Letter of Support for Fired Profs Signed By Thousands (update: President Responds)


The open letter of support for two professors fired for lack of “loyalty” from their positions at Mount St. Mary’s University, authored yesterday by philosopher John Schwenkler (FSU), gained 1500 signatories in its first three hours and now has over 4000. The story is being followed not just by higher education outlets like IHE and The Chroniclebut also The Washington Post and The Baltimore SunProfessor Schwenkler was interviewed yesterday by The New York Times but their article has yet to appear.

You can read and sign the letter here, and view the list of signatories here.

UPDATE: Professor Schwenkler has written a brief piece at Commonweal about the controversial actions taken by Mount St. Mary’s President, Simon Newman, including that Newman has reportedly halted publication of the student paper that brought his controversial remarks to the public’s attention.

UPDATE 2: The New York Times reports on the story.

UPDATE 3: Mount St. Mary’s President, Simon Newman, sent a letter to parents this afternoon. Towards the end of it, he addresses the firing of two faculty members, Thane Naberhaus and Ed Egan (no mention was made of the demotions of former dean Joshua Hochschild or former provost David Rehm):

I want to briefly address my decision to dismiss two faculty members who violated a number of our University policies and our code of ethics. We, as an institution, have received quite a bit of press recently and have chosen not to respond more forcefully with information about the specifics of their conduct which we have available to us. In keeping with our values, we will take the high road. But it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it. You may see other versions of events, but we have chosen to restore our focus on educating your students rather than explaining the damaging actions of a few individuals. We need to move forward with hope and faith rather than fall prey to fear and disparity during this time of transition.

I am a father. My heart knows just who you have entrusted to our care. The education, safety, and ultimate future of your son or daughter is at the heart of why I am here and what I love about the Mount.

Follow our progress, see our university thrive with growth in its third century, but please know as a parent, that we are providing your student with a caring, welcoming, and academically strong environment. Students impacted by faculty changes will receive communication regarding their advising and class schedules.

tl;dr — “Because I’m the dad, that’s why.”

Full text is reproduced here.

(Thanks to Jennifer Frey and Angela Schwenkler for the pointer.)

UPDATE 4: Commentary elsewhere: Ed Kazarian (Rowan) on the institutional incentives that led Simon Newman to suggest using a student survey results to cull weaker students,  Adriel Trott (Wabash) on the idea that we can tell in the first two weeks of college which students will do poorly, Magical Ersatz on the how the president’s proposed use of the student survey is discriminatory, and Mike LaBossiere (Florida A&M) on what a “duty to loyalty” to the university really implies about who should get fired. As a philosopher summed it up on Facebook: “He wanted to use a fraudulent mental health survey to target students for elimination so as to game federal retention statistics, and he fired people for objecting.”

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John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
5 years ago

Thank you, Justin, for publicizing this, and thanks also to all those who’ve signed.

I thought I might share a resolution that was passed yesterday by the faculty at Elizabethtown College, which is located not far from Mount St. Mary’s:comment image?dl=0

Anyone at a university where it might be straightforward to pass a resolution like this, should think of doing so.Report

Joel Pust
Joel Pust
5 years ago

Shouldn’t the APA issue an official statement condemning the firings? Have they done so?Report

John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
Reply to  Joel Pust
5 years ago

I believe they are working on it. But these things don’t always happen quickly.Report

Commentator
Commentator
5 years ago

It is hard to believe this situation is real. I hope that this is just an isolated incident and not indicative of broader trends across universities. I am glad action is being taken!Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
5 years ago

This is what happens when PhDs are vastly overproduced without a successful corresponding increase in jobs requiring a PhD. The job market becomes oversaturated with people desperate to convert their hard-earned advanced degrees into careers, and the one major weapon we ever had for holding our own against administrators evaporates. Tenure and academic freedoms have only been a part of the profession for a short time, and we only won them because administrators knew that if they didn’t cede them to us, most of us would go work elsewhere and they wouldn’t have a university to run. We’re starting to pay the price for that overproduction of PhDs now, and there’s sure to be much more and much worse to come until we fix the problem.Report

John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 years ago

Sorry if I come across as a jerk — obviously my life is frantic right now — but are you serious? Too many PhDs >>> Unqualified administrators dismissing at-risk students and firing faculty members without cause? The causal connection there is a bit too tenuous for it to be “just what happens” — surely there are many other more important causes than this — and seems a bit like blaming alcohol or sexy clothing for rape, etc.Report

the Onion Man
the Onion Man
Reply to  John Schwenkler
5 years ago

John Schwenkler, I don’t think that’s a very charitable (or accurate) reading of Justin Kalef’s point. President Newman is an ass, but he’s responding to the same concrete financial incentives that lead universities to overproduce PhD’s and hire MBAs without doctoral degrees as administrators in the first place. The supply of PhD’s, especially humanities PhD’s, doubly especially Philosophy PhD’s, outstrips demand by a ratio probably approaching somewhere near 10:1. It’s naive in the extreme to think this would have no effect on the job security of careers requiring a PhD.

