Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The View from This Mount

Have you been following the case of The Mountain Echo? The student newspaper at Mount St. Mary’s University reported that President Simon Newman initiated a plan for the Maryland Catholic college to boost its ratings in some college rankings by getting rid of some academically challenged freshmen early in the fall. Read all about it in The Washington Post and NewYork Times.

If the bunny can't jump, shoot it.
Image from Wikimedia Commons
by David Sedlecký.
The paper reported that Newman said this when faculty, and the university provost, objected to his plans: “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.”

As Patricia McGuire wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education, that’s neither an attitude nor action once expects at a Catholic college that has any understanding of its mission.

The storm of controversy is just now rising. The Washington Post reports that it has confirmed the quote reported by The Echo. In the meantime, the provost at Mount St. Mary’s and two professors, including the paper’s advisor, have been sacked.

I’m a professor, and college newspaper advisor, at a Catholic University. I’m proud to say that I can’t imagine a president at Mount Mercy University calling upon us to drown any freshmen—symbolically or not—and that the culture at MMU is supportive of a vibrant student press.

The attitude of the administration at any university, public or private, is important in maintaining an authentic campus media voice, and at many colleges student newspapers are shrinking or disappearing.

True, I am not an insider at Mount St. Mary’s, and I’m sure there is more to the story. They don’t ask me who to keep and who to fire there or anywhere, nor do I get to vote on the wisdom of the board at a private university choosing a business person to run the university. (A business leader at a university and badly made remark about guns or shooting—anything like that ever happen in Iowa? Nah ….)

But then again, how much more can there possibly be to the story. “You just have to drown the bunnies?”

Some students, true, will sink rather than swim in any academic environment, and every student has the right to fail. But I can’t imagine working at a college that thinks it’s a good idea to strategically crush a set of student’s dreams in order to improve the college’s ranking in some ratings. Nor would I want to be associated with a place that would fire a student media advisor for allowing students to fulfill their role.

Echo logo, from the paper's web site.
I say, don’t drown the bunnies. Don’t put a glock to anybody’s head. But, in this case, I hope Simon Newman involuntarily says “so long” at Mount St. Mary’s soon.

Not all Catholic colleges are institutionally or culturally like this. I doubt many are. And, I feel a bit sad that the offending institution is both Catholic and has “Mount” in its name.

It seems nothing like the Mount I know and love in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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