By now you’ve likely heard the news from Mount Saint Mary’s University about their recently hired president’s plan to improve the university’s retention rates and the aftermath. I’ll summarize below in case you haven’t followed it. If you have but haven’t yet signed this petition to Mount Saint Mary’s University to reinstate two fired faculty members, we encourage you to add your name. It’s an important statement in support of colleagues whose due process and academic freedom have been violated as ominously as any time I can remember.
Here’s a nutshell version of Newman’s retention plan–
- Early in the fall semester, identify students who are at risk–academically, emotionally, financially–of leaving the institution.
- Encourage them to drop out as quickly as possible so that you never have to report them as matriculated.
- Ergo, improve retention by reducing the number of “dropouts.”
[It’s worth a minute to look at President Simon Newman’s background before we keep going. Notice anything missing? Any experience whatsoever with higher ed before being appointed as president of a university. Anywho….]
To make matters worse, President Newman had an email exchange with campus leaders in which he said some controversial (yes, that’s understatement) things, the most disturbing of which was:
“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.”
When that quote showed up in the Washington Post and Inside Higher Ed, the story suddenly became national (read: embarrassing). And when President Newman learned that two faculty members–one tenured, one tenure-track–had leaked emails (one of the faculty was the advisor to the student newspaper), he fired them without any hearings, investigations, or procedures whatsoever. Clearly, his fundamental ignorance about how universities work and what faculty do made it seem logical for him to fire people who were “disloyal” (his word).
This is why we fight to protect tenure (and due process for colleagues with/without tenure). Signing this petition is a simple way to help. Indirectly, it’s also a statement on behalf of students who spent a lot of time, money, and emotional energy committing to a school run by somebody with such profound disregard for their well-being that he could think, much less say, what he did.
PS: In case you’re curious, the president tried to identify students to “drown” via a survey (as reported in Inside Higher Ed) that will make your skin crawl if you know anything about privacy or research ethics.
[Updated 5 pm Fri: The university has announced that it will reinstate the fired faculty in hopes of beginning what the president and board call a healing process; the board has reaffirmed their support of the president. The fired tenured faculty member says he has no intention of returning to the university.]