At the center of the storm is university president Simon Newman, a former investment banker known for, shall we say, colorful language. At the behest of the board of trustees, Newman is seeking to chart out a new direction for Mount St. Mary’s to meet the challenges facing Catholic liberal arts institutions in the 21st century.
But what’s happening at Mount St. Mary’s has repercussions far beyond “The Mount,” as the institution is affectionately called: It stands as a cautionary tale for all Catholic institutions, many of which will soon face the same challenges.
Catholic higher education has experienced major changes over the last half-century. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) charted out a more open attitude toward the surrounding world. Taking its lead from some of the Council’s key documents, a group of prominent American Catholic academics gathered at Land O’Lakes, Wisconsin in 1967 and called for rethinking how Catholic institutions understand their identities and express their relationship to the institutional Church.
Many Catholic colleges and universities transitioned to governance by boards composed primarily of lay men and women and revised their curricula in bold and creative ways.
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