SCU President Investigated for Alleged Misconduct, Inappropriate Comments

Santa Clara University President Father Kevin O’Brien is under investigation for alleged misconduct and comments, according to an email circulated to the Jesuit school community and shared with San Jose Inside.

In the internal bulletin sent to SCU staff Thursday, Board of Trustees Chairman John M. Sobrato affirmed that Father O’Brien has been placed on leave pending an inquiry by the USA West Province of the Jesuit Provincial Office.

The probe comes in response to allegations that O’Brien, according to the letter, “exhibited behaviors in adult settings, consisting primarily of conversations, which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries.”

O’Brien—a 54-year-old career priest, theologian and renowned author—succeeded Michael Engh as SCU president in 2019. According to a press release announcing his appointment as president, O’Brien is “a widely recognized Jesuit leader nationally,” having served on boards of Seattle and Marquette universities and Boston College, and “a widely sought commentator about the church.”

In his announcement of the investigation today, Sobrato said O’Brien has agreed to full cooperate with the Jesuit officials as they look into the allegations.

“At the same time,” Sobrato added, “we fully respect Father O’Brien’s right to a fair and impartial investigation, and we appreciate his strong belief that any complaints involving him should be held to the highest standard and carefully and independently investigated. As you know, transparency and accountability have been hallmarks of his tenure thus far, and Father O’Brien insists that they must apply especially now.”

SCU Provost Lisa Kloppenberg will serve as acting president for the time being, Sobrato went on to say, while Chief Operating Officer John Ottoboni and Chief of Staff Molly McDonald will temporarily take on some added responsibilities.

When asked for comment, university officials echoed many of the same statements provided by Sobrato to staff.

“The SCU Board of Trustees supports the investigation being undertaken by the USA West Provincial of the Jesuits into the exhibited behaviors, consisting primarily of conversations, by Father O’Brien in adult settings which may be inconsistent with established Jesuit protocols and boundaries,” SCU spokeswoman Deepa Arora said. “We take these accounts seriously while, at the same time, we fully respect Father O’Brien’s right to a fair and impartial investigation. We appreciate Father O’Brien’s strong belief that any allegations involving him should be held to the highest standard and carefully and independently investigated. Following the protocols of the USA West Provincial Office, Father O’Brien will remain on leave for the duration of the investigation. Provost Lisa Kloppenberg is serving as acting president of Santa Clara University.”

Below is a copy of Sobrato’s letter.

Dear Santa Clara University Community,

I write to you with an important update. I have been informed by the provincial of the USA West Province 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.

An independent investigation into these accounts is being conducted on behalf of the USA West Province and the conclusions of the province’s process will be shared with the Santa Clara University Board of Trustees. Father O’Brien was placed on leave from his position as university president for the duration of the investigation by the USA West Province consistent with its protocols.

He has agreed to cooperate fully with the investigation and honor the process that he affirms annually as part of his ongoing Jesuit training.

The Board of Trustees takes these accounts seriously.

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.

The trustees support those who came forward to share their accounts. It is important that anyone who witnesses actions they believe are inconsistent with SCU’s values or rules is able to share their concerns and have confidence that they will be taken seriously.

This is a value that Father O’Brien also affirms, in this case or any other.

At the same time, we fully respect Father O’Brien’s right to a fair and impartial investigation, and we appreciate his strong belief that any complaints involving him should be held to the highest standard and carefully and independently investigated. As you know, transparency and accountability have been hallmarks of his tenure thus far, and Father O’Brien insists that they must apply especially now.

On March 16 and 17, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees was briefed on the matter and confirmed Father O’Brien’s appointment of Provost Lisa Kloppenberg to serve as acting president of Santa Clara University while he is on leave. To help during this period, Chief Operating Officer John Ottoboni and Chief of Staff Molly McDonald will also temporarily assume additional responsibilities.

I would ask that everyone please allow the investigation to run its course. We will not be providing interim updates, but will communicate the final results of the investigation.

Sincerely,

John M. Sobrato '83
Chair, Santa Clara University Board of Trustees

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

4 Comments

  1. I think you fail to address the most common concern, which Michael Engh’s predecessor, Fr. Locatelli once told me… “The president of this University has to be a priest, but he functions as a CEO” His job is to keep corporate Silicon Valley happy and keep the donations coming. My bet is that O’Brien didn’t get that briefing. There are only a handful of Jesuit Universities in the nation, they are supposed to have a community service mandate. Wheeling Jesuit, they go after Mountain Top Removal. Here, our Jesuit university just jumps in bed with corporate America, the richest place on the planet, and they have zero community outreach. Than the donor support news agency went and put up an article that is so ambiguous a third grader could have done it. SCU has housed pedophiles that were run out of Los Gatos and other parishes for decades, blow that place up.

  2. O’Brien engaging in the same kind of behavior as His close friend and patron, Gropey Joe? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
    Two weeks ago I heard big news was coming. The assistant director of security had surveillance video of some of O’Brien’s questionable ‘activities’. SCU paid him to leave. I suppose there was an NDA, but am not sure.

    O’Brien has been a disaster for SCU. He has totally bungled the false Danielle Morgan incident. He’s currently purging anyone who dares question his utter incompetence. There will be more to follow.

    O’Brien has resided over SCU claiming poverty during Covid and taking away half the retirement benefits earned by the staff. It recently came to light that a whole lot of people at SCU make six figures.
    The only thing is that it looks like only men enjoy that high salary. Women not so much.

    Another thing, there is an attempt to unionize at the university and our dear Jesuit’s believe in justice for everyone BUT their own employees.

    Frankly, you reap what you sow.

  3. This whole thing should have been kept private
    No matter what the out come Fr O Brien will be stained forever

  4. Wait a minute Ashbless, The famous faculty twitter account was not truthful regarding the events on the August 22nd that went viral nationally? Why have I not heard this in the local press? Has the President covered up this situation and blamed the campus safety staff for these lies? Why does a University with an ethics center hide the truth about this situation? Did the suspended President know about the lies that were told about his staff? Did a caucasian staff really verbally attack an Asian staff member during the event for doing his job? Why was the first investigator fired by the President? Because of his race? Why are we not providing protection to our Asian and Latino community at SCU?

    Did a caucasian faculty member later call an African American/Asian staff member and a Latino staff member racist because the President allowed this to continue? Why did the faculty feel this was ok to do? Who lied to People magazine? Kevin? Is the staff member that made the untrue complaint in charge of story telling at SCU? Did this influence the University’s spin on this cover up? Someone should answer for all of this.

    Even Smith College would be embarrassed by Kevin’s unethical treatment towards his low level staff.

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