Terminations at Mount St. Mary's result in public backlash

Faculty, associations nationwide speak out against decision

Since the firing of two faculty members and resignation of the provost, Mount St. Mary's University of Maryland has attracted significant, negative attention.

Critics of retention plan dismissed

President Simon Newman, who began at the school last year from a business background, 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.

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.

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 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.

Academics denounce firings

Tuesday morning, a statement condemning the firings and calling for immediate reinstatement had signatures from more than 3,000 graduate students, administrators, and scholars. The document was written by a former Mount St. Mary's assistant professor, John Schwenkler. He says he created it "out of concerns for friends and colleagues whose jobs are in jeopardy."

Schwenkler also called on the university's faculty to unite and push back against the firings.

And at Elizabethtown College, the Faculty Assembly adopted a resolution denouncing Newman's actions "as antithetical to the mission of higher education and demonstrating a profound ignorance of academic culture and shared governance."

National associations weighed in on the issue, too.

The American Association of University Professors sent Newman a letter that rebuked him for firing a tenured professor without a hearing of due process.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published a statement as well. "Mount St. Mary’s went nuclear," says Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program. "Speaking freely is a dangerous proposition at the Mount if it is willing to go this far to silence its critics."

Some parents voice disapproval

Whether or not the recent events affect yield rates this spring remains to be seen, but the university has received calls from current students' parents.

When mother of a freshman Molly Graham called the school, she says someone told her the bunny comment was taken out of context.

"How, at a time when young people are being gunned down on campuses, does a president think it's OK in any context to talk about putting a Glock to a student's head?" she said. "I don’t want him coming anywhere near my child" (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2/10; Brown/Mangan, Chronicle of Higher Education, 2/10).

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