Mount St. Mary's Univerity sign

Snow falls on the sign in front of Bradley Hall at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg on Tuesday afternoon.

(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.

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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.

Follow Jeremy Bauer-Wolf on Twitter: @jbeowulf.

(27) comments

des21

Dead president walking. Be done with it Mount St. Mary's before you lose your inflated opinion of yourselves- even to your selves! (I don't think anyone else nationally feels as highly about yourselves as you seem to. Sorry but its true.)

timothygaydos

Last time I checked, Maryland is a "Right to Work State" thus employees can be dismissed if the employer no longer needs your services to do the work or if the workload doesn't support the number of resources... so they can layoff anyone they desire.

lewisantq

Could it get any worse? Now a former faculty member who is an assistant professor at Florida State has started a petition campaign to protest the firings. The Mount is becoming nationally known for all the wrong reasons.

mikec

My wife graduated from the Mount. They litter our mailbox asking for money on a regular basis. Glad, more than ever, that we've never given.

HappySeller2014

From a February 4th posting on www.educatedquest.com:

...I recently read news coverage about the president of Mount Saint Mary’s University (MD). He tried to raise freshman retention by asking freshmen who were most likely to be at risk to leave before they could receive mid-semester grades. He attempted to find these students through a survey of the current freshman class. The survey was supposedly designed to identify the students who were least likely to succeed – after they had been admitted, deposited, attended freshman orientation and settled on campus. It is easy to believe that the president’s approach was unfair to the freshmen who had committed to the school. Some, myself included, would consider it to be unethical. The college was, in effect, about to back away from its commitment to educate all of its admitted students to the best of its abilities.

The Mount is not an exceptionally selective school. Two thirds of the students who applied to join the freshmen class that entered in 2014 were offered admission, according to data that I found on College Navigator, the U.S. Department of Education’s fine search site. The yield rate, the percentage of students who decided to come, was a measly 12 percent. This suggests that The Mount was not the first choice school for most of the people who applied, and possibly that it was too easy to apply for admission. For the class that had entered the year before, more than a fifth (79 percent) had left. Worse, a third of the students who had entered in 2008 as freshmen had transferred out.

I’ve come to learn that a college must retain at least 80 percent of a freshman class in order to graduate at least half of the class on time. The Mount graduated 62 percent of the freshmen who arrived in 2008 within four years. The rest, another four percent, were done within five or six. So The Mount did okay by this measure, even if it lost a third of a class along the way.

However, The Mount is also a private college, and more expensive than a public one. When you pay more, you should expect to get more. With these retention and graduation rates it was clear to me that the students were not receiving enough of something, whether it be academic direction or attention outside of the classroom. The time that the university’s president spent to “survey out” 25 students in his freshman class could have been better spent to find out why so many were leaving on their own accord. He might have found that more support was needed, or a change in marketing practices was in order.

Why do students transfer out of a college?

There are so many reasons: bad fit, financial issues, academics (interests and progress), homesickness, medical issues come to mind.

When a college loses more than fifth of a class, especially a private school that is dependent on tuition revenues, the problems go beyond losing the students. Those who leave tell others why they left; the most descriptive of comments become viral. The culture changes on campus, and not in a good way. Applications go down. The admissions office is forced to go deeper into their applicant pool to replace these students. The freshman retention rate continues on its downward spiral.

Fortunately, The Mount did not dismiss any freshmen who were thought to be unlikely to succeed before they had even received their first grades. But the president did some serious damage within his university community as did the chair of the university’s Board of Trustees who went out of his way to call student coverage of this issue inaccurate, although the student reporters had apparently acted as professionally as student journalists could.

Colleges, especially small universities such as The Mount, are in the business of helping students to succeed at earning a degree. In order to do that, the admissions office, not the president, needs to find out who is most likely to succeed–and get those students to apply and commit. The best place to start is to develop a good profile of the students that you already have in the junior and senior classes, if you have not done so already.

The coverage given to this story shows, if unintentionally, that The Mount’s president tried to make his school “better” by telling students who had already deposited and enrolled to give up; this place will be too tough for you.

If this president is to remain in his position, he has to learn that part of his job is to acquire and maintain the resources that will help his students to succeed.

It has become quite difficult for school counselors, high school teachers and independent counselors to recommend The Mount to their students as a place where they can.

Builder68

Agree completely. To apply private equity corporate evaluation criteria to a small, private, Catholic, independent university suggests to me that Simon Newman is the completely wrong choice to head this institution.

RonaW

When a new CEO is hired, he/she typically brings in new people. Ditto for a professional sports team….especially when there are problems in the organization, and there were some serious financial problems with the university. Do some research, people and get the whole story.

HappySeller2014

The whole story is simple. Newman is not the CEO of a for-profit business. He is not the CEO of a for-profit professional sports team. He is the President of an institution of higher learning, Mount St. Mary's University. BIG difference and end of story.

And, the other whole story that is bubbling up is the rest of the nation has now been introduced to the mess at MSM. I am reading what outsiders throughout the country are writing, blogging, talk-show chatting and generally discussing in all types of forums and the conclusion is always the same - what a crazy mess this is...what a sad day for MSM. And for bunnies.

MSM 1970

Sounds like the spirit of the Jubilee Year of Mercy hasn't extended too far beyond applying it to President Newman's injudicious comments. Hopefully, there will be more substance coming out around this story, but it does seem strange that the actions are so close to Mountain Echo article.

