Thursday, February 18, 2016
'Catholic doesn't sell': Mount St. Mary's president refuses to resign as controversy grows
Lisa Bourne Life Site News February 16, 2016 More allegations have surfaced at the nation's second oldest Catholic college after controversial actions and statements in recent weeks and months from its president, this time with him disparaging students and Catholic identity. An uproar occurred after two tenured professors at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland were fired February 8, seemingly for criticizing the policies of the school's new president, former business executive Simon Newman. The university's provost, David Rehm, who had also disagreed with Newman, was removed earlier from that role, though he remained on the faculty. More than 2,400 academics from across the country had signed an online Academics' Statement of Protest as of February 10, objecting to the faculty members' dismissal and demanding their swift reinstatement. Effective last Friday, the professors had been reinstated. But the controversy continues, with calls for Newman's removal amid the new charges. Newman, appointed in 2014, drew the initial criticism in the fall semester of this school year when he wanted to remove first-year students who might be struggling, apparently to preserve a positive retention rate. When some faculty objected, according to the university's student newspaper The Mountain Echo, Newman responded that "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." Newman later admitted to the Washington Post that he made the statements, with the explanation that he intended only to acknowledge difficult conversations that have to happen sometimes. The Mount St. Mary's board of directors issued a statement referring to what Newman said as "unfortunate" but saying, "President Newman continues to be the right kind of talented leader to be at the vanguard of Catholic higher education growth" and giving him a unanimous vote of full confidence. Newman's answer to the reaction over the firings was a February 10 statement to parents, in which he said the university was not responding with the specific details so as to "take the high road" and stating, "It is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it." Reports have since surfaced of statements made by Newman denigrating Catholic identity on campus, further stoking the controversy. Newman apparently told a faculty member that Mount St. Mary's Catholic characteristics should not be highlighted because "Catholic doesn't sell." Newman is said as well to have complained about the presence of "too many bleeding crucifixes" in an employee's office and also to have referred to some students as "Catholic jihadis." David McGinley, a 2011 graduate and member of the university's College of Liberal Arts Advisory Board, was concerned after an October 23, 2015 meeting between Newman and the Board, where he said Newman "showed a lack of appreciation for or desire to continue or further Catholic identity in any regards to what one would call traditional." Similar statements were by made Newman at an August student assembly, according to the "Mount Family Speaks Out" Facebook page, which was created by students and alumni. Mount Saint Mary's has been noted among Catholic colleges and universities in the U.S. to faithfully observe Ex corde ecclesiae, the Vatican document on Catholic identity at college-level educational institutions. McGinley reported other derogatory comments made by Newman about Mount St. Mary's students from in his meetings with Newman. LifeSiteNews inquired with Mount Saint Mary's University for comment on the controversy but did not hear back by press time. In last Friday's statement from the university on reinstating the previously fired faculty, Newman said the professors have his "solemn commitment to work together to restore our relationship and our school." Mount St. Mary's board member Father Kevin Farmer stated as well that despite calls for Newman's resignation, the Mount St. Mary's board "continues to support" him. Further meetings by the board and the faculty are planned. The university's student government association conducted a survey over the weekend, polling 951 students, or about 60 percent of the total student body of 1,600, according to The Baltimore Sun, with approximately 76 percent having voted in support of Newman and 24 percent voting against him. Mount St. Mary's faculty members announced Friday that they had voted 87-3 to ask Newman to resign, something he rejected on Monday, telling a crowd of students who showed up at a rally to support him, "I'm not going to stop.