Trouble at Mount St. Mary's University

After weeks of a burgeoning national controversy, the faculty at Mount Saint Mary's University voted overwhelmingly (87-3) to ask President Simon Newman to resign.

Mount St. Mary's University has enjoyed an excellent reputation for its Catholic identity in recent years, earning a spot in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, a publication of The Cardinal Newman Society. But that spot seems to be in jeopardy in light of recent reports and allegations concerning the new president of the university, Simon Newman, urging faculty to usher weaker students out of the school as quickly as possible in an effort to improve the retention rate at the school. According to the Washington Post, Newman said of struggling freshman that you can't think of them as "cuddly bunnies" and that, “You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads."

That's a disturbing quote from anyone but especially from the president of a Catholic university. As a father of a sixteen year old I would have a tough time in looking past comments like those and sending my child there.

And this isn't the first controversy from Mr. Newman. In the past he reportedly referred to some on campus as "Catholic jihadists" and has taken steps to undercut the university's commitment to the liberal arts in favor of majors with definitive job prospects. On top of that, Newman also reportedly fired two professors for publicly opposing him.

Ironically, in a letter to parents attempting to explain away the controversy, Mr. Newman said he was opting for "the high road." If the high road has Glocks and drowned bunnies.

Look, I understand that he wants to see retention rates increase but at the cost of viewing each and every student as a person? And I also understand the urge to make college a more job driven enterprise. But in this day and age, young people change careers multiple times after college so they may be better served by a more well-rounded education rather than being trained for one career path which could be extinct in this ever changing job market.

The Cardinal Newman Society, which has given the university a spot in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College, has called the recent developments "disappointing and even disturbing."

And now, the university's inclusion in the next edition of The Newman Guide even seems dubious.

President Newman has attracted nationwide criticism of his now acknowledged proposal to weed out young students based on a presumed likelihood that they would not perform well academically. It is the position of The Cardinal Newman Society that any plan to weed out matriculated students without first providing substantial assistance and demonstrating a sincere commitment to the students’ personal formation and well-being would be contrary to a university’s Catholic identity. Student formation in mind, body and soul is the essence of faithful Catholic education, and at a Catholic university, no financial concern or desire for secular prestige should supplant the University’s core purposes. We hope that the reaction to this plan has convinced the leadership to find other ways to improve its retention statistics, including genuine efforts to support and retain admitted students... 

Finally, we are deeply concerned by multiple but yet unsubstantiated claims that President Newman has expressed a desire to diminish the celebration of Catholic identity in the Mount’s marketing materials because he believes that Catholic identity is ineffective in recruiting students. That is a debatable presumption; much of Catholic higher education is struggling after decades of secularization, while the newest Catholic colleges in the United States are vibrantly Catholic and have no fears about marketing that fact. A university that is fully committed to its Catholic mission will not hide it. Instead, it will strive to convince others that its Catholic identity is reason for celebration and the very heart of the best sort of education, which it certainly is.

Furthermore, we believe that marketing Catholic identity is ultimately necessary to living Catholic identity. Public presentation tends to influence personality over time; we become what we claim to be, and what we hide is gradually diminished in importance and value.

One alum reportedly wrote a letter to the Archbishop of Baltimore calling Mount St. Mary's "not just a university" but "a holy place where saints have trod.”

In his letter to parents, Mr. Newman explained that he was intent on "transforming our 200-year-old Catholic University to meet the needs of a demanding global economy" and "preparing students for a more technical skills-based job market." He added that "Remaining aligned with what the World needs requires change."

I thought the mission was not to change the Catholic university but for the Catholic university to educate students who transform the world.

The faculty's vote, which is not binding, was accompanied with a letter saying:

Our community is suffering. In recent weeks, we have been divided due to miscommunications, missteps, and misunderstandings. It is clear that we all could have done things differently to avoid the situation that we now find ourselves in. Regrettably, our problems have become public and have cast a dark shadow across our holy mountain.

You have only been with us a short time. We know all too well the great love for this community that comes to those who join us. But 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. We have come to the sad conclusion that this state of affairs cannot be resolved while you continue in your current office. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart, in a loving spirit of compassion and forgiveness, that we appeal to your generosity of spirit and ask that you resign your position for the good of our community by 9:00 AM on February 15, 2016.

University officials have also said that two professors who were fired by the president were offered reinstatement. One of the professors, however, reportedly said that he wouldn't return until the president was no longer at the university. The other was undecided.

Please pray for a satisfactory outcome for all.