Since late January, Newman had been the focus of controversy. The school’s student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, ran a story about the president’s alleged plan to pursue the dismissal of 20-25 freshman students based on results from a survey predicting their future success at the school. A number of faculty members reportedly objected to the plan.
In the article, a faculty member quotes Newman as saying, “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 acknowledged to the Washington Post that he used the harsh words, saying that the statement was intended only to acknowledge difficult conversations that sometimes need to occur. The board of directors issued a statement calling his words “unfortunate,” but standing by Newman as president.
Amid the outcry that followed, a faculty member who served as an adviser to the student newspaper was fired, along with Naberhaus, who was a tenured philosophy professor and the director of the university’s honors program. He claims his letter of dismissal charged him with disloyalty to the university.
Newman responded to the backlash over the firings in a Feb. 10 statement to parents, where he said the university was not responding with the specific details of the firings in order to “take the high road.” He added that “it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it.”
Mount St. Mary’s University was founded in 1808, alongside the establishment of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary. The seminary shares the campus with the school and receives seminarians from various dioceses.
David McGinley, a 2011 graduate of Mount St. Mary’s and a member of the Mount’s College of Liberal Arts Advisory Board, had concerns following an Oct. 23, 2015 meeting between Newman and the advisory board.
In that meeting, Newman “showed a lack of appreciation for or desire to continue or further Catholic identity in any regards to what one would call traditional,” McGinley told CNA.
“What he was saying is that Catholicism has lost its relevance,” McGinley added. The concerns Newman raised, he continued, were that Mount St. Mary’s was “not going to get customers to come” if it marketed itself as a Catholic university.
A Facebook group of concerned alumni and students, “Mount Family Speaks Out,” reported that Newman made similar remarks in an August student assembly.
According to a current administrative employee, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity, President Newman has also criticized the cross, saying in passing that there were “too many bleeding crucifixes” in the employee’s office.
“I have a broken crucifix, and I have a crucifix that is done in limestone sculpture,” the source told CNA, adding that the president had made the comment after seeing them.
Naberhaus said that he has heard similar reports from other faculty members – including some instances of the president disparaging the crucifix and using profanity.
Numerous alumni also pointed to the Mount St. Mary’s landing page for prospective students as an example of the new attitude towards Catholic identity, noting that the page does not contain any references to the fact that it is a Catholic school.
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“That is Simon Newman’s vision for Mount Saint Mary’s right there, encapsulated in that one webpage,” Naberhaus said.
Naberhaus also said that he has heard Newman refer to students as “Catholic jihadis.”
“He was kind of dividing up our student body and seeing a certain fraction of them,” Naberhaus said. “He seemed to think that there was a sizeable fraction of our campus that fell into that camp, Catholic jihadis, and I never was sure exactly what he meant by that, but he was definitely using that phrase.”
McGinley told CNA that in his meetings with Newman, he was disturbed by other “derogatory comments towards Mount students,” including a suggestion that some of the students – largely those who had been homeschooled – were “judgmental” and could pose “trouble” for the administration if they admonished fellow freshman for partying.
Catholic News Agency reached out to Mount St. Mary’s for comment. The university said that it would comment at a future time.
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