Mount St. Mary's board chair resigns after 'drown the bunnies' controversy

Mary Kane will serve as chair, effective immediately

The chair of Mount St. Mary's University's Board of Trustees stepped down from his position Monday, seven months before his term was set to expire in October. 

John Coyne is stepping down after former president Simon Newman resigned from his post last month amid growing controversy. Coyne, who had been a staunch supporter of Newman, said his decision was based on selecting an interim president for the 2016-2017 academic year. 

Background

Newman began at the Catholic school last year, bringing with him a background in business and consulting.

Last month, the student newspaper published an article suggesting that then-President Simon Newman wanted to dismiss about 20 to 25 students in the first weeks of their freshman year to improve the institution's reported retention rates.

The Mountain Echo reported that Newman's retention plan included collecting survey results from all freshmen and then using their answers to dismiss a number of them before the deadline for sending enrollment data to the U.S. Education Department. Under federal rules, these students 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."

After the story went public, Newman fired—then shortly reinstated—two faculty members who opposed the plan. Additionally, Newman requested and received professor David Rehm's resignation from the position of provost.

What the Mount St. Mary's controversy reveals about higher ed

"As my term as chair is nearing an end, I felt that stepping aside now would ensure a seamless transition to naming an interim president," Coyne said in a statement. "It's important for a new president to have a chair of the board at their side, not only at the outset of the process but throughout the entire transition period."

Sister Cities International CEO and Mount St. Mary's alumnus Mary Kane was unanimously voted chair, effective immediately. She will serve as the board's first female chair.

The board also announced that business school dean Karl Einolf will continue as acting president through the end of June, until the board selects an interim president for the next academic year. The selection and announcement will take place in the coming months (Svrluga, Washington Post, 3/15; Wells, Baltimore Sun, 3/15). 


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