OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
The Jesuit priest who presided over Joe Biden’s inaugural Mass resigned from his post as president of Santa Clara University in California after an investigation uncovered he participated in unprofessional, alcohol-influenced conversations with graduate students.
Rev. Kevin O’Brien notified the Board of Trustees that he was resigning as of May 9, and the board accepted the resignation the next day, John Sobrato, the chairman of the board, announced in a statement on Wednesday.
Lisa Kloppenberg is serving as acting president of Santa Clara University, a term she said will last while the board searches for a new president.
Two months ago, O’Brien had been placed on leave by the USA West Province, and an independent investigation was conducted on behalf of the Province, Sobrato said in a March 18 letter to the Santa Clara University community.
What’s more, officials won’t say why O’Brien, president of Santa Clara University, was put on hiatus or even provide a hint about what he may have done.
Calling it a “stunning development,” the San Jose Mercury News did say that the allegations have something to do with “impropriety.”
The paper adds:
In a stunning development for California’s oldest institution of higher learning, Santa Clara University President Rev. Kevin O’Brien has been placed on leave pending an investigation into reports of unspecified impropriety.
O’Brien, 54, who became Santa Clara University’s 29th president two years ago and presided over a Mass attended by president-elect Joe Biden in January before he was sworn in, has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation, said a notice from John M. Sobrato, chair of the University Board of Trustees.
Sobrato’s note said the university was informed that the Jesuit Provincial Office “recently received accounts that Father O’Brien exhibited behaviors in adult settings, consisting primarily of conversations, which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”
“The Board of Trustees takes these accounts seriously,” Sobrato continued. “We also respect the need for a thorough investigation and support the actions being taken by the USA West Province Office. We reserve any further action on the part of the trustees until we have fully reviewed the final results of the investigation.”
Santa Clara University is among the top 25 schools in the country for undergraduate studies. Moreover, the institution adheres to the “educational tenets of the Jesuits, an order of the Catholic Church that numbers more than a hundred universities around the world,” the paper reported.
Those close to the investigation aren’t talking, either.
“Jesuits are held to a professional code of conduct, and the Province investigates allegations that may violate or compromise established boundaries,” Tracey Primrose, spokeswoman for the Jesuits West Province, told the paper without elaborating. Her office is handling the probe.
“As with any organization, the Jesuits West Province has confidentiality practices, which is why I cannot provide any additional information regarding this matter,” she noted further.
Meanwhile, alumni and board members at Santa Clara University were shocked to hear of the development Thursday morning.
“I’m not sure what’s going on — I’m really surprised,” Norman Kline, a member of the university’s Board of Fellows, a fundraising group, and a former mayor of Saratoga, told the Mercury News. He noted further that O’Brien said, is very well-liked and that he received high marks within the community for taking a “listening tour” after taking office.
“He’s terrific,” Kline said. “I think everybody liked him.”
However, Kline noted that without additional details about why O’Brien was sidelined, speculation ran rampant throughout the university.
“I think it could have been more open,” Kline said of the statement. “But it’s important to have some type of process where he is protected as far as his reputation is concerned and other people’s reputations are protected, too.”