The controversy at Mount St. Mary’s goes national after professors are fired


Alumni wrote letters to the university’s board, parents emailed the Archdiocese, and students planned a day of fasting and prayer for the campus on Ash Wednesday.

The controversy began months ago, when the provost and some professors had raised concerns when the president asked for a list of students unlikely to succeed in college several weeks into the school year; one said it was too early to separate those who would do well from those likely to drop out. Simon Newman, the president, told professors, “there will be some collateral damage.”

Newman also said, as first reported by the student newspaper the Mountain Echo and independently confirmed by The Washington Post, that “this is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”


The campus newspaper, The Mountain Echo, wrote in January that Newman had pushed a plan to dismiss 20 to 25 freshmen early in the academic year — before the deadline for submitting enrollment data to the government in late September. That could theoretically lead to an improvement in a school’s federal retention data, because those who might have left school without graduating would not ever have been counted in the first place.


Newman also said…that “this is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.”

That’s a strange thing for a college president to say…:eek:


Sounds like the heart of a ruthless businessman beats where one expects to find a passion for education. This doesn’t even sound like tough love.


It sounds like the corporatization of academia. Yay.


There has to be a tea pot around here for this tempest :wink:


The statement by the president of the college is not the most disturbing thing. It’s the firing of a tenured professor for disagreeing with him.


Yeah, playing silly games to make numbers look lower than they are is one thing, as is the ill considered metaphor about drowning bunnies. But summarily firing and demoting professors who disagree with playing these silly games is another.

Of course the president’s office says that they had other reasons - what else could they say? - but if they really did, they picked a time to act on them that makes that hard to believe. Given the circumstances, even if they are telling the truth, they should make that more apparent. If they don’t want to release details, and they won’t/can’t get the professors involved to publicly say that there were other reasons, then they should bring the issue of dismissal/demotion before a board of faculty that still have the trust of the community, including many who are vocally opposed to the president’s games, and have that board view the case and issue a statement about the validity of these supposed other reasons.


This president really ought to be fired for outright incompetence. It is one thing to game the admission statistics, but to be so clueless as to say “drown the bunnies” is just a sign of someone with no political skills. To be a university leader you need political skills more than anything else. The other problem is that when this guy was caught, he doubled down by firing people. He brought more negative attention to his university.


The new president is a venture capitalist with no experience whatsoever in academia.

His plan was to get students to drop out before the fed. gov.'s date for counting them–thus the school would have a higher retention rate. Several people, including the philosophy prof. objected to this–basically coercing the students to drop out before they had a fair chance. The prof. made comments on social media. The president said that was “disloyal” and fired him. The prof. is now considering a law suit.

This is the danger of hiring people who have absolutely no experience in academia to be involved in running a university. The guy should resign–exactly what he asked the poor students to do. Fair is fair!


My wife works in academia (non-faculty) and just based on what she tells me about the attitudes of those in charge, this is absolutely happening. Small liberal arts colleges are struggling these days so this is probably a desperate move to try and keep it profitable.


Wow, I just saw this on the local Fox news. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.


I think he was just a very bad hire. Most execs in big business have excellent communication skills and organizational awareness. In big business you have to finesse organization changes, not use rampant firing without cause. A venture capitalist would be my last choice to run a large organization.


Now it looks like one of the professors is just suspended while they appear to follow the disciplinary procedures for a tenured professor.


from a long article in the Nat’l Catholic Register:

Identity Issues

One of the professors involved in the emails quoted by the Echo, Dean Josh Hochschild, had described Newman’s proposal as “unethical” and said that he could not administer it in good conscience to students who did not know what was at stake.
By the time of the Echo’s story, however, Hochschild had already been fired after clashing with Newman’s sweeping negative descriptions of Catholic students, including those from homeschooling backgrounds.

According to Catholic News Agency, a number of former faculty, alumni and a current administrative employee have been scandalized by Newman’s disparaging (and at times vulgar) remarks about Catholic tradition, including references to there being “too many bleeding crucifixes” on campus to calling some students “Catholic jihadis.”
Naberhaus told CNA that Newman stated publicly a clear desire to move the university’s focus away from its Catholic identity, saying “if you go in the marketplace, Catholic doesn’t sell, liberal arts doesn’t sell.”

Egan also acknowledged to the Register that these views were public knowledge.
“Similar things have been said by the president at faculty meetings too,” he said.
While president Newman’s administration and the board have repeated the mantra “change is hard,” those changes have raised concerns about its Catholic identity as well: from bringing in HBO Go — which broadcasts semi-pornographic entertainment such as Game of Thrones, Rome and Hung to name a few — into student dorm rooms to proposing cuts in the core curriculum’s philosophy and theology courses.
The Cardinal Newman Society, which in years past has favorably ranked Mount St. Mary’s under previous administrations, told the Register that they were “actively working to get complete information” on the situation.



From today’s Washington Post:

Amid a national controversy over academic freedom, the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s University voted overwhelmingly Friday afternoon to ask President Simon Newman to resign.

In an 87-to-3 vote, the faculty in a letter asked Newman to step down by Monday morning. The faculty stopped short of a no-confidence vote, something that had been discussed during the week, choosing to ask for resignation instead.

The resolution came after weeks of turmoil on the Maryland campus, with a heated debate over how to treat new students who are at risk of dropping out — with the school’s president using language that many found brutal — and terminated faculty members who became symbols of free speech to some and disloyalty to others.


Whoa. I’m in academia, and we are required by law to delete never-attending students at the time of the federal reporting date, but we don’t go out of our way to flush our attending students from the roll.

In my field we do offer diagnostics in the first week, but that is to help with proper placement, not to try to drum students out of the school. If students are correctly placed, they have a better chance of success, and our retention rates increase. My explicit goal as a professor is to retain as many of my starting students as possible and to help them navigate the course requirements so that they can achieve a positive outcome. My students don’t get passing grades handed to them (and I’m not afraid of failing or withdrawing students), but my goal is to get them through the course and to prepare them for the academic and professional challenges ahead.

I can’t even fathom the mindset of that administrator, skewing retention statistics by sacrificing students intentionally… and before they’ve even had a chance to get acclimated to college.


The lopsidedness of the vote is stunning. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to the vote. He can’t really fire 87 people and have any continuity.


Then there is this from Catholic World Report:


Truly frightening. As is this:

Specifically, a former administrator told Inside Higher Ed (as others told the Catholic News Agency) that he had heard the president ask, “Why are there so many crucifixes?” on campus – a question whose answer is that the university is among the oldest Catholic colleges in the country and one that has been seen as closely tied to church teachings. The university is also known for its seminary.


Actually, it’s the 2nd oldest Catholic U. in the US, and it has the 2nd largest seminary.

The Wash. Post had a long article about all this a couple days ago–the phil. professor who was fired got his PhD from Georgetown in 2004, so Georgetown takes an interest in this. Also a couple a presidents back, in the 1990s, the president was a former administrator at Georgetown. So there are ties.

The immediate past president has also written a letter to the editor. While not explicitly taking sides, it’s an interesting opinion:

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