MSMU had been under scrutiny for weeks over President Simon Newman’s plan to use student survey responses in an effort to weed out low-performing students and improve rankings. That criticism escalated after the student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, reported that Newman called those students “bunnies” to be drowned or shot. On Monday, Newman sparked a national firestorm when he summarily fired faculty who may have had some connection to the Echo story.
The two fired professors were tenured philosophy professor Thane Naberhaus and Ed Egan, advisor to the Echo.
In a letter to Newman sent yesterday, Peter Bonilla, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, said FIRE was “deeply concerned” about MSMU’s actions, which “call into question the university’s fundamental commitments to free speech, academic freedom, and due process.” Bonilla also wrote that MSMU’s unilateral action against Naberhaus and Egan “likely causes far more damage to its reputation than any acts alleged of the faculty.”
Indeed, it has—MSMU has gained national attention over the controversy. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Washington Post, and The New York Times have all reported the story. A petition to reinstate the professors has been signed by more than 8,000 academics nationwide at this time.
“CBS Evening News” aired an interview with Egan last night.
MSMU has been defensive in response to the public outcry.
Yesterday, Naberhaus told FIRE he got a new letter from MSMU that was delivered in-person by an MSMU administrator Wednesday night. The letter stated that Naberhaus remained on the school’s payroll and had merely been suspended, and it invited Naberhaus to engage in a “conciliation” process. This indicated Naberhaus had not in fact been terminated, despite having received a termination letter and an escort from campus on Monday. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on this latest development today.
“It appears that FIRE read MSMU’s faculty procedures before the administration did,” said Bonilla. “Now the university is apparently trying to tack on at the end the due process they owed Naberhaus at the beginning. It does very little to alleviate the serious concerns FIRE and many others share about the administration’s judgment.”
Naberhaus told FIRE yesterday he believes the faculty may meet today to schedule a vote of no confidence in Newman.
“What I care about is fixing what’s happened and saving Mount St. Mary’s,” said Naberhaus, who added that getting his own job back pales in comparison.