Mount St. Mary’s, the small private Catholic liberal arts college in rural Maryland that became embroiled in a leadership crisis earlier this year, has appointed as its interim president an Army general nearing retirement who spent the latter part of his career as dean of the U.S. Military Academy.
Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor will serve for a two-year term beginning in early August as the 26th president of Mount St. Mary’s, founded in 1808 and the second oldest Catholic university in the country. Trainor has spent 33 years in the Army and will take part in a retirement ceremony on Friday.
Trainor, who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1983, has served at West Point for the past 15 years, including the last six as dean and chief academic officer overseeing 800 faculty and staff and 4,400 students.
In an interview, Trainor said that as he began his transition from the military he started looking for other opportunities in higher education and settled on the presidency at the Mount as an ideal appointment.
“I found a lot of excitement and energy,” Trainor said. “I want to help take the Mount into the future.”
Mary Kane, chair of the university’s board, said in a statement that Trainor will bring “extensive experience in leadership and a deep understanding and appreciation of the Catholic liberal arts tradition. The hallmarks of his tenure at West Point—a commitment to the liberal arts, to the intellectual life of his students, and to the development of leaders of character—make him an ideal leader for the Mount.”
At Mount St. Mary’s, the student body, faculty and alumni seem eager to begin looking forward instead of dwelling in the recent past. The school, with an enrollment of 2,300, spent much of the 2015-2016 academic year in the focus of media attention concerning what critics thought were intemperate statements made by its former president. Simon Newman, a prominent businessman who was brought in last fall to help guide the Mount into the 21st century, instead resigned after less than a year after the campus newspaper, the Mountain Echo, reported that he had made comments suggesting that students struggling academically should be culled.
The Mountain Echo reported that he intended to identify freshmen at risk of dropping out and develop a plan to encourage them to withdraw before enrollment numbers were reported in order to improve the college’s retention rate.
After a professor objected to the plan, Newman told him that such students would be “collateral damage” and 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.”
Afterward, the faculty senate voted 87 to 3 seeking his dismissal. He resigned in February and the school’s business school dean, Karl Einolf, was named acting president for the last three months of the spring semester.
Trainor, a lifelong Catholic and father of three who married a West Point classmate, said he plans to be a consensus builder on campus.
“Early on I’m going to focus on engaging and learning,” Trainor said. “I have a lot to learn about the institution but I want to engage with the different constituencies there early on to learn their hopes and aspirations.”
Trainor, who received a master’s degree from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, earned a doctorate in industrial engineering from North Carolina State University and deployed to Basra, Iraq, during the summer of 2007.
He took part in a peacekeeping mission in Sarajevo in 2002 where he learned the benefits of building consensus in a war-ravaged country. He served in a leadership role coordinating with other 29 nations.
“I had to really listen to everyone and understand their viewpoints before I could bring them together and create consensus,” Trainor told the Fuqua alumni magazine in 2011. “I’m very happy I had that experience, though, because it helped me to develop further as a leader, and I think I was able to make a difference in Sarajevo. . . . At a base level, I believe that I need to be a servant leader — to serve the needs of others.”
Trainor told The Post that he saw numerous similarities between West Point and Mount St. Mary’s, including their small size and focus on a strong liberal arts curriculum.
“Both are committed to what I call the holistic development of students for success in the future,” Trainor said.
After three decades in the military, he said that “it was time to move on.”
Trainor said that he was aware of the Mount’s struggles during the past year but that during a recent visit to the campus in Emmitsburg, about 70 miles north of the District, he found that the people “seemed really excited with moving forward and into the future. And that’s what we need to do.”