BY MARTIN KICH
In a recent post, “Faculty Become Drowned Bunnies, Too,” Aaron Barlow reported and commented on the words and actions of Simon Newman, president of Mount Saint Mary’s University. Newman, whose previous professional experience was with private-equity firms, abruptly fired two professors, one tenured, and demoted a dean after his remarks about actively culling marginal students to improve retention rates were reported in the student newspaper.
What made all of this newsworthy nationally was that Newman had advised the academic deans that they had to stop coddling those marginal students as if they were bunnies—that they needed, instead, to “drown some bunnies.” What is ironic, to me, is that his choice of words, rather than what he was telling the deans to do, has been deemed especially outrageous. The annual cost of attending the university is $51,610, and even with scholarships and grants averaged in, it is $28,326. That’s a very large investment for any student from a less than very affluent family to make, and to take money from a marginally qualified student to meet an enrollment target and then to cull that student to meet a retention target seems unconscionable to me—though perhaps it seems much less so to someone whose professional life has been spent with private-equity firms.
Equally outrageous, to me, is the fact that Newman’s allies on the Board of Trustees seem to have been more worried about the public revelation of what Newman was doing, rather than the fact that he was doing it.
In any case, here is the letter that Newman sent to the parents of students currently enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s University. I am sure that the parents of those students who don’t make the grade at the university—who are culled like downed bunnies—will feel much better knowing that their failure served to advance the renewed mission of the university.
Dear Mount Parents,
Mount St. Mary’s University is in growth mode, and on the move. We are transforming our 200-year-old Catholic University to meet the needs of a demanding global economy. Your student is a part of this exciting transformation. We are building on our existing Liberal Arts core and Catholic Intellectual Tradition and preparing students for a more technical skills-based job market in a way that only The Mount can. Talk to any of our alums, and they will tell you how Mount Priests humanized our faith, and helped them grow into the people they are today. At The Mount, our true differentiator is and always has been the formation and the creation of the Mount Person, a person of character, of confidence, of wisdom, and of faith.
Over Christmas break, we asked our current students what they would like to see more of at The Mount. Well, they were very vocal, and their needs matched those of the guidance counselors, high school seniors and parents, that we also surveyed during this time. Your daughters and sons are attuned to what the job market has to offer and the skills they will need to have, in order to ensure a great career in whatever field they choose. We are going to share some of the results of our research with them in the next few weeks.
Remaining aligned with what the World needs requires change. Change is hard, and requires not only new thinking, but new ways of preparing students – now both inside the classroom, and through experiential learning opportunities.
I want to briefly address my decision to dismiss two faculty members who violated a number of our University policies and our code of ethics. We, as an institution, have received quite a bit of press recently and have chosen not to respond more forcefully with information about the specifics of their conduct which we have available to us. In keeping with our values, we will take the high road. But it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it. You may see other versions of events, but we have chosen to restore our focus on educating your students rather than explaining the damaging actions of a few individuals. We need to move forward with hope and faith rather than fall prey to fear and disparity during this time of transition.
I am a father. My heart knows just who you have entrusted to our care. The education, safety, and ultimate future of your son or daughter is at the heart of why I am here and what I love about the Mount.
Follow our progress, see our university thrive with growth in its third century, but please know as a parent, that we are providing your student with a caring, welcoming, and academically strong environment. Students impacted by faculty changes will receive communication regarding their advising and class schedules.
For specific questions and concerns, please reach out to the Office of the Provost firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yours in Christ,
President Simon Newman
“Yours in Christ”? Really? Well, in fairness to Newman, I guess that Jesus never had to undertake the difficult job of leading a university.