Seattle University dean, subject of sit-in, placed on leave

Sit-in signage outside the Matteo Ricci College office at Seattle University. (Photo courtesy MRC Coalition.)
Sit-in signage outside the Matteo Ricci College office at Seattle University. (Photo courtesy MRC Coalition.)

Seattle University has confirmed that the dean of its Matteo Ricci College, Jodi Kelly, whose ouster has been demanded by students participating in a sit-in, has been put on administrative leave.

The sit-in group, the MRC Coalition, have occupied the offices of the Matteo Ricci College undergraduate program for more than three weeks, demanding Kelly’s removal and also a revamp of the college’s curriculum that is more aware of racial and diversity issues.

University officials contacted on Wednesday did not elaborate on why Kelly had been put on leave, but the MRC Coalition shared a campus-wide email sent by the university’s administration.

“I believe based on information that has come forward over the past several weeks, that successful operations of the College at this time require that she step away from day-to-day management and oversight,” wrote Seattle University Interim Provost Bob Dullea in an email sent to the campus. He said a formal complaint against her had been made to the university’s Office of Institutional Equity and that her leadership of the college would be reviewed.

University administration confirmed that the email was accurate. But officials could not verify Wednesday afternoon whether a second administrator, college chaplain Father John Foster, was also put on leave, as the MRC stated in its announcement. This story will be updated after the Globalist receives information.

MRC said last week that faculty member found a device under a printer in one of the Matteo Ricci College offices, and the device had recorded several conversations. Foster later claimed it was his recording device, telling that he used it for his own use to aid his memory, according to the student paper The Spectator.

The MRC claimed Kelly’s leave as a success, but said there was still the “challenging and creative work of reimagining culture and curriculum.”

“That the administration of Seattle University has ignored the misconduct of Dean Jodi Kelly for this long is more than a blemish on this university and its leadership, but rather a reflection of the continued failure of the University to live out the very mission it created,” the group said in a press release.

Kelly came under fire by students who say that the Matteo Ricci College’s curriculum is overly Eurocentric and lacks professors experienced with critical race theory, class and gender analysis. A student said that Kelly used the “n” word several times in a conversation. Kelly told The Stranger via email that she had been recommending that the student read social activist Dick Gregory’s autobiography which uses the “n” word in the book’s title.

But organizer Fiza Mohammad, a fourth year Humanities student, told the Globalist earlier this month that the “n” word incident was not the the only example of how the college’s curriculum is insensitive to students of color.

“There has been a list of violations that had been given to certain members of the faculty, that include sexual assault, racism and violence that they have known for the past 10 years,” Mohammad told the Globalist.

Update: Seattle University president Stephen Sundborg released a statement Wednesday evening to the university community affirming Dullea’s decision to put Kelly on leave.

Sundborg said that the university has been working with the students in the sit-in on their issues and that “elements of the final proposals will be shared more broadly later this week by the Provost’s Office,” he wrote. “This work is ready to begin immediately and without delay upon conclusion of the sit-in.”

“Social justice—a cornerstone of our Jesuit education—is necessarily messy and unpleasant at times. We may not always agree on the best path forward for achieving it, but we should always be open to and accepting of those with the courage, compassion and care to actively and peacefully advocate for it,” Sundborg wrote.