Mount St. Mary's University President Simon Newman recently reinstated two professors he fired, but does not plan to resign, despite faculty demands.
A push to raise retention
Last month, the student newspaper, the Mountain Echo, published an article that suggested Newman wanted to use results from a new freshmen survey to dismiss about 20 to 25 students in the first weeks of college with the goal of improving the institution's reported retention rates.
Newman faced significant pushback from faculty members and administrators after proposing the plan. No students were dismissed under it this year.
After the story went public, Newman fired the paper's advisor, professor Ed Egan, and tenured associate professor Thane Naberhaus. Additionally, Newman requested and received professor David Rehm's resignation from provost. The three opposed the plan.
Newman frames the retention program as an effort—not to push students out—but rather to help identify those who may be better off at another school before they take on significant debt at Mount St. Mary's.
Two fired professors rehired
Newman announced Friday at a faculty meeting that he was reinstating Egan and Naberhaus. A statement from the university called Newman's actions "a first step of reconciliation and healing in the season of Lent and the Year of Mercy." At a faculty meeting, Newman said the reversal was an effort to "eliminate the feelings of fear and injustice that any may be harboring, work through our misunderstandings, and make a new beginning as a unified team."
Rehm, however, has not been reinstated as provost, according to university spokesperson Christian Kendzierski.
Nauberhaus initially said he would not return to Mount St. Mary's. He changed his mind Sunday night, stating, "I am returning for my students, who were left without a replacement for me last week. My aim in returning is the same as my aim in teaching generally: to deepen the hunger for truth in my students."
Egan said he was also unsure about returning and that he was bothered by Newman's message of forgiveness. He told colleagues at a faculty meeting that Newman's statement suggested "I had done something wrong and was in need of his mercy."
"Reinstating me does not make these other problems go away, and Simon Newman needs to show mercy on Mount St. Mary's and resign," Egan says, adding that he is consulting lawyers on next steps.
Professors call for resignation, Newman remains
Faculty members voted over the weekend 87-3 to demand Newman's resignation.
"When we were deliberating, some faculty members wanted to make sure that, regardless of the outcome, some of the initiatives that President Newman has started would be continued," David McCarthy, secretary to the faculty, says.
The deadline for Newman to resign passed Monday; as such, observers say he does not plan to leave Mount St. Mary's. The university was closed Monday because of a snowstorm, so professors were unable to meet about Newman's decision. However, McCarthy says professors plan to reconvene later in the week.
Meanwhile, professors have noted a climate of fear at the university, with some upset about the termination of colleagues and uncertainty about their careers.
Students rally in support
Newman may not have garnered much praise from faculty, but Newman has received widespread support from the university's student body. Some have organized a "Pro-Newman" petition that states, "While President Newman has been working diligently to improve the school and increase enrollment, many people involved here at the Mount have made the decision to distort his efforts in a very negative connotation."
The petition had more than 530 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.
Students have also been circulating fliers, making signs applauding Newman, and pointing to efforts he has made on campus, such as launching new student services and events.
Mount St. Mary's Student Government Association conducted a survey on students' approval of Newman, with more than 75% of respondents saying they are in favor of him. Newman attended a rally on Monday organized by students and thanked them for their support (Jaschik, Inside Higher Ed, 2/15; Stack, New York Times, 2/12; Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 2/14; Svrluga, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 2/15).
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