Mount St. Mary University scandal raises concerns about institutional integrity

Colleges and universities today face unprecedented pressure to remain high in the rankings, attract competitive students and produce successful alumni to continue bolstering their institution’s prestige in the real world.

While improving overall academic outcomes remains a fundamental and noble goal of higher education institution, Mount Saint Mary University has been under scrutiny recently for going about it in all the wrong ways. 

According to the Washington Post, Mount Saint Mary President Simon Newman, in an effort to increase the college’s student retention rates, requested from professors the names of freshmen that had been struggling academically during their first few weeks.

Instead of providing extra support or resources to these students to help improve their performance, Newman instead planned to encourage them to drop out – since he believed they were likely to drop out in the future. As such, he could lower total enrollment rates and thus increase their retention rates. 

What is even worse than the strategy itself – seeking to discourage students, the very population it serves, from reaching their full potential, the very purpose of a higher education institution - is the way in which Newman framed his request. In an article published by Mount St. Mary’s student newspaper, later confirmed by the Washington Post, Newman was quoted telling an administration member, “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.” 

Both the language and sentiments expressed by Newman demand response and retribution. Despite a vote by faculty asking for his resignation, Newman has reinforced he is not going anyway. Fortunately, two of the faculty members who Newman fired for refusing to comply with his request to identify such students, have been reinstated, according to CBS News

Nonetheless, there remains a need for greater accountability. This controversy hits home at the mission and integrity of all higher education institutions. Newman’s statements and convoluted strategy towards a valid goal, improving retention rates, are seriously damaging not only to his students, yet also to the credibility of his leadership and administration.

 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this editorial referred to Simon Newman as president of Mount Saint Mary College. He is president of Mount Saint Mary University.