LOS ANGELES — A Jesuit university’s first steps to reclaim its Catholic identity have stumbled, as a search committee for a new college dean has selected as finalists two professors with records of working with Planned Parenthood.
For Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, the search for a new dean of the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts began with seeking an "ideal candidate" that would advance LMU’s Catholic identity. The search culminated with two professors selected as finalists with past affiliations and positions at odds with Catholic teaching on the dignity of life, sexuality and marriage, sparking criticism from concerned faculty and alumni.
The search committee, led by professor Shane Martin, selected professor Robbin Crabtree, Ph.D., dean of the College of Arts & Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and professor Ramón Gutiérrez of the University of Chicago as top finalists.
Crabtree had listed on a 2007 résumé that she had served with the advisory board and media relations committee for Planned Parenthood of Putnam County, Ind., from 1991-1993. Gutiérrez also listed on a 2006 résumé that he worked as a consultant for Planned Parenthood, specifically regarding "Hispanic attitudes toward sexuality."
The Register confirmed that Crabtree did not disclose her past affiliation with Planned Parenthood on the résumé she provided to LMU. However, the Register did find that Gutierrez had his work with Planned Parenthood on page 6 of the résumé he sent to LMU.
Additionally, Gutiérrez was one of five members of an Organization of American Historians’ (OAH) committee on "issues bearing upon LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer] historians" that issued a July 2013 statement celebrating the demise of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) but lamenting the U.S. Supreme Court for not going further and defying the 37 U.S. states that continue to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
Both candidates’ associations with Planned Parenthood would contradict the Jesuit principles of social justice (working for a just order in society) that begin with the protection of life for the unborn child. Those principles were reiterated in 2003 in a document called "Standing for the Unborn: A Statement of the Society of Jesus in the United States on Abortion."
Crabtree was quoted in the National Catholic Reporter in 2004 as saying that she views issues of justice through a Jesuit lens, but she did say at the time that she was "not Catholic" and had "no Catholic education whatsoever."
The revelation has prompted concerns from some faculty and a group of LMU alumni who see the selections as "entirely inconsistent" with advancing LMU’s Catholic identity.
"The main problem [in selecting candidates who defy Church teaching] is that the College of Liberal Arts contains disciplines or departments that are most characteristic of a Catholic university, philosophy and theology in particular," said Michael Berg, a mathematics professor at LMU.
Berg said the search committee’s selections were "a mistake and a half" that come at a time when the university is now engaged in a long-overdue discussion about how to understand LMU’s Catholic identity and mission, inherited from the Jesuit and Marymount religious orders.
Whoever is selected as the liberal arts college dean will have a say in the hiring of faculty, assessing their work and ranking or promoting faculty. The dean also has a leadership influence on the liberal arts college’s activities.
Berg said academic freedom was not the issue at stake in the selection of a new dean.
"We cannot go to the point where our Catholicity de facto means nothing," he said. "And Planned Parenthood is way over the line."
James Hanink, a philosophy professor whose department is in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, expressed his dismay that the search committee would consider hiring candidates associated with Planned Parenthood, which he said is "complicit in killing 56 million unborn babies since Roe v. Wade."
"This is a failed search, if for no [other] reason than both finalists are complicit in the abortion holocaust," he said.
Alumni Launch Petition
A group of concerned LMU alumni known as RenewLMU say the dean’s role is critical to the progress LMU can make in developing an authentic Catholic identity.
"I think the president, the provost and the dean of liberal arts are three of the most important positions at the university, so it is a very critical hire," said David Luke, RenewLMU’s president.
RenewLMU put out a petition to David Burcham, LMU’s president, stating that the liberal arts college’s theology, philosophy and pastoral studies departments are "mission critical" to LMU and "should not be overseen by someone whose views are incongruous with the Catholic faith." The petition also calls for the president to reform the selection process to "hire for mission."
Hanink said the role was "B-level importance," on the basis that the university’s governance system allows many professors to ignore the dean, but he does have influence on the direction of younger faculty and the departments under him.
"If the dean wanted to, he could veto a hire," Hanink said, including advancements in rank or promotions. On the flipside, departments can publicly push back in "clear cases" deserving hire or promotion.
Hanink said the dean could either encourage or discourage heterodox opinions in the theology department, such as redefining marriage to include same-sex couples or justifying legal abortion.
But LMU is also in the midst of university-wide discussions about the university’s mission and what its Catholic identity means. Berg said the new dean of the liberal arts college "would be heavily involved in the whole process."
"So to have someone at the helm who doesn’t understand … or stand by the teachings of the Church, and in fact has stood for things that oppose it, is entirely inconsistent and unacceptable," he said.
The search committee arrived at the choices of Crabtree and Gutierrez as finalists by combing through a large pool of applicants. A March 3 letter from Martin, the committee’s leader, to faculty and staff revealed that, out of 600 people contacted by the executive recruiter, they received 85 applications.
The search committee selected 10 for phone interviews. Of these 10, five were selected to meet with the search committee personally; and from there, two (Gutierrez and Crabtree) were chosen as finalists for the job, with open forum meetings with faculty and staff on March 17 and March 20.
The process was exhaustive, but just how the search committee arrived at two finalists so unlike the job listing’s stated "ideal candidate" is unclear. Carol Gilbert, LMU’s executive recruiter, had clearly stated in the original posting that LMU wanted a dean who "will also embrace and further the core commitments of LMU’s mission and identity as a Catholic university."
The Register reached out to Martin with questions about the process but did not receive a response. LMU’s administration declined a similar query on the basis that it does not comment on personnel searches until they are finalized.
Berg said the problem is that search committees themselves "don’t have a proper understanding of Catholic teaching" included in their hiring practices, and the search outcomes reflect that.
In 2013, a LMU search committee in charge of the search for a director of the university’s Bioethics Institute had settled on four candidates as finalists, but only one of them fully harmonized with the Church’s moral teaching. The LMU administration ended up intervening and selected one of its own theology professors, Roberto Dell’Oro, as a suitable choice for the job instead.
"It would be proper to vet the search committee itself," suggested Berg, as part of a solution.
Luke, however, said that President Burcham ultimately bears responsibility for the search committees’ failures. He said that having two finalists with Planned Parenthood records "after the bioethics debacle" sends the message that Burcham either has "not been paying close attention" to the process or "agrees with these selections."
"Neither of those possibilities is very attractive," he said.
Mistakes and Progress
Luke said that he is concerned that LMU has started to give "lip service" to Catholic identity, not following up with proven action. He said LMU still has not developed policies that would encourage more Catholic enrollment or hiring to get a majority Catholic faculty, as requested by Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities), Blessed John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on Catholic universities.
But Berg said the mistakes of the search committee "should not lead to the conclusion that the Catholicity is being trodden underfoot" at LMU.
"We are trying to solve a difficult problem," he said, explaining that faculty are divided among some who believe the university’s academic mission comes first and Catholic identity is separate and others who view things as he does: that "Catholicity must be present in how we function as a university."
Jennifer Pate, the LMU Faculty Senate president, told the Register in 2013 that part of the fuel for a fierce campus debate about removing coverage for elective abortion was that there "hasn’t been a lot of communication" with the administration about Ex Corde Ecclesiae and how Catholic identity, academic freedom and intellectual diversity all work together.
Berg said the university is "definitely trying" to address its Catholic identity now, but those campus-wide discussions are still in "the developmental stage."
"Mistakes are being made," he said. "But we are trying to find our way through this and [discussing] how to stay faithful to the Catholic, Jesuit and Marymount traditions."