Snow covers the ground in front of Bradley Hall at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. A plan to identify freshmen most likely to fail has erupted into a scandal, faculty firings and a demotion at Mount St. Mary’s University after the Catholic school’s president reportedly likened the students to baby rabbits that should be killed. (Bill Green/The Frederick News-Post via AP)
Faculty members of Mount St. Mary’s University voted overwhelmingly Friday to ask the embattled president of the rural Maryland school to resign by Monday morning.
They sent Simon Newman a letter announcing the 87-3 vote despite his announcement Friday afternoon that he was reinstating two faculty members he had fired Monday amid an uproar over his plan to identify freshmen most likely to fail and offer tuition refunds to those who chose to leave early in their first semester.
The faculty letter, provided to The Associated Press by David McCarthy, the faculty secretary, said the dispute had divided the Emmitsburg college community in a way that could not be resolved as long as Newman continues as president.
The letter said “it has become apparent that negative public attention has interfered with our ability to continue in our work and to bring new students and faculty to this campus.”
Mount St. Mary’s University President, Simon Newman. (Photo Courtesy/msmary.edu)
Calls and emails to the university spokesman were not immediately returned.
Newman said in a statement Friday afternoon that tenured philosophy professor Thane Naberhaus and pre-law program director Edward Egan would be reinstated immediately. They were fired Monday after a Board of Trustees investigation into the student newspaper’s embarrassing report last month on the so-called student-retention plan. The newspaper reported that Newman had told a faculty member opposed to the plan: “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.”
Newman has acknowledged and apologized for the comment.
The board’s investigation concluded The Mountain Echo story was a “deliberate mischaracterization” of the program, perpetrated by “an organized, small group of faculty and recent alums working to undermine and ultimately cause the exit of President Newman,” board Chairman John Coyne wrote in a public statement last month. He said those responsible would be held accountable.
In his letter dismissing Naberhaus, Newman wrote that the professor had violated “a duty of loyalty” to the university. The university has said in a statement that Egan violated “the code of conduct and acceptable use policies.”
Egan has said he believes he was fired in retaliation for his role as student newspaper adviser.
Neither Naberhaus nor Egan immediately responded to telephone and email requests for interviews Friday.
Newman’s statement on the reinstatements said he was committed to mending his relationship with the faculty and to “make a new beginning as a unified team.”
“You have my solemn commitment to work together to restore our relationship and our school,” Newman said.
Board of Trustees member Rev. Kevin Farmer said the board still supports Newman, a former financial-industry executive hired in 2014 to lead the college in Emmitsburg, Maryland. Newman has said he’d like to double enrollment, currently about 2,300, and transform the liberal arts school “to meet the needs of a demanding global economy.”
“We embrace his vision for the future of the university and believe he is the best person to carry it out,” Farmer said in the statement.
Critics say the student-retention plan seemed designed to weed out, rather than support, students at risk of failing. Student-retention researcher and author Alan Seidman of Walden University said decisions about student suitability should be made during the application process, not after they’re accepted.
After they’re accepted, “you have an obligation in my opinion to provide them with programs and services to help them be successful,” he said.
The faculty firings prompted more than 8,100 college faculty members nationwide to sign an online petition calling for their reinstatement.
Hans-Joerg Tiede of the American Association of University Professors said the reinstatements were a welcome development.
“However, the recent developments have brought to light concerns over the conduct of governance at the institution that will clearly need to be addressed collaboratively between the faculty, board of trustees and administration,” he said in an email.
Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education said his organization will be watching the school closely.
“A lot of people in the Mount St. Mary’s community feel that it’s a start but it’s nowhere near finished,” he said in a telephone interview.