Newman’s motives were attacked – he was just trying to up the school’s freshman retention, it was said. Yes, I’m sure he was, but that wasn’t his only goal, and freshman retention is measured for a reason. But to follow up with firings is simply not done on campuses—and they seem outrageously inappropriate in this case anyway. Mr. Newman forgot that he is on a college campus. He acted the way he probably had earlier in his career, as a business strategist and venture capitalist. Sadly, the hostile forces, now aroused, will overpower Mr. Newman and his ideas, however promising, will go nowhere.Those hostile forces? Defenders of the best traditions of academic inquiry.
“Mount St. Mary’s went nuclear,” said Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “It’s shocking that the university fired faculty members, including a tenured professor, for dissenting from the administration and raising awareness of an issue of great concern to the community. Speaking freely is a dangerous proposition at the Mount if it is willing to go this far to silence its critics.”The Chronicle of Higher Education documents a coup in progress.
The Board of Trustees fired a warning shot last month, when the board’s chair, John E. Coyne III, said in an online statement that the trustees had "found incontrovertible evidence of the existence of an organized, small group of faculty and recent alums working to undermine and ultimately cause the exit of President Newman." He added that the university would "hold those individuals accountable for these actions."Perhaps the usurpation has gone on long enough that the Mount St. Mary faculty are no longer stewards of their university. At the same time, I am encouraged that faculty elsewhere appear to recognize that they are also bunnies. That faculty might have been complicit in building the warren in which they are now confined does not preclude taking back responsibilities that are properly theirs.
In an earlier letter to the campus newspaper, the board chair accused the student journalists of giving readers "a grossly inaccurate impression" of the university’s retention plans. Mr. Coyne did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
In his letter to faculty members on Friday, Mr. Newman announced the appointment of an interim provost, Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera, a former president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute. She served, most recently, as the State of Maryland’s acting secretary of higher education. The Baltimore Sun reported that her nomination to that post had been held up in part because of concerns faculty members raised about her leadership at the biotechnology institute.