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SCU President Resigns Following Leave of Absence and Allegations of Inappropriate Comments

Santa Clara University (SCU) President Father Kevin O’Brien resigned on May 9, after a two month leave of absence. O’Brien agreed to take the leave in March while the USA West Province, the body that oversees Jesuit schools in the Western United States, launched an independent investigation into accusations of inappropriate comments.

In a letter to the University community dated May 12, 2021, O’Brien referenced the investigation.

“In early March, my Jesuit Provincial, Scott Santarosa, S.J., expressed concerns to me about my well-being,” wrote O’Brien. “These concerns were based on accounts of my behavior over the past year in certain social settings with adults that did not meet the highest standards of decorum expected of me as a Jesuit. The Province investigated these concerns, and based on the results of that review, Father Santarosa asked me to enter a therapeutic program to address related personal issues, including my use of alcohol and stress management.”

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O’Brien told the SCU community he is in an outpatient treatment program that will take four to six months to complete. He said his resignation was the best choice for the University at this time.

“After much prayer and thought and out of deep love for Santa Clara, I have concluded that the best service I can offer to our beloved university is to step aside now,” wrote O’Brien. “While my deepest desire and skill set are attuned to return to leadership, I will not know until the program’s completion how and when I can do so most effectively. As I engage this personal work, I cannot leave the university waiting. Amid all the challenges we face in a very competitive landscape and given the opportunities we need to seize as we pivot to a post-pandemic context.”

Scott Santarosa, SJ, Provincial, Jesuit West also issued a statement.

“This is a challenging time for Santa Clara, but Fr. O’Brien has shown both generosity and freedom in wanting to do what is best for the university. With care for the faculty, staff, students and entire Santa Clara community, he has decided to step down. Santa Clara will move forward with grace, strength and the deep commitment of the Jesuits, who have been linked in mission to this great university since its founding, in 1851, as the first Jesuit university in the West. Both the university and Fr. O’Brien are in our prayers during this time of transition,” wrote Santarosa.

The SCU Board of Trustees says it will “immediately” begin the search for a new president. Until then, Lisa Kloppenberg will continue to serve as Acting President of the University. Kloppenberg as placed in the role of Acting President when O’Brien first announced his leave of absence. She released a statement on Wednesday.

“One of the things I value most about SCU is the way that our community supports each other during challenging times,” wrote Kloppenberg. “I realize that a development like this can bring up many feelings – I humbly ask everyone to give each other grace and space as we collectively absorb the news of Father O’Brien’s resignation. I am grateful that you will stay focused on your responsibilities to our students, other stakeholders and each other as we finish out this academic year and continue preparations for a return to campus in the fall.”

O’Brien was sworn in as the 29th president of SCU in 2019, after Father Michael Engh retired.

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