Things have been incendiary for weeks on the Maryland campus of Mount St. Mary’s University — a damaging story by the Mountain Echo, the student newspaper, brought a sharp response from the board chairman. A “forensic investigation” was launched by university officials into how the Echo reporters could have gotten private emails. Two professors were fired, a move seen by many, despite a spokesperson’s denial, as retaliation for opposition to the president, Simon Newman. The faculty voted to ask Newman to resign. And considerable shock rippled across the country over the terminations and the brutal language used by Newman to describe freshmen.
But on Tuesday, some glimmers that things were simmering down were apparent.
Classes were canceled because of the snowstorm. The board sent an update to the campus community:
The Board of Trustees met Monday evening to discuss the current events taking place at Mount St. Mary’s University. The Board expresses its apology to the entire community over the breakdown in compassionate communication and collaboration that we have all witnessed in the past few weeks.As with many of you, the Board is very concerned about what is taking place. The Trustees are seeking to gather all of the necessary information so that they may better guide the University’s path forward. The current situation at the Mount is naturally of great importance and urgency to the Board and the Trustees wish to take the time to listen, and to hear from all of the constituencies involved in order to make the best informed decisions.Several Trustees will be on campus this week and next, to listen and learn. The Board expects to take the next two weeks to gather the information it needs. We ask for your patience and prayers as we go through this important process of introspection. We will keep the community informed as we move through it. In the meantime, members of the community can offer suggestions on healing the university going forward…”May God bless you, and the entire Mount Community.Board of Trustees
The board also unanimously voted to support its current chairman, according to a spokesperson for the university.
The faculty had asked, by an 87 to 3 vote Friday, for Newman to retire by Monday morning.
Newman, who has gotten strong messages of public support from the board chairman, did not.
Newman offered to reinstate the professors Friday shortly before the faculty vote. Edward Egan, a former trustee who had been the adviser to the student newspaper, was unsure how to respond at that moment. Thane Naberhaus, a professor with tenure, was initially openly defiant.
But both professors will be back in the classroom Wednesday.
The faculty plans to meet later this week.
Several members of the board did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.
Many alumni and others continued to express their concern about the future of the private liberal arts university, and whether its Catholic identity would be downplayed by Newman in an effort to boost enrollment. Others pointed to the number of bishops on the board as evidence that it would hold onto its 200-plus-year-old roots.
Richard Kidwell, who served on the board from 2012 to the fall of 2015 and spoke not for the board but as an individual giving his opinion, said Newman was an easy choice for the board, an impressive candidate. “I think he is shaking things up.”
Many people have said that there’s a disconnect between Newman’s blunt manner, honed from a long career in finance before beginning his presidency in 2015, and the traditions of discourse and collegiality among academics.
“I think they both need time to adjust to each other,” Kidwell said. “He’s certainly grasped the economic issues and met them head on and tried to deal with them. Unfortunately, I think he’s also had some issues of tact in dealing with faculty.”
Eventually, he said, “I think things will settle in.”