At a Catholic university Maryland, there’s a controversy brewing about the firing of two faculty members who appear to have crossed the president, Inside Higher Ed reports.
The firings came after the president of Mount St. Mary’s University, Simon Newman, reportedly suggested to a small group of faculty members that struggling students were “bunnies” that must be “drowned.”
One fired faculty member, Edward Egan, advised the student newspaper that leaked the email, in which Newman proposed a plan to encourage struggling students to drop out early in the year.
The move would improve the retention rate, a metric colleges care about because it affects their ranking on lists such as the US News & World Report.
The story in The Echo detailed Newman’s intent to “cull the class” by dismissing 20-25 students before September 25 — the cutoff to submit enrollment numbers to the federal government.
In the email exchange, Newman outlined his goal to dismiss a few dozen students. “My short term goal is to have 20-25 people leave by the 25th[of Sep.],” he wrote. “This one thing will boost our retention 4-5%. A larger committee or group needs to work on the details but I think you get the objective.”
Later, he spoke to a group of faculty members about the plan, two faculty members told the student newspaper.
“This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t,” Newman was reported as saying in The Echo.
“You just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads,” he continued, two faculty members who attended the meeting told the student newspaper.
Newman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider, but he told The Washington Post that “the overall tone of the thing is highly inaccurate,” in reference to story in The Echo.
He told the Post that he didn’t remember exactly what he said in the quoted conversation but acknowledged that he sometimes uses language he regretted.
The email detailed in The Echo came before the school was slated to give a survey to freshman students that asked them personal questions tied to “key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness.” Newman suggested the possibility of using the survey to determine which students to dismiss, The Echo reported.
Rehm emailed Newman to say he was “deeply concerned … on several fronts” about using the survey to cull the class. The email exchange spurred one alumna to write a letter to the editor of the school paper.
“Why the secrecy surrounding the so-called retention program?” Rebecca Breves, an MSMU alumna, wrote in The Echo. Breves also called the bunny metaphor “callous and honestly alarming.”
Rehm, the provost who questioned the survey, was demoted from his position last week. He remains a faculty member but is no longer provost of the school.
Edward Egan, The Echo’s faculty adviser, was fired on Monday. Egan was also a former trustee of MSMU and a professor of law at the school, according to The Washington Post.
Thane Naberhaus, a professor of philosophy with tenure, was also fired Monday. His dismissal notice accused him of disloyalty, according to Insider Higher Ed.
Naberhaus disagrees with that assertion. “If anything, I’ve shown tremendous loyalty,” he told The Post. “Who’s to determine what’s loyalty, and who’s to define that?” he asked.
He also likened the actions at MSMU to that of a dictatorship. “A lot of us have been likening this to North Korea. It’s like a police state,” he told The Post.
MSMU confirmed that Rehm was no longer the school’s provost and that Egan and Naberhaus were no longer employed by the university.
The school indicated to Business Insider that it normally does not comment on personnel issues, however “in light of disclosures by terminated faculty member Thane Naberhaus, we will confirm that Mr. Naberhaus was terminated because his actions violated multiple university policies and the University’s standards of ethical conduct.” It did not clarify the actions that they considered in violation of MSMU policy.
A petition titled “Academics’ Statement of Protest Regarding Faculty Firings at Mount St. Mary’s University” began circulating on Tuesday. It demands the immediate reinstatement of the fired faculty members and for the administration to be held accountable. In just a few hours, the petition had more than 1,500 signatures.
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