Editorial: In pursuit of the truth?

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Mount St. Mary’s might have to rethink its mission statement.

The statement reads: “Mount St. Mary’s is a Catholic university committed to education in the service of truth.” But recent actions by Simon Newman, the university’s president, beg the question: Does the university really value the truth?

In less than a week, three professors were fired from the university. Two of them had criticized or raised concerns over the president’s policies. The third professor, Ed Egan, who was the student newspaper’s faculty adviser, was fired after the paper ran an article that quoted Newman saying, “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but you can’t. You just have to drown the bunnies.”

Although Egan has no editorial control over what the student run newspaper covers, he was accused of editorial manipulation for supposedly encouraging the students to portray Newman in a bad light. But the students working on the paper said Egan did not pressure them into writing anything. In fact, they say he encouraged them to pursue journalistic integrity, which defines truth as one of its key principles.

So these student journalists and their adviser were embodying the mission statement more effectively than the president of the university.

What makes it even more ironic is that Newman — someone who had little-to-no connection to Mount St. Mary’s before being appointed its president — fired Egan, who has spent most of his life involved in the school in some way. Egan is not only an alumnus, but a legacy who has served as an alumni chapter president, an unpaid assistant women’s basketball coach, a trustee and director of the pre-law program.

Newman was hired last year in an effort to raise the school’s national profile and increase its endowment. Due to his background as a chief executive in the business world, this move makes sense. His sharp response to problems at his college point to a very business savvy mind, yet that savviness doesn’t necessarily transfer to the world of academics.  

He cites disloyalty as a basis to fire someone, which makes sense in the business world. Disloyalty in a business can cost you, but criticizing does not equal disloyalty, especially in a field where discussion is the main purpose. Universities are not the type of places where one unpopular opinion gets you fired. They are places were unpopular opinions are meant to at least be discussed even if most people disagree with them.

Inhibiting people’s freedom of expression is basically the antithesis to what higher education is all about. Universities, ideally, provide students with well-rounded educations — controversial, unpopular, incendiary thoughts included. Exposure to these topics is part of learning about the world we live in. And a university’s president is supposed to embody the school’s mission to wholly educate. But in the case of Mount St. Mary’s, Newman is doing the opposite.

But more than prohibiting the truth, his actions encourage silence by sending a warning.

Professors getting fired because they don’t teach well or they break the school code of conduct is reasonable, but firing them for speaking their opinions defeats the entire purpose of college. People are supposed to face criticism, open their mind to new ideas and have their own ideas challenged. If a university’s own president can’t face that, how can he be in charge? 

An institution that claims it offers education in pursuit of the truth should be fostering, promoting and enabling discussion, as opposed to shutting it down.

Newman was hired because the school needed a business approach, but at this point his approach might be doing them more harm than good. A private institution is, in a sense, a business — but should those ideals be projected into personnel decisions? Should colleges really be prioritized as a business before they concern themselves with what they’re providing for their students?

More than breaking the college culture, these actions are affecting students. Firing teachers mid-semester can put a damper on a student’s education. And considering that’s the reason most college students went to college, a university president should be more concerned with the education than his image.

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