A Maryland university president stepped down from his position after facing backlash for his quotes in a student newspaper article comparing struggling freshmen to animals that should be killed and for faculty firings perceived as retaliatory.
Simon Newman resigned on Monday from his position at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg in what was his first year as president at the nation’s second-oldest Catholic university.
“I care deeply about the school and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students,” Newman said in a statement. “It was a difficult decision but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time.”
Student journalists reported in a January article for The Mountain Echo that Newman was developing a plan to dismiss between 20 and 25 freshmen in an effort to improve student retention numbers.
Newman was quoted equating the decision to “cull the class” to a skeptical professor as what needs to be done when animals need to be put down.
“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,” Newman is quoted as saying.
The president’s plan was not carried out as no names were provided by an extended deadline, though the administration was unhappy with the student newspaper’s article, the Echo reported.
“The slant that you have adopted by choosing to publish an article based on selected quotes of confidential email exchanges among senior faculty is quite frankly irresponsible,” Board of Trustees Chairman John Coyne said in a letter to the editor of the Echo.
Newman reportedly apologized and said his retention proposal was meant to help students at risk of academic failure and heavy debt.
But criticisms continued to mount as the paper’s faculty advisor, Ed Egan, and Thane Naberhaus, an associate professor and critic of Newman’s policies, were fired after an internal investigation concluded a small group of staffers who opposed the plan had leaked emails to the student newspaper, according to reports.
David Rehm, a provost who reportedly voiced concerns about the retention proposal, was also demoted.
Academics across the country voiced their outrage over the disciplinary acts, writing in an online petition that “The manner and circumstance of their dismissal raise serious questions about the respect given to moral conscience and intellectual freedom at Mount St. Mary's.”
The petition protesting the firings mounted thousands of signatures, according to an online version of the document obtained by the New York Times.
Newman reversed the firings of Egan and Naberhaus, but faculty members voted 87-to-three to demand he the embattled president resign “for the good of our community.”
Though he initially said he would not step down, Newman announced on Monday that it was resigning, effective immediately.
“I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in a relatively short time particularly in helping the University chart a clear course toward a bright future,” he said in a statement.
Dr. Karl Einolf, the dean of the business school, was named by the university’s Board of Trustees as the school’s acting president.
“The board is grateful to President Newman for his many accomplishments over the past year, including strengthening the University’s finances, developing a comprehensive strategic plan for our future, and bringing many new ideas to campus that have benefitted the entire Mount community,” Coyne said in a statement. “We thank him for his service.”