Embroiled in Controversy, Mount St. Mary’s President Resigns

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Mount St. Mary’s University President Simon Newman resigned last week amid criticism over the university’s policies on academic freedom and a host of other problems. The episode drew national attention to the small Catholic university, which consists of 2,300 students.

“I care deeply about the school, and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students,” Newman said in a statement. “It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time.”

Newman invited criticism after his remarks comparing first-year students to bunnies that should be shot or drowned; he wanted to adopt policies that would weed out academically struggling freshmen. Tim Prudente of The Baltimore Sun reports that the criticism only intensified after Newman fired two professors and demoted the provost for objecting to such policies. Carrie Wells, another journalist for the Baltimore Sun, writes that the professors have since been reinstated.

Faculty members voted by a margin of 87-3 for Newman’s resignation, whereupon university boards, students, and professors nationwide began denouncing the president and criticizing the kind of academic culture he created at Mount St. Mary’s.

The American Association of University Professors wrote an open letter characterizing Newman’s policies and actions as “fundamentally at odds with base standards of academic due process.” Additionally, Susan Svrluga of The Washington Post notes that the faculty of Georgetown University voted to stand in solidarity with Mount St. Mary’s disgruntled faculty “in condemning the dismissal of two faculty members, one tenured, for alleged ‘dishonesty.’”

Newman was named president of Mount St. Mary’s, one of the oldest Catholic universities in America, in December of 2014. Upon being elected, Newman expressed his hope to “raise of lot of capital and start a lot of programs and start the university on a more aggressive growth trajectory.”

Mathew Schmalz of Crux, a publication devoted to covering “all things Catholic,” notes that the incident at Mount St. Mary’s has implications for Catholic higher education nationwide. Many Catholic institutions have lost sight of their faith-based roots and have grown accustomed to appointing people in executive positions with little concern or interest in Catholic affairs, he writes. Advocates for Catholic higher education feel anxious and pessimistic as their institutions struggle to grapple with the challenges, such as accreditation policies, vocational training, and rising costs, posed by the changing nature of American higher education in the twenty-first century.

In principle, Newman’s policies were designed to improve the university’s retention rate. Newman exported his skills from the private sector, where he worked as a private equity chief who focused on profit-margins, growth, and sustainability. The nation learned that a businessman’s results-oriented background might be at odds with the mindset needed for a university president.

Mount St. Mary’s released a statement expressing “thanks to Simon Newman for his work on our behalf and wish him well in his future endeavors.” The note also said that the faculty “look forward to working closely with Acting President Karl Einolf in the coming months.”