I want to address the Mount Community on the issues surrounding our retention program, the unfortunate language used by President Newman and our Trustee response when we were made aware of these issues in December.
Reporting by our student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, which was subsequently picked up by off-campus media, has characterized the objective of our student retention program as encouraging struggling students to leave the university. Included in that reporting was a metaphor attributed to our president which was controversial in nature.
The Board of Trustees was sent the proposed article in early December by The Mountain Echo.
Within days, the board conducted a forensic investigation at Mount St. Mary’s with the Trustees’ attorneys seeking to understand the following:
- Was this a move to target students for removal, as was alleged by the article, or was this truly a retention program?
- How was the program rolled out?
- What language and metaphors were used by the president, and to describe what?
- Were there any related issues at Mount St. Mary’s?
The findings were the following:
1) We found that the retention program, as conceived, is indeed meant to retain students by identifying and helping at-risk students much earlier in their first semester — the first six weeks — than we have ever done before. It takes an innovative approach that includes gathering and analyzing information from a range of sources, including our faculty whom we have trained on how to have rich, supportive conversations with students. We also noted that the design of a (if necessary) thoughtful, eventual conversation about the student’s own discernment process and the refund of tuition was also intended to be in keeping with our Catholic identity.
2) On execution, we found a program with great intent and full consistency with our Catholic values that was beset by several start-up implementation problems. We further found the program itself should be continued and become a key part of future retention efforts. We strongly believe this program will make Mount St. Mary’s a better university, and more broadly, because it’s the right thing to do for students and families.
3) We found that President Newman did use an inappropriate metaphor in a conversation with Dr. Murry in relation to the retention program, for which he has apologized. We do note that this was a private conversation, later revealed by a professor, which has subsequently been taken out of context and mischaracterized.
4) We found that The Mount has significant work to do in its admissions program, as well as our marketing and branding, in order to create a stronger fit for our incoming freshmen. This has been an area of under-investment and is a tremendous opportunity to advance the university in a bold, new direction.
5) By far, our largest finding was deeply troubling. We found incontrovertible evidence of the existence of an organized, small group of faculty and recent alums working to undermine and ultimately cause the exit of President Newman. This group’s issues are born out of a real resistance to positive change at Mount St. Mary’s. Apparently they are not done with their personal attacks and are continuing, both directly and through others, to malign and denigrate President Newman and our plans for the university’s future by circulating mischaracterized accounts and flat out falsehoods. This will not stand and cannot be let to stand at our university. One of our hallmarks requires each member of the Mount Community to treat others with dignity and respect and with the highest integrity. As such, the university will hold those individuals accountable for these actions.
Part of our findings included the discovery that the same small group of faculty who launched this initiative also apparently met together and actually ‘worked on’ the very Mountain Echo article that resulted in the deliberate mischaracterization of the retention program and whose distribution to the public media by them has caused damage to the reputations of both President Newman and Mount St. Mary’s University. The University has a proud history of a student newspaper, and its administration values both the rights and obligations that students working on a student newspaper should enjoy. In this instance, the misuse of ourMountain Echo by a small group of faculty violated those rights and obligations and they embarked on this effort solely to advance their own personal agenda.
6) We concluded that President Newman continues to be the right kind of talented leader to be at the vanguard of Catholic higher education growth. We also concluded that President Newman’s vision for the future is exactly what will lead to Mount St. Mary’s being recognized as a top Catholic University.
On January 10, 2016, more than a month after we learned of the article, and conducted our investigation, the Board of Trustees passed a unanimous resolution of full confidence in President Newman. The board is also continuously being shown that the president enjoys the widespread support of the faculty, student body and broader university community.
We are moving a 200 plus-year-old institution into a new era, with a dynamic and bright future. In higher education, change is hard. We remain committed to the guiding principles that we have been known for, to our Catholic identity, and placing the student at the center of our universe.
President Newman is a transformational leader, and our future direction is incredibly exciting. We invite you to join in the conversation about our vision and plans for our university’s future.
John E. Coyne, Chairman