
Sinister? No. It does beg the question, though, as to how often the Archdiocese and the Archbishop weigh in on Marquette affairs. And, why didn't Father Wild give students a direct answer when about possible diocesan involvement by students at this week's listening session? It would've taken a lot of the starch out of the Journal/Sentinel story that ran the next day about Archbishop Listecki's letter.
Father Wild admitted that these haven't been the easiest days of his tenure at Marquette. No doubting that. Transparency is always a good thing, though, and a little more of it early on in the O'Brien matter could've gone a long way. Yes, the school has legal obligations in terms of personnel matters. It's also true that Marquette is a private school that can do what it wants, provided it's not breaking any laws. Marquette has an obligation hire people it feels are in tune with the school's academic mission. Professors worried about academic freedom have a duty to voice their concerns, as well as the option to seek employment elsewhere if they think MU's atmosphere is professionally claustrophobic. Students who find the school's stand questionable are free to protest, and pursue their studies elsewhere if they consider the O'Brien matter a scholastic deal-breaker.
And it's our duty to tell it all, from both sides.