Simon Newman, the president of Mount St. Mary College, has raised hairs with his plan to raise retention rates. Newman’s proverbial statement of seeing students as “bunnies” and putting a “glock” to the heads of those struggling as a means to increase retention rates in the school has brought an onslaught of criticism nationwide.
The quote, initially reported by The Mountain Echo, their student newspaper, then confirmed by the Washington Post reads, “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.”
This controversy began months ago when the provost and other professors raised eyebrows at Newman’s questionable tactics in order to increase retention rates. Newman asked for a list of students who do not show the full potential for success within the first 25 days of their freshman year. This would allow him to convince students to drop their enrollment while providing the full refund of tuition. Those who accepted would not be counted in the enrollment numbers that would eventually be reported to a census used to calculate retention rates.
According to the Washington Post, Newman demoted David Rehm, the provost who raised objections to Newman’s methods, but still kept him in the faculty. The immediate severance of two previously tenured professors caught national attention, especially as one of the professors was the advisor to the school’s student-run newspaper that ran a special-edition when breaking the president’s sordid plan to improve retention rates.
The Mountain Echo reported the faculty’s initial response to their article. Board Chairman Joe E. Coyne III called the story “disturbing and inflammatory” on Dec. 1, and further qualified his statement on Dec. 3, stating he was “troubled” by the “grossly inaccurate impression on the subject of the Mount’s effort to improve student retention rate and to intervene early on to assure that incoming students have every opportunity to succeed at our university.”
Newman received a disturbing amount of support, no matter how small, from important faculty. A faculty vote for President Newman to step down from his post was 87 to 3 in favor of his resignation, but Coyne affirmed his support for the president in an email to the employees, according to the Washington Post.
The first 25 days of freshman year can arguably be the worst representation of a student’s potential, especially as they are often focused on settling into a new environment surrounded by new people. It is a cruel twist to accept students and simply cast them aside when a fraction are deemed the “struggling bunnies” – those deserving to be drowned or shot. Surveys originally designed to evaluate the atmosphere of the school are now used to evaluate the mental stability of students and their ability to succeed academically. This move diverts responsibility away from the school and onto its students to overcome their struggles within 25 days, or it’s off with their heads.
Rather than force young adults to vanish from the world of academia, one would think that increasing the personal and academic assistance available to students would be the solution in this situation. However, according to the Washington Post, when given this novel idea, the president chose to criticize the students’ motivations and place the blame on the intrinsic nature of the students themselves.
A man who does not believe in his own school and his own students currently holds the title of president, and refuses to step down. Despite overwhelming objections, the publicity surrounding his heavy-handed methods and his own school’s publication casting him as the antagonist in their world, he has yet to retract his phrasing and apologize for his actions. Allowing the purposeful neglect of our students becomes the first step towards the depravity and the creation of academic Darwinism, a social theory that would further reinforce stratification and isolate spheres of power to the higher ranks.
Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.