Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University, has come under fire because of his controversial retention policy and comments he allegedly made about struggling freshmen. Newman referred to the freshmen as “cuddle bunnies” who needed to have a gun put to their heads, the student newspaper reported. Meanwhile, two professors who questioned the policies were fired. The University says their dismissal was not related to the retention policy.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Newman’s Retention Policy Was Highly Controversial
Newman wanted professors and the provost to put together a list of freshmen students who weren’t likely to succeed, after just the first few weeks of the school year. This was allegedly so that the freshmen could be removed before the deadline for submitting enrollment data to the government, which might improve the school’s federal retention rate.
When one professor expressed concern that it was too early to make such determinations, Newman said there would be some collateral damage, The Washington Post reported. Newman’s request was part of his plan to double enrollment at the university while increasing retention by 4 to 5 percent, through removing 20 to 25 people from the freshmen class.
2. The Student Newspaper Quoted Newman As Saying Some Freshmen Were Cuddle Bunnies Who Needed To Be Drowned
The Mountain Echo ran a special edition where it discussed Newman’s highly controversial retention plan. In its special edition, The Mountain Echo reported that Newman told professors:
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 later apologized for using an inappropriate metaphor in what he expected was a private conversation with a faculty member, CBS News reported.
The professor who advised the student newspaper, Ed Egan, was fired. A tenured professor who was outspoken about his criticisms of the president’s policies was also fired. Soon after, a petition began circulating to bring the professors back, and it now has more than 6,800 signatures.
3. A Survey That Newman Wanted to Send Out Was Questioned by Professors
Part of Newman’s retention plan included a controversial survey he wanted students to fill out to help determine who was at risk of leaving early, The Washington Post reported. The survey included troublesome questions such as whether the students felt depressed, couldn’t shake the blues, or felt that their life was a failure. The Mountain Echo, the student newspaper, reported that the survey would be presented to students as a tool to help them discover more about themselves. Students would be encouraged to answer honestly because “there are no wrong answers.”
Ultimately, the survey wasn’t used.
4. Newman Was an Entrepreneur and Private-Equity CEO Before Joining the University
Before he was appointed president in 2015, Newman was the former managing director of JP Capital Partners, a private equity fund. He was also president and CEO of Cornerstone Management Group, according to his bio on the university’s website. He’s a graduate of Cambridge University and got an MBA at Stanford and he was born in the United Kingdom. His career began when he managed clients such as Warner Bros., Disney, and Universal Studios for a consulting group.
Newman was a highly successful businessman. He completed more than $33 billion in transactions and raised more than $3 billion in equity funding for ventures. He helped several businesses turn around, with more than $200 million in profit improvements.
In an interview with the Baltimore Business Journal, Newman described his reason for leaving private equity:
In private equity, I’ve had a very good run. But I was getting to the point where I was realizing a lot of the focus was on wealth creation for a relatively small number of people.”
So instead, he wanted to work on something that had a larger social impact. However, some faculty were concerned that his business background might not fit in well with academia.
5. He Wanted a Career With Greater Social Impact
When Newman was hired in 2015, he wanted a career that reflected his values and his desire to have a greater social impact, the Baltimore Business Journal reported. He and his wife are Catholic, so they felt university was a great fit. Newman was hired so he could raise the university’s national profile and increase its endowment, The New York Times reported.
Newman has made several statements about his decision to fire the two professors. He sent a long letter to parents of students at Mount St. Mary’s, which was shared on Facebook. In the letter he said: “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.” Not all parents took the letter well. Here it is, according to one parent’s Facebook post, below: