Mount St. Mary’s adviser is back on campus — but not with the student paper

MARYLAND — The adviser of the student newspaper at Mount St. Mary’s University is back on campus after being fired in retaliation for the paper’s investigation into the president’s retention plans.

But the adviser, Ed Egan, won’t be returning to his job at the student paper, The Mountain Echo, despite the president’s decision to resign, effective immediately.

On Monday, the Maryland university’s Board of Trustees announced the dean of the business school would replace the retreating first-year president, Simon Newman.

“I care deeply about the school and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students,” Newman said in a statement. “It was a difficult decision but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time.”

The private Catholic university is still reeling from what had become a national controversy after Newman abruptly fired two faculty members — Egan and a tenured professor — after the Echo published a chain of emails and conversations about freshman-retention plans that quoted Newman referring to incoming freshmen as bunnies that need to be “drowned,” or have a Glock put to their heads.

The retention plan involved the use of an administration-developed survey given during orientation that would, essentially, determine which 20-25 freshman deemed “unlikely to succeed” to dismiss. Newman said in an email to a faculty member that this would boost the school’s retention by 4 or 5 percent.

After the article gained national attention, Newman fired both Egan and tenured Philosophy Professor Thane Naberhaus. He also demoted Provost David Rehem, who was openly critical of the retention plan.

The firings were met with deep criticism, especially from free speech and academic freedom advocates. Among the most vocal of its opposition was the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which demanded the fired faculty members be reinstated so that “dissent and free student press be respected on campus.”

Mount St. Mary’s faculty also voted overwhelmingly to demand Newman step down. An open letter accused Newman of dividing the community with missteps that could have been avoided.

Within days of firing Egan and Naberhaus, Newman offered them reinstatement as “a first step of reconciliation and healing.”

But Egan, a Mount St. Mary’s alumnus, previously told the Student Press Law Center that he believed Newman should step down and that would determine his return to campus.

Now, Newman is gone and Egan is back on campus as the director of the university’s pre-law program — but without his role as newspaper adviser.

Egan previously served as the pre-law director as well as the Echo’s adviser. But when he was fired, administrators replaced him as adviser, saying that the new advisory team would give the Echo staff the “expert guidance necessary to enable it to gain a deeper understanding of best practices in news gathering and reporting in addition to a fuller picture of the media business itself.”

The new advisers to the newspaper are Pratibha Kumar, an assistant professor of communication, and Michael Hillman, executive director of the Emmitsburg News-Journal.

Egan did not respond to the SPLC’s requests for comment, but in an email, Rebecca Schisler, news editor of the Echo, said he will not be returning as adviser to the newspaper.

She said the newspaper staff is working with the new advisers, and has been publishing normally.

“None of this will affect the Echo or how we operate,” Schisler said. She did not respond to further questions.