Newman Society Statement on Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
The Catholic identity of Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md., is its foundation, its motivation and its greatest treasure. Commitment to authentic and faithful Catholic education must be preserved — and even strengthened, as it was over the past decade — for the good of its students, faculty, staff and alumni.
As recently as last year, The Cardinal Newman Society enthusiastically recommended Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. (“the Mount”), in our Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College for its strong Catholic identity. We have repeatedly, and very recently, reported on outstanding teaching and practices at the Mount. Nevertheless, we are carefully observing the developments described in recent media reports (including the selection linked at the bottom of this statement), and we find these to be disappointing and even disturbing. Certain facts seem clear, while other troubling claims are unsubstantiated but repeated by several individuals. We invite Catholics to pray for a good outcome.
The Cardinal Newman Society is currently engaged in our standard annual review of Newman Guide colleges for the next edition of the Guide. Our attention to the Mount is heightened due to the leadership transition (now including not only President Simon Newman, who is less than a year into his position, but also the provost and liberal arts dean) and the recent concerns. Adding to our dismay about information coming from media reports and our own private communications with individuals associated with the University, the Mount has declined thus far to provide the required annual information needed for recommendation in The Newman Guide. These include questions regarding the mandatum for theology professors, integration of Catholic teaching across the curriculum, residence policies for students and the University president’s required Oath of Fidelity. Our content deadline was December 31, but we have offered President Newman an extension until February 28, after which we will be unable to recommend the Mount.
President Newman has attracted nationwide criticism of his now acknowledged proposal to weed out young students based on a presumed likelihood that they would not perform well academically. It is the position of The Cardinal Newman Society that any plan to weed out matriculated students without first providing substantial assistance and demonstrating a sincere commitment to the students’ personal formation and well-being would be contrary to a university’s Catholic identity. Student formation in mind, body and soul is the essence of faithful Catholic education, and at a Catholic university, no financial concern or desire for secular prestige should supplant the University’s core purposes. We hope that the reaction to this plan has convinced the leadership to find other ways to improve its retention statistics, including genuine efforts to support and retain admitted students.
Of even greater concern to The Cardinal Newman Society, President Newman has fired several University leaders and professors, some of whom have been key to the Mount’s greatly strengthened Catholic identity over the past decade. The University says they violated ethical obligations, including a requirement to be loyal to the institution. The faculty adviser to the student newspaper, which revealed President Newman’s proposal to dismiss students, was also fired. We may never know the details of such private employment decisions, and we respect the authority of a university president to hire employees who best serve the university’s mission. Nevertheless, the loss of leaders and professors who seemed to best exemplify and promote the Mount’s Catholic mission is disturbing and does real harm to the University.
We were delighted to learn today that President Newman has reinstated two of those employees who were fired, including the student newspaper adviser and a philosophy professor who raised concerns about Catholic identity, although the latter professor has reportedly declined unless President Newman resigns. We hope that resolutions can be found for those who were fired, and if not, then we will be looking for a similar commitment and witness from those who are selected to replace them.
Finally, we are deeply concerned by multiple but yet unsubstantiated claims that President Newman has expressed a desire to diminish the celebration of Catholic identity in the Mount’s marketing materials because he believes that Catholic identity is ineffective in recruiting students. That is a debatable presumption; much of Catholic higher education is struggling after decades of secularization, while the newest Catholic colleges in the United States are vibrantly Catholic and have no fears about marketing that fact. A university that is fully committed to its Catholic mission will not hide it. Instead, it will strive to convince others that its Catholic identity is reason for celebration and the very heart of the best sort of education, which it certainly is.
Furthermore, we believe that marketing Catholic identity is ultimately necessary to living Catholic identity. Public presentation tends to influence personality over time; we become what we claim to be, and what we hide is gradually diminished in importance and value.
Over the past decade, the Mount has excelled under leadership that made faithful Catholic education the top priority and chief objective of the University. There was neither embarrassment about nor diminishment of the Mount’s Catholic identity, but celebration and a spirit of pride in the great heritage of America’s second-oldest Catholic university.
This is the vision of Father John Dubois, who founded Mount St. Mary’s University in 1808. “I have been enabled to procure a spot and to begin the erection of a building for a college and ecclesiastical seminary,” he wrote, “for we must not imagine that without such an establishment we can obtain truly apostolic men, mighty in work and word before God and all the people.”
It is the vision of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, for whom Father Dubois celebrated Mass on the hallowed grounds of the Mount, and who established the first Catholic girls’ school in America in Emmitsburg.
We pray and hope that this vision persists at the Mount, in its teaching, curriculum, campus life and even in the public ways the University is marketed to donors and prospective students. Deliberate efforts to preserve and strengthen Catholic identity are essential to continuing the mission of the University and its continued obligation to God, the Catholic Church and the families who entrust their sons and daughters to the University’s care.
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