Free Speech Under Siege by University Admins in Mount St. Mary’s

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By WSN Editorial Board

This past January, the Mountain Echo, a student-run newspaper at Mount St. Mary’s University, published an article which revealed troubling administrative discussion about freshmen students at the school. The article quoted university President Simon Newman referring to struggling freshmen as “bunnies” who had to be “drowned” — a rather tactless phrasing for removal from the university — in order to improve the school’s freshmen retention rate. Newman went on to say that the school had to “put a Glock to their heads,” disconcerting words that no new student should ever expect to come from their college president. The administration, instead of actually addressing concerns about the university’s approach to new students, declared this week that heads must roll and fired faculty advisor of the paper Ed Egan.

The firing has led to widespread criticism of Newman from academics, journalistic freedom advocates and students across the nation. It is undeniable that the university’s action is a petty attempt at retribution against the newspaper. No matter what euphemistic language the school chooses to use, the crooked motives behind Egan’s dismissal are clear — greenlighting an ethically-sound article is not a crime, no matter how critical it is. The administration cannot expect all members of St. Mary’s, particularly the school’s independent newspaper, to unconditionally sing its praises forever.

Much to Newman’s chagrin, however, Professor Egan’s firing has shed light on the long line of abuses of power perpetrated by the university administration. The “drowning bunnies” discussion centers on a proposed plan to improve student retention statistics by expelling struggling students — a reprehensible policy by itself. Around the same time as Egan’s firing, another professor, Thane Naberhaus, was dismissed without a hearing following his repeated criticisms of the Newman administration. Three days earlier, former provost David Rehm was stripped of his title after raising concerns about the drowning bunnies expulsion policy. Not one of the three received an honest reason for their firing — they were only told that their actions reflected disloyalty to the university.

Any university administration that would rather kick out its most struggling students than offer them support, that would rather stamp out dissent than engage earnestly with its faculty and students, shows a short-sighted selfishness wholly unfit for education. But at the end of the day, the Mountain Echo still stands and the Newman administration has made national news for its mismanagement. Stories like these are exactly why having an independent student newspaper is so important. Without it, the administration’s incompetence would have never been brought to light. Without it, reprehensible business would have continued on as normal. By publishing the retention story and the drowning bunnies quote, the Mountain Echo has done its part in bringing justice to the university. With any luck, the administration will now hold itself accountable to the university community like it was always supposed to.

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