Also, the connection to “rape culture” memes is absurd.Report

John Schwenkler
John Schwenkler
Reply to  the Onion Man
5 years ago

I didn’t say there was “no effect”. I objected to the idea that this is “just what happens”. Reading 101. Absurd indeed.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Justin Kalef
5 years ago

At the risk of continuing to drag this red herring across the path of a well-defined issue at MSMU, in the comments here there are many links to studies on supply v demand in US HE: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/12/its-not-the-supply-its-the-demand.html

Here is a post in which I argue we need to stop using “job market” and start using “political economy of instruction”: http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/12/changing-our-frame-of-reference-from-job-market-to-political-economy-of-philosophy-instruction.htmlReport

Prezident Newman
5 years ago

There are always two sides to a story. For the other side, check out Prezident Newman’s twitter page:
https://twitter.com/prezidentnewmanReport

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  Prezident Newman
5 years ago

Your joke twitter account is comic gold. “That’s gold, Jerry! Gold!”Report

Prezident Newman
Reply to  Phoenix, son of Amyntor
5 years ago

When you control the tweets, you control…..information. Muhahahahaha. MUHAHAHAHA!!! ::::cough…chokes::::Report

Chris
Chris
5 years ago

So his response is: I’m right, I can prove it, but I’m not going to because…the high road. Also, daddy knows best.Report

Rob Loftis
Rob Loftis
5 years ago

This is really galling. The survey he sent out tried to identify students with depression so they can be targeted for pressure to leave the school. Students were given the impression that there would be no repercussions if they admitted that in the past week, “I felt that I could not shake the blues, even with the help of family and friends.” Students were made to think an honest answer would benefit them. But they were targeted for discrimination.

Now the president says “The education, safety, and ultimate future of your son or daughter is at the heart of why I am here.” I suppose that’s why he wants students with mental illness to be somewhere else.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Rob Loftis
5 years ago

The items mentioned in the Washington Post, i.e.
“How often were each of the following things true in the last week?:
I felt depressed.
I felt that I could not shake the blues, even with the help of family and friends.
I thought my life had been a failure.
I felt that people disliked me.”
are taken VERBATIM from the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64056/ ). They were literally screening students for depression, apparently in order to get them out of the university.Report

Becca H.
Becca H.
Reply to  WP
5 years ago

I had this same thought, and I’m wondering if this might actually violate the ADA.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Becca H.
5 years ago

I think there are a lot of potential issues: ADA (though maybe less so since it sounds like the plan wasn’t actually followed through on), IRB, HIPAA. I don’t think HIPAA would ordinarily apply to a university, but one that was administering mental health screenings without consent? Also maybe some misconduct issues for the unnamed psychologist professor that developed the survey.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  WP
5 years ago

I realized I read the detail about the psychology professor (uh, “psychologist professor”) in a pretty obscure place, so here’s the source on that. It’s a letter to the editor of MSMU’s student paper (the one that broke the story) from someone in the president’s office that worked on the retention project. He says the survey was designed by “designed by a team including a member of our psychology faculty.”

http://msmecho.com/2016/01/27/letter-to-the-editor-matthew-steele/Report

Rob Loftis
Rob Loftis
5 years ago
Angela
Angela
5 years ago

Other questions on the survey included, Has there been a death in your family in the last year, and, How stable are your family’s finances. (Not quoting because I do not have the exact wording in front of me.) This gets really, really, really bad the more you know.Report

Stephen
Stephen
5 years ago

“… we have chosen to restore our focus on drowning your bunnies.”Report

Rocco
Rocco
5 years ago

Invective-laden demands for resignation sent to [email protected] and/or [email protected] are highly encouraged.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
5 years ago

If you tweet about this issue, it would be good include @PresidentMSMU and @MSMU. Here is the link to Newman’s twitter page: https://twitter.com/PresidentMSMUReport

Ed Kazarian
Ed Kazarian
5 years ago

Thanks for signal boosting mine and Adriel’s pieces, Justin.

Might I also suggest a link to this piece at Feminist Philosophers, which highlights (as others have noted in the comments) the way the survey is clearly targeting students suffering from depression, and also those with learning disabilities. The ADA issues are manifest and serious. https://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/mount-st-marys-student-survey-tried-to-find-out-which-students-were-depressed/Report

Ed Kazarian
Ed Kazarian
Reply to  Ed Kazarian
5 years ago

Gah, just realized that the ‘magical ersatz’ link above was the one I post above. D’oh! Anyway thanks!Report

Mark Alfano
5 years ago

So it turns out that the questions about depression in the MSM survey are from a clinical screening for depression: http://cesd-r.com

If the survey was designed in part by a clinical psychologist, that would almost certainly constitute professional misconduct. Somebody with local knowledge should look into this, if possible.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Mark Alfano
5 years ago

I just posted this above, but someone who worked on the retention project said the survey was “designed by a team including a member of our psychology faculty”: http://msmecho.com/2016/01/27/letter-to-the-editor-matthew-steele/Report

peter
peter
5 years ago

President Newman: giving up something for Lent this year?
The 87-3 vote suggests SOMETHING you might give up. It’s the right thing to do.Report