American Catholic Philosophical Association on Mount St. Mary’s Fiasco

The Executive Committee of the American Catholic Philosophical Association (ACPA)has issued a statement regarding the ongoing controversy at Mount St. Mary’s University of the recent actions of its president, Simon Newman. After intense pressure and horrible publicity, Newman agreed to reinstate the faculty he had fired, attempting to save face by claiming it was an act of mercy. As the authors of the following statement note, though, that is baloney. “One does not act mercifully by ceasing to act unjustly.”

Dear President Simon Newman, Chairman of the Board John Coyne, Archbishop William Lori, and Members of the Board of Trustees of Mount St. Mary’s University:

The Executive Committee of the American Catholic Philosophical Association expresses its grave concern over the firing from Mount St. Mary’s University of two faculty members, one tenured in the Department of Philosophy.  We also express our concern that other members of the philosophy department in particular have been fired from administrative positions of leadership: fired, according to reports, for raising concerns about an administrative initiative with the grave potential of violating the fundamental rights and trust of students in divulging personal information about themselves to the administration.

Any educational institution of higher learning, whatever else it does, consists primarily of the community of faculty and students inquiring into the good of truth with the goal of advancing our understanding of the world and of ourselves as agents within that world.  A Catholic university in particular seeks understanding of the world and of us within it in relationship to the truth of God our Creator and Redeemer.  According to Catholic life and faith, education is a sacred activity: a spiritual work of mercy prompted by caritas.

If institutional loyalty at a college or university is to be judged, it must be judged by reference to the fundamental dignity of the human persons, faculty and students alike, who primarily constitute the institution, as well as the communion of institutional trust among faculty, students, administrators, and staff that must exist in order to promote what in Catholic education is a sacred duty.  It is for these reasons that Pope John Paul II wrote in the Apostolic Constitution, Ex Corde Ecclesiae, that the rights of conscience of those engaged in education must be respected and upheld, and that “any official action or commitment of the University is to be in accord with its Catholic identity.”

Firing faculty who challenge the potential abuse of students by the administration is a clear violation of those rights of conscience that the Church upholds as necessary to a Catholic institution, a clear act of injustice.  Each member of the Board of Trustees should be prepared to explain how either the treatment of the students or the firings of faculty are “in accord with [the Mount’s] Catholic identity.”

Most recently, in acting to reinstate on a suspended basis the two faculty members fired from the university, Mr. Newman is reported to have stated that it was an act of “mercy” to do so.  In this Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis, this claim is a particularly egregious affront to both mercy and justice.  One does not act mercifully by ceasing to act unjustly.  This statement is particularly outrageous coming from the president of a Catholic university, which by its very nature is charged with the sacred duty of mercy in advancing the education of those students it has invited into its community. 

The Executive Committee of the American Catholic Philosophical Association calls upon the President of Mount St. Mary’s University as well as its Board of Trustees collectively and individually to consider their role in perpetrating this injustice and their continuing complicity in it.  You must act forcefully and publicly to end this travesty and to heal the wounds that you have caused at Mount St. Mary’s, in the Church, and in the educational community at large.

ACPA Executive Committee
February 13, 2016

(Thanks to Michael Dougherty and several others for sending this in.)

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8 years ago

Simon Newman’s greatest service to academia may well be to become the personification of the decisive objection to those who think universities are well-served by hiring corporate executives, much as Harriet Miers is to unqualified Supreme Court nominations and Michael “Heckuva Job” Brown is to incompetent emergency response directors.

Prezident Newman
Reply to  SCM
8 years ago

Such vanilla thinking, SCM, is soooo 20th century. If a university is going to stay ahead of the curve, it’s going to need a game-changer who’s core competency is thinking outside of the box. Either the faculty at MSMU can embrace and leverage that synergy or they can ignore the elephant in the room and pretend like the pain points of the old way of thinking aren’t going to keep them from taking it to the next level. The days of professor centric student focused learning are over. The next generation needs to embrace the consultant-client or consultant-customer model of education. It’s education 2.0 with the kind of ROI that prepares students for the market. Let’s do lunch.

Reply to  Prezident Newman
8 years ago

It could be worse, I suppose, it could be interdisciplinary …

Mount Dad
Mount Dad
8 years ago

Thank you, ACPA Executive Committee!