The Georgetown University Faculty Senate has joined the criticism of Mount St. Mary’s University as the controversy over an incendiary remark by the president and the college’s subsequent dismissal of two professors continued to percolate on the Maryland campus and beyond.
The debate over the university’s president Simon Newman, which includes issues of academic freedom, religious education, and tensions between academia and the corporate world, has reverberated nationally.
It started with a student newspaper story and an explosive remark by the president that faculty members have to stop thinking of freshmen as “cuddly bunnies,” but instead “just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.” Then two professors were fired, in a move that university officials said was not retaliation but that many interpreted as clear retribution for opposing the new president’s policies. One had tenure, and another was a former trustee who had been the adviser to the student newspaper when stories damaging to the administration were published. The president reinstated them last week following an uproar and they returned to work Wednesday.
The flare-up resonated with people who care deeply about the identity and future of the campus in Emmitsburg. And it touched a nerve nationally.
People continue to react this week. Here’s a quick look at a few of the developments:
— Georgetown’s Faculty Senate voted unanimously to join the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s “in condemning the summary dismissal of two faculty members, one tenured, for alleged ‘disloyalty.’ Academic freedom is at the very heart of a university,” the resolution read.
“It includes the freedom to express disagreement with the president and other administrators over the policies of the institution. Academic freedom is protected by the institution of tenure, which entails a mutually acknowledged expectation of continuing employment that is terminable by the university only for just cause and after due process.
“While the subsequent reinstatement of the two faculty members is a step in the right direction, the fact that summary dismissal would even be contemplated in a university and executed without due process is cause for grave concern.
“In addition to its general concern for the health and well-being of universities across the nation and world, the Georgetown University Faculty Senate is especially disturbed by the disrespectful treatment of one of our university’s own students, Associate Professor Thane Naberhaus (Ph.D. ‘04).”
Wayne Davis, the president of the Faculty Senate, added by email that “faculty at Georgetown were outraged at the treatment of faculty at a neighboring university, especially those faculty who knew and taught Thane Naberhaus.”
— Naberhaus and Edward Egan, the two professors who were abruptly fired — then offered their jobs back just as the Mount faculty met in response to the terminations — returned to their classrooms Wednesday.
— Newman, the president who has been defending his tenure at the private Catholic liberal arts university since the campus newspaper, the Mountain Echo, reported that he planned to cull 20 to 25 freshmen in the first weeks of classes to improve the school’s retention rate and shocked many with a graphic quote from him, wrote a letter to the editor outlining his vision for the school.
Newman has apologized for his language and defended his overall retention plan, which he said the student newspaper distorted. Newman came to the university from the business world, where he was a private-equity chief executive officer and entrepreneur.
In the letter in the Echo, Newman summarized what he said are “hundreds of initiatives” and wrote, “Most importantly, to be more successful we need to know what students and their families are looking for in return for their substantial investment in a college education.”
One proposed new element would add regular meetings between students and “personal coach(es) … the goal here being to provide a formalized Catholic- focused support infrastructure that mirrors the less formal, but highly valued mentoring work done in the past by some the Mount’s favorite priests.”
He also wrote about improving finances, boosting enrollment and finding ways to translate the university’s deep-rooted Catholic ideals into action.
The board of trustees, which has staunchly supported Newman, announced Tuesday that it would be seeking opinions from the Mount community over the next two weeks.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education named the Mount to its list of colleges it labeled “the nation’s 10 worst abusers of student and faculty free speech rights,” described in detail at the Huffington Post on Wednesday.
And, days after university officials announced a student rally in support of Newman, and student government leaders said three-quarters of the 60 percent of undergraduates who responded to an online survey supported Newman, a junior from Pennsylvania made a video declaring that many students were afraid to speak their true opinion.
Students were assured when they took the online poll that their responses would be confidential, and some said over the holiday weekend that they enthusiastically support Newman for the positive changes he has made.
Grace Wagler, a biology major, said there is a wide range of student opinion, including those who are apathetic, averse to controversy, staunchly pro-Newman, or, like her, distressed by his policies and statements.
“My opinion was that the things he has said and done are unacceptable to the Mount standards,” she said. “In this day and age you would think an administrator of a Catholic university would take more care than to make light of gun violence and reference the religious views of students.”
She said she couldn’t speak for the student body as a whole but just wanted to clarify that students were not unified in support of Newman. But she said she thought university leaders made clear that discussion about the issues was not welcome. “It seems to me they are more concerned with backing him, than backing the school as a whole,” she said.
She said she knows of students talking about how they did not feel comfortable voting in the student survey because it required university-issued ID numbers and they were worried about scholarship money and other possible repercussions.
“It is a real fear for students,” she said, mentioning Naberhaus, one of the professors who was fired and banned from campus before being offered reinstatement. “His tenure couldn’t protect him, so why would our status as students protect us?”
“This shouldn’t deter people from coming to the Mount as students or giving to the Mount,” she added. “It is a wonderful school.”