Mount St. Mary's University of Maryland fired its provost and two faculty members—one of whom was tenured—following a dispute over the president's retention plan.
President Simon Newman alerted faculty on Friday that he requested and received the resignation of Provost David Rehm, who will keep his position as a professor. Then on Monday, the school announced two firings: Ed Egan, campus newspaper advisor and prelaw program director, and Thane Naberhaus, a tenured associate professor of philosophy. Sources say assistant professor of history Gregory Murry may be at risk of termination as well.
"It's terrifying, and nobody is safe," one faculty member told Inside Higher Ed. "It is shattering. It feels like the end of what so many of us have sacrificed for."
Professors spoke with media anonymously, as they say they fear for their jobs. Naberhaus, Rehm, and Egan all disagreed with the president's retention plan.
'Drown the bunnies'
Last month, the student newspaper, the Mountain Echo, published an article that suggested Newman wanted to dismiss about 20 to 25 students in the first weeks of college to improve the institution's reported retention rates.
Newman began at the Catholic school last year, bringing with him a background in business and consulting.
The Mountain Echo reported that Newman's retention plan includes collecting survey results from all freshmen and then using those answers to dismiss a number of them by Sept. 25—the deadline for sending enrollment data to the U.S. Education Department. Under federal rules, students who left school by that date would not count as ever having enrolled, so they would not officially be considered "dropouts."
Newman faced significant pushback from faculty members and administrators after proposing the plan. When he asked a professor for a list of at-risk students, he was told there was not enough information to make the list. No students were dismissed under the plan this year.
According to Murry, Newman at one point said, "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."
Naberhaus, Rehm, and Egan all disagreed with the president's retention plan.
Naberhaus received a letter explaining his termination, which it attributed to disloyalty against the university. He is also banned from campus.
Meanwhile, Murry said he received a notice to attend a meeting on Monday—just as Naberhaus and Egan did. However, he did not see the email until he was home.
"I have not been fired officially, but I have been locked out of my email account," he told the Chronicle of Higher Education. "I am not sure if that meeting has been rescheduled because (of course) I am locked out of my email."
University officials confirmed Naberhaus and Egan no longer work at the institution but declined to comment further.
New presidents often choose new leaders
In his email to faculty on Friday, Newman pointed out that it's common for a new president to replace senior leadership.
"It's all a part of moving forward, bringing in new ideas, and continuously improving," he said.
However, faculty members say they are worried about Rehm's interim replacement: Jennie Hunter-Cevera.
Hunter-Cevera was to serve as Maryland's acting secretary of higher education, but her nomination was blocked by legislators after they learned the she received a vote of no-confidence at University of Maryland in 2009. At the time, professors said she did not consult them before making decisions (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2/9; Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2/8; Mangan, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/9; Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 2/8).
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