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The Donald Trump of Catholic Higher Education


“You’re fired!” That was the tagline of the bombastic Donald Trump on Celebrity Apprentice. More recently, it was the short-lived leadership policy of the deservedly embattled president of Mount St. Mary’s University, the nation’s second-oldest Catholic university. Simon Newman was appointed last year and, in a remarkably short time, his leadership style, offensive language, and apparently complete ignorance of the Catholic intellectual tradition and its vision of education has catapulted the small Catholic university, in a stunning geographical setting nestled among the Catoctin Mountains, into the national spotlight.

There is a painful irony in this for a Board of Trustees that apparently thought hiring a successful private-equity chief executive and entrepreneur with no administrative experience in higher education was a means of correcting the university’s financial situation, increasing retention, and improving its national reputation. It now has a national reputation among many who previously knew little or nothing about the Mount. It is doubtful, however, that the current attention will increase the likelihood of talented academics or bright high school students coming to the university.

After numerous administrative changes, Newman fired two professors, one of whom was a tenured member of the Philosophy Department and both of whom had been critical of the president’s policies. As word spread that the faculty was preparing a no-confidence vote in the president, Newman abruptly reversed course and offered to reinstate the professors. He was doing this, he told one of the professors, “because it was the year of Mercy.” Apparently he suddenly discovered Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Year of Mercy in the few days between the time he fired and reinstated the professors.

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