Statement from the Cardinal Newman Society Regarding the Situation at Mount St. Mary's University

Following on my earlier post, this afternoon the Cardinal Newman Society issued a statement expressing concerns about the current situation at Mount St. Mary's University, especially the direction it has taken under the direction of President Simon Newman. The full statement is here. Here are some paragraphs relevant to the matters I discussed:

President Newman has attracted nationwide criticism of his now acknowledged proposal to weed out young students based on a presumed likelihood that they would not perform well academically. It is the position of The Cardinal Newman Society that any plan to weed out matriculated students without first providing substantial assistance and demonstrating a sincere commitment to the students’ personal formation and well-being would be contrary to a university’s Catholic identity. Student formation in mind, body and soul is the essence of faithful Catholic education, and at a Catholic university, no financial concern or desire for secular prestige should supplant the University’s core purposes. We hope that the reaction to this plan has convinced the leadership to find other ways to improve its retention statistics, including genuine efforts to support and retain admitted students.

Of even greater concern to The Cardinal Newman Society, President Newman has fired several University leaders and professors, some of whom have been key to the Mount’s greatly strengthened Catholic identity over the past decade. The University says they violated ethical obligations, including a requirement to be loyal to the institution. The faculty adviser to the student newspaper, which revealed President Newman’s proposal to dismiss students, was also fired. We may never know the details of such private employment decisions, and we respect the authority of a university president to hire employees who best serve the university’s mission. Nevertheless, the loss of leaders and professors who seemed to best exemplify and promote the Mount’s Catholic mission is disturbing and does real harm to the University. 

We were delighted to learn today that President Newman has reinstated two of those employees who were fired, including the student newspaper adviser and a philosophy professor who raised concerns about Catholic identity, although the latter professor has reportedly declined unless President Newman resigns. We hope that resolutions can be found for those who were fired, and if not, then we will be looking for a similar commitment and witness from those who are selected to replace them.

Finally, we are deeply concerned by multiple but yet unsubstantiated claims that President Newman has expressed a desire to diminish the celebration of Catholic identity in the Mount’s marketing materials because he believes that Catholic identity is ineffective in recruiting students. That is a debatable presumption; much of Catholic higher education is struggling after decades of secularization, while the newest Catholic colleges in the United States are vibrantly Catholic and have no fears about marketing that fact. A university that is fully committed to its Catholic mission will not hide it. Instead, it will strive to convince others that its Catholic identity is reason for celebration and the very heart of the best sort of education, which it certainly is.

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John Schwenkler is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.

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