Ave Maria University dismisses Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ ... again (letter included)
This morning, (Monday, July 20th) Dr. Jack Sites, Academic Vice President of Ave Maria University, flew from Houston, where he was attending a meeting of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, to San Francisco, to inform me personally that I was being dismissed from Ave Maria University. Our meeting was amicable and Dr. Sites, as always, acted as a Christian gentleman.On the Ave Maria University website Fr. Fessio is listed as a "professor of theology and chaplain in residence." Also on the AMU website, it appears that Fr. Fessio just finished teaching a summer course for the university on July 17th.
He said that the reason for my dismissal stemmed from a conversation I had in November of 2008 with Jack Donahue, then chairman of the board of AMU. At that time I felt it an obligation to speak to the board chairman before the upcoming board meeting, to make sure he was aware of the urgency of the university’s financial situation. After I had informed him, using projections based on publicly available documents and statements, he asked me what I thought was the solution. I told him that there were policies being followed that were at the root of the problem, that the present administration was irrevocably wedded to those policies, and that without a change of administration the university was at great risk.
Dr. Sites said that Jack Donahue related this conversation to Tom Monaghan, and it was decided (I don’t know specifically by whom) that the university could not have a faculty member making these criticisms of the administration and thus undermining the university.
Dr. Sites told me that there were unspecified others who had similar substantive concerns that I was undermining the university.
I continue to support the university. I pray for its success. I have great admiration for the faculty, students, and many of the staff. I do disagree with some of the policies of the administration. This seems to be the reason I was fired the first time, in March 2007, since the official explanation was “irreconcilable administrative differences”.
Nevertheless, I think it is an accurate summary to say that I am being dismissed as a faculty member because of a private conversation with the chairman of the board in which I made known my criticisms of the university administration; and because of allegations which have not been made known to me and to which I have not been given an opportunity to respond.
I will continue to recommend AMU to students and parents. And I will continue to think my dismissal is another mistake in a long series of unwise decisions.
In a statement late Monday afternoon, the university confirmed it had “ended its formal relationship” with Fessio but did not cite a reason.“The decision was made by the leadership of the university and supported by its Board of Trustees,” the statement said. “While Fr. Fessio will not be continuing in any capacity at the university, AMU wishes to express its gratitude to him for the assistance that he rendered to the university.”... Speaking later in a telephone interview, Fessio would not be specific. He said he would continue to express his concerns privately, if asked.Fessio said he doesn’t expect a change of heart by the university administration this time around — and he’s not looking for one.As word spread Monday of his firing, one faculty member contacted Fessio to offer a show of support akin to 2007, Fessio said.“I said I think the decision’s been made,” Fessio said. “There’s no use trying to reverse the action.”Fessio was due back at the university next week to help teach a session to high school students, he said.He attributed the timing of his firing, during the summer and in between academic years, to university leaders wanting to avoid a repeat of the protests that ensued after his first firing in March 2007.