Mount St. Mary's Controversy Continues, Petition Demands Professors' Reinstatement

The Mount St. Mary's controversy is gaining national attention, as four employees were allegedly dismissed or terminated from their positions for speaking out against university President Simon Newman. According to reports, Dean Josh Hochschild, Provost David Rehm, Professor Edward Egan, and Professor Thane Naberhaus were all dismissed for opposing Newman.

As reported by Inside Higher Ed, the Mount St. Mary's controversy began with a January 19 article, which was published in the university's student-run newspaper, the Mountain Echo.

The article, which was written by Rebecca Schisler and Ryan Golden, exposed President Newman's plan to "cull" the freshman class within the first four weeks -- in an effort to improve the university's reported retention rate.

In a series of emails, Newman suggested using a survey to identify students who were less likely to succeed.

Although the survey, which students were asked to fill out during orientation, was promoted as "a very valuable tool" to help students "discover more" about themselves, the president proposed using the results for his "cull the class" initiative.

In one of the emails, university President Simon Newman revealed his goal of dismissing between 20 and 25 students within the first four weeks of the fall semester.

Then-Dean Josh Hochschild immediately expressed concern, as students were ensured there were "no wrong answers" to the survey.

"I think it is unethical... If this is not an anonymous survey, nor even a confidential personality test, but a highly intrusive, and misleadingly framed administrative tool, can we proceed without disclosing to our students' what's at stake?"
Then-Provost David Rehm, Associate Provost Leona Sevick, and Dr. Greg Murry, Director of the Veritas Symposium, expressed similar concerns. However, Newman insisted his plan was in the best interest of the university and its students.

In response the criticism, university President Simon Newman reportedly told Dr. Greg Murry that he was simply too kind-hearted.

"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."
Amid the Mount St. Mary's controversy, four people were either dismissed from their positions or terminated by Newman.

On November 5, 2015, Dr. Hochschild was dismissed from his position as Dean of the Liberal Arts College.

On February 5, President Newman "asked for and received" the resignation of Provost David Rehm -- who reportedly shared the controversial emails with the Mountain Echo.

On February 8, Newman dismissed Professor Thane Naberhaus. In the letter of termination, which was published by Inside Higher Ed, the university president accuses Naberhaus of disloyalty.

"As an employee of Mount St. Mary's University, you owe a duty of loyalty to this university and to act in a manner consistent with that duty. However, your recent actions, in my opinion, and that of others, have violated that duty and clearly justify your termination... "
Professor Edward Egan, who served as faculty advisor of the Mountain Echo, was also terminated on Monday.

According to a petition, which was penned by former Mount St. Mary's faculty, Egan and Naberhaus were both terminated "without any academic due process as required under AAUP guidelines and the customary standards of tenure."

Therefore, the scholars are demanding the professors' immediate reinstatement. They are also asking that "the administration [be] held accountable for this violation of their rights."

Amid the Mount St. Mary's controversy, the university board of trustees admitted university President Simon Newman used an "unfortunate metaphor." However, they expressed strong support for Newman's decisions and policies.

Speaking on behalf of the Mount St. Mary's University Board of Trustees, Chairman John E. Coyne confirmed the board launched an inquiry into the accusations against the president.

According to the statement, which was published on the university website, the board discovered "incontrovertible evidence of the existence of an organized, small group of faculty and recent alums working to undermine and ultimately cause the exit of President Newman."

As they "concluded that President Newman continues to be the right kind of talented leader to be at the vanguard of Catholic higher education growth," the board will continue to stand behind his decisions and policies.

The Mount St. Mary's controversy has drawn national attention since the Mountain Echo published the original article on January 19. However, the dismissals and terminations have only fueled the fire.

[Image via Jon Bilous/Shutterstock]