(Update: 2:30 p.m.) -- A former Mount St. Mary's faculty member has launched a petition against the actions of the university.
John Schwenkler, an assistant professor at Florida State University, taught at the Mount from 2010 to 2013. His petition, which he authored Tuesday morning, has garnered more than 1,300 signatures as of 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
All the signatures are from those in the academic community - professors, graduate students, administrators - Schwenkler said, who protest the firing of the two Mount professors.
"The manner and circumstance of their dismissal raises serious questions about the respect given to moral conscience and intellectual freedom at Mount St. Mary's," the protest reads.
While Schwenkler, a former Mount philosophy professor, said his experience at the Mount was positive, he said he fears for his former colleagues and their students.
"I just find the lack of concern by Simon Newman for student welfare, for the integrity of the faculty, and the intellectual freedom of the faculty at Mount St. Mary's to be appalling," he said.
Visit the fredericknewspost.com for more updates.
In the last three days, at least two faculty members have been fired from Mount St. Mary’s University, and a high-ranking administrator was demoted.
One of the faculty members, associate philosophy professor Thane Naberhaus, received a letter Monday from President Simon Newman stating that Naberhaus had violated his “duty of loyalty to [the] University” in unspecified “recent actions” that “clearly justify your termination of employment.”
Naberhaus, who had tenure, said he was unsure why he was fired and is considering a lawsuit against the university.
Newman asked David Rehm to resign Friday from his position as provost. Rehm has stayed on as a professor, according to university spokesman Christian Kendzierski.
The college has already appointed an interim provost, Jennie Hunter-Cevera, who was acting state secretary of higher education in Maryland from January through December 2015. The Maryland General Assembly blocked her appointment after complaints surfaced about her tenure as president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, where she received a vote of no confidence.
A nationwide search for a new provost will begin immediately, Kendzierski said.
This is at least the second high-ranking official Newman has removed. Joshua Hochschild, the former Mount dean of the College of Liberal Arts, was also removed from his position, Newman confirmed in a January interview.
Like Naberhaus, Ed Egan, director of the pre-law program at the Mount, was also fired on Monday. Egan said he believes his firing was retaliation for his role as faculty adviser to the student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, which published a controversial story in January.
That story, which has since spread nationally, accused Newman of seeking to dismiss 20 to 25 struggling freshmen to improve the university’s retention numbers. The Echo article detailed a controversial retention program, which Newman said was mischaracterized. It also described a conversation in which Newman compared students to bunnies that should be drowned and have “a Glock [put] to their heads,” a metaphor for which he has since apologized.
The Frederick News-Post published a story Sunday on the Mount retention program.
In an email, Kendzierski wrote that the dismissal of the employees was not related to the News-Post story. He confirmed that Egan and Naberhaus were no longer employed, but wrote that the university will issue no further comment.
Egan said the reason for his firing was not specified, but he met with Mount administration Monday afternoon and was handed a letter informing him of his dismissal.
Egan described the letter as “vague.” He could not provide a copy of the letter, though he said he believed it matched the one given to Naberhaus.
“I’m considering my options, all of my options,” Egan said, not commenting on whether he also might sue the school. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Mount St. Mary’s is a place that I love. I was there as a student. I coached there. I’ve been on the Board of Trustees there. I’ve taught there. It’s a place I’m deeply passionate about.”
The university announced Monday that the Echo‘s new advisory team will be Pratibha Kumar, an associate professor in the communication department, and Michael Hillman, editor of The Emmitsburg News-Journal.
Naberhaus said he was not involved at all in the Echo‘s story about the retention program or Newman’s controversial comments.
Naberhaus said he was also called into a meeting with the administration Monday afternoon, but refused to attend without permission to record the meeting or have an attorney present.
“I have tenure,” he said. “It’s a contract.”
He never attended that meeting. The Mount’s Department of Public Safety confiscated his computer and delivered him his letter, which was signed by Newman.
The letter, which was obtained by the News-Post, states that Naberhaus owes “a duty of loyalty to [the] University” and that he should “act in a manner consistent to that duty.”
“However your recent actions, in my opinion and that of others, have violated that duty and clearly justify your termination of employment under the terms of the governing documents of this university,” Newman wrote.
The actions Newman referenced are not specified in the letter.
Naberhaus’ firing was effective immediately Monday. The letter states Naberhaus has been “designated persona non grata” and is not allowed to visit the campus or attend any university activities or sporting events on Mount property. Doing so “will result in legal proceedings” not specified in the letter.
Newman wrote that the university reserves a right to consider legal action against Naberhaus and others based on the fact that Naberhaus allegedly caused “considerable damage” to the Mount’s reputation.
Newman also advised Naberhaus not to delete any or electronic documents or communications on Naberhaus’ personal computer that relate to Newman, Mount faculty, students or anything that concerns the university.
Naberhaus has worked at the Mount since 2004. Egan started at the Mount in 2009.
Rehm, the provost, did not respond to an emailed request for comment Monday.
Newman sent an email to Mount faculty and staff Friday evening alerting them to the shift in leadership.
Newman wrote in the email: “When a new President is elected in any higher education institution, it is a common practice for him or her to change some of the senior leadership team. It’s all a part of moving forward, bringing in new ideas, and continuously improving. I have effected such a change today by requesting and accepting the resignation of Mount St. Mary’s University Provost David Rehm.”
In an interview Sunday, Kendzierski reiterated Newman’s justification. Kendzierski said he would not describe Rehm’s removal as a firing, as Rehm is still employed with the university as a philosophy professor.
In the case of Hochschild, the former dean, the university wanted to “go in another direction,” Newman said in a January interview.
Hochschild declined to comment Monday via email.
Kendzierski declined to answer whether Rehm and Newman clashed after Newman’s hiring in March.
Emails that were the basis of the Echo story showed that Rehm did, however, bring forward concerns in August about the new retention program that Newman had planned to implement.
The retention program, which has been the subject of national news coverage, irked faculty and some in the higher education community because it involved identifying first-year students who might be mismatched for the university, offering them the chance to leave with a tuition refund, Newman has said.
Rehm wrote in an August email to the president and others within the university that he was concerned about a survey that would be used to earmark the “at-risk” freshmen. Particularly, he worried about sharing data on individual students with staff and other students.
Rehm was named provost in 2010, according to Kendzierski. Prior to that, Rehm was the vice president for academic affairs since 2007, a position that was essentially equal to the provost, Kendzierski said.
Traditionally, in a university, provosts serve as the No. 2 administrator. Their purview is wide, but often focused in academics.
Kendzierski was unsure when the Mount would appoint a new permanent provost. Hunter-Cevera will assist faculty in the search process.
Kendzierski was also uncertain whether Hunter-Cevera would be considered as a permanent replacement or how the university would treat her prospective candidacy because she is aiding the search.
Hunter-Cevera was named acting secretary of higher education in January 2015. She was president of University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute from 1999 to 2010.
Hunter-Cevera’s background was questioned by state legislators, including a vote of no confidence that faculty of the institute took against her in 2009, news outlets have reported.
The General Assembly committee charged with confirming her appointment never took a vote.
“We have no concerns with her acting as interim provost,” Kendzierski said Sunday.