MSM 1970

S

Irishmsm

I have always been proud of my alma mater, (I graduated from MSM in 1980.) However, in recent weeks I have been totally shocked and disgusted. In my opinion, the fired faculty members should be applauded for standing up for what they believed in...what was right! NEWMAN needs to GO! Hopefully he can find a place where he can "Drown bunnies... Put a Glock to their heads." WHO has violated his "duty of loyalty" to the University???

meligirl76

Has anyone questioned why at the end of October The Executive Vice President, Director of IT, Director of HR, Director of Communications, Assistant Athletic Director, Head of Seminary. Comptroller and Dean of Residence Life are no longer employed by The Mount, with no letter to the community or announcement made of these dismissals/departures. This has been an ongoing nightmare for months. These were all good people and an asset to The Mount.

lewisantq

Meligirl76, Your post indicates that the recent firings are the tip of an iceberg and that the "long knives have been out for the past 5 months. The Mount is an important asset to Frederick County and the FNP needs to keep on top of this mess, Bob Lewis

meligirl76

Yes, this has been going on for months. It is public knowledge that these people were let go, but not formerly announced. I think FNP should definitely keep an eye on this.

hallemd

Looks like there are some serious issues going on at the Mount.

faithhopelove

Dr. Thane Naberhaus is an amazing professor who has made major contributions to Mount St. Mary's University. When my child was at the Mount, Dr. Naberhaus helped develop them into a leader and a well-rounded individual. I am so sad today for Mount St. Mary's faculty and students who are being subjected to such terrible treatment. It is time for the Board of Trustees to act to save the Mount. Newman needs to go.

kshir

Mr. Newman citing drowning bunnies as a metaphor to unwelcomed students was thoroughly an insight to his recruiting attitude. Hiring him was a hopeful precedent for new ideas and investing for the mount. He is not a thoughtful educator, he is a mistake for the mount. He needs to move onto a better suited endeavor as well the mount needs to again search for a learned president.

HappySeller2014

What a sad week for Mount Saint Mary's College, its alumni base, its current students and Frederick County, MD. What an embarrassment. Bunnies? Glocks? Disloyalty? Firing tenured professors?

In an attempt to improve retention rates, the MSM president is trying to put shampoo on an ankle sprain. The approach is completely backwards. From the get go in the application process, MSM should only be accepting kids who WILL succeed - and attempt to provide opportunities to foster their success once they are admitted. Ultimately, it is the students' responsibility to take advantage of whatever is offered...MSM should not coddle, it should demand accountability, and it should prove its earlier admission decisions were on target.

Giving 18-year-olds three weeks to figure out whether they can cut it or not at MSM at the start of their freshman year is an absolute joke. Some incoming kids probably spent more time trying to decide if the summer job they took earlier in the year was a good decision or not. How can you decide in 21 days? Kids can transfer or quit after the first semester, like everywhere else.

So much could happen in first three weeks that would discourage a new student. But MSM should be there to support, as ethically and responsibly as possible, its admitted kids as these 18 year olds transition to college life. Not coddle, but stand alongside. Not send out surveys, but rather be open to frank and honest discussions between students and academic advisors.

Imagine if the Armed Forces sent out surveys and gave a three week "trial period" for boot camp? In the real world, do you get a three week adjustment survey to see if you can hang with the new job? Get real. You accept the best job candidates and expect them to work out. Going in with a potential failure mentality sounds like the approach of a stock market timer who also covers his positions and his rear end by shorting some of the stocks in his portfolio, rather than a leader of an institution of higher learning like MSM.

It sounds like the Board of Directors is as clueless as the new president of MSM. What a sad start to 2016 for MSM. Remember, everyone learns lessons much better from failure than success - the failure sticks in your gut. Incoming freshman need to be given an opportunity to learn from failure, rather than being given an opportunity to "opt out" of college life at MSM because they do not think they can cut it. That is how the real world works.

jerseygrl42

so lets see what we've got here; Rehm goes from Provost to prof. because he is tainted; Cevera who is also tainted now becomes the acting provost while also being in charge of finding the permanent replacement for the job she now occupies.....kinda sounds like Abbot and Costello doing their "who's on First" comedy routine

wduvall72

Where did they get this guy from? What a mess he has created. Maybe the Board should look into making one more move??

ABQ2013

Time for Newman to go. What an embarrassment this is for the Mount.

jerseygrl42

Amen to that!, this is a joke!

swankytom

I don't recall reading in the FNP's former article that there would be tuition reimbursement. That's actually a pretty good deal for those who are likely to drop out anyway. In college, I knew a few kids that never went to class, or were in way over their heads, and didn't make it past freshman year. If they could have been identified earlier, they would have been better served.

MCEDDE21

In an unrelated story: The book burning and puppy drowning scheduled for tonight has been postponed due to the snow.

FrederickFan1

Time for a vote of no confidence so the faculty can fire the president. David Rehm cared deeply about that school. What a mess.

KellyAlzan

So an upper lever leader calls students rabbits that need to be shot. And then fires someone and says this person misrepresented the school. This is a lawsuit the mount won't be able to win.

lewisantq

It appears that the Mount is in the early stages of a management disaster. First, the hiring of president Simon Newman, a fundraising venture capitalist with no education experience, was a risky decision. Now we see why. With a touch that can only be described as clumsy, he tried to implement a program that has offended many in the Mount St. Mary's family. He has alienated portions of the administration and faculty and has had to apologize for his obnoxious descriptions of students he wanted to cull from the freshman class. Now he has fired a tenured professor because of "disloyalty to Mount St Marys". The professor has been at the Mount since 2004. President Newman has been there since last March. Then President Newman fired the director of the Mount's Pre-Law program, This individual was the faculty adviser to the campus newspaper which broke the story about Newman's plan to cull struggling freshmen. The Mount implausibly claims the story had nothing to do with the firing. I see lawsuits in the Mount's future and a continuing disruption to their educational mission. Bob Lewis

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