Deters’ appointment causes controversy

Students petition against the justice’s new role, faculty and alumni speak up

By Addison Burke, Staff Writer

Xavier University administration has welcomed Joe Deters to serve as the inaugural Justice in Residence, a position in which he aims to engage with students interested in law, criminal justice and politics. 

Deters was born and raised in Cincinnati and attended St. Xavier High School and the University of Cincinnati, where he received his bachelor’s degree and Juris Doctorate. In January 2023, Deters joined the Ohio Supreme Court as the 163rd justice. 

Prior to joining the Supreme Court of Ohio, Deters served as the Hamilton County Prosecutor from 1992 to 1999 and 2005 to 2023, making him the longest tenured-prosecutor in Hamilton County. He also served as the Ohio Treasurer in 1998 and 2002.

Highlights of Deters’ career as a prosecutor include changes to Hamilton County Drug Court, Mental Health Court, Juvenile Diversion Program and the CHANGE Court, all programs aimed at serving marginalized populations at a judicial level. 

Dr. Colleen Hanycz, president, welcomed Deters to the Xavier community at a strategic plan event on Feb. 27. 

“Justice Deters is honored to serve as Xavier’s inaugural Justice-in-Residence, volunteering his time and presence to engage with our students in various programs including PPP, pre-law and others,” Hanycz said. 

“He is deeply drawn by the work that we do at Xavier: informing leaders and citizens for the future. I’m so honored to be able to add this Ignatian educator in a new form to our community,” she added.

“I’m honored to serve in this new capacity as Justice in Residence… Because of the foundation of my Jesuit education built at St. Xavier High School, I believe very strongly in Xavier’s Jesuit Catholic mission,” Deters said, per a Feb. 22 Xavier marketing communication.

“I look forward to the opportunity to interact with the talented faculty and students at Xavier and am particularly excited to advise and work with students who are studying criminal justice, law or pursuing a career in public service,” Deters continued. 

Deters’ appointment drew criticism from many members of the Xavier community, who have said that his beliefs do not align with Xavier’s Jesuit values. Ethan Nichols, a Xavier undergraduate and Newswire editor, created a petition asking university administration to rethink the decision. The petition has received more than 600 signatures, with more added daily.

“Originally, I did not know a lot about Joe Deters prior to his appointment at Xavier. However, after reading a little bit about him, I do not think that he should work here,” first-year nursing major Pamela Olivas said. 

“Sure, he may have experience to offer to students, but his actions do not reflect the Jesuit values of the university, which are central to Xavier’s mission. His appointment should be reconsidered by the University,” she added.

Students have cited concerns that prior actions by Deters are not reflective of the campus’s Jesuit tradition. Frequently noted concerns include a 2012 incident in which the prosecutor made a statement calling a Xavier Board of Conduct process “fundamentally unfair” and “flawed” relating to a sexual assault allegation against a men’s basketball player. 

Deters has also been vocal about his support for the death penalty, an act not supported by Catholic doctrine. Additionally, some students disapproved of comments Deters has made surrounding violence against Black communities in Cincinnati. 

“What I have seen from the petition and other research, I don’t think he is the right person to hire based on his past actions,” first-year business major Matthew McBride said. “I think it’s a great mistake hiring Deters because he hasn’t shown that he has Xaviers or Jesuit values in his actions, and that there are better people Xavier could bring on.”

Senior finance major Ditto Rajpal added that, at first glance, he was pleased to see the addition of a justice to the campus community. However, he became less supportive after reading about Deters’ past controversies on social media. 

“I kind of wished the school would ask the student body before announcing it,” Rajpal said.

Faculty and alumni have also expressed concerns about Deters’ role on campus, as well as students’ reaction to it. 

“Xavier taught me to treat people equitably and kindly. Mr. Deters has a demonstrated track record and a history of rhetoric that is at odds with those principles,” Xavier alumn and current Cincinnati Public Schools board member Mike Moroski said. 

Dr. Timothy Brownlee, PPP program director, also wrote in a March 2 communication to PPP students that the program’s faculty will meet later this month to “take up the question of what relationship Justice Deters might have with PPP.”

“In the coming weeks, I will work to learn more about this appointment, and, through any initial events on campus in which Justice Deters might participate, learn whether he believes his past statements are defensible,” Brownlee concluded, referring to past statements that he earlier noted embodied “a pattern of accounting for criminality in terms of stereotypes that are racist, even if they don’t explicitly make mention of race.”

“My objection is not based on differences that are political… Nor is my objection based on the ways in which the Justice’s record runs afoul of the Catechism,” Brownlee said. “Those disagreements do not affect the basic agreement that we all must share on our equal value as persons, and of the ways in which discriminatory speech undermines that equality.”

An official start date for Deters’ new role has not yet been publicly announced by the university.