The rights for student journalists have been contested since their conception. A simple Google search can return millions of instances of students being silenced, told what they can and can’t write or publish. Recently, one of the universities that has been under fire due to these infringements is Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md.
Mount St. Mary’s is the second-oldest Catholic university in the United States, and also includes the nation’s second-largest Catholic seminary. As of 2014, there were 2,240 students, according to USNews.
Freshman retention is a common problem for universities; however, President Simon Newman’s solution has stirred controversy nationwide. “The Mountain Echo,” Mount St. Mary’s student-run newspaper, reported that his alleged solution was to conduct a survey among students during orientation.
According to “The Mountain Echo,” the survey started off with saying, “This year, we are going to start the Veritas Symposium by providing you with a very valuable tool that will help you discover more about yourself. This survey has been developed by a leadership team here at The Mount, and it is based on some of the leading thinking in the area of personal motivation and key factors that determine motivation, success, and happiness. We will ask you some questions about yourself that we would like you to answer as honestly as possible. There are no wrong answers.”
The student-run newspaper, however, found faulty reasoning behind this survey, as they uncovered the true intentions behind email: Newman was conducting the survey to see who he could ask to leave, so that the retention scores looked better when documented. His intention was to dismiss 20 – 25 students in total.
Newman has been quoted with saying to one of the teachers involved, “…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… put a Glock to their heads.”
He has went on to state that he was misquoted, and that the entire tone of the story written by “The Mountain Echo” is “not accurate at all,” he said to the Washington Post. Despite his claims that the story was libelous, he does admit that the language he used was “regrettable.”
Because of this scandal, he fired the two professors involved with telling the students what was said in the emails, one of which being the newspaper’s adviser, Ed Egan. As of Feb. 11, the professors were reinstated to the university.
The university’s student government hosted a broad election asking the students and faculty if they wanted Newman to resign, to which it was shown that over 76 percent of students stood in solidarity with Newman. He has gone on the record many times to say that he is not resigning, despite the faculty voting against him, 87 to 3.
While there was some controversy over whether or not the students were pressured to say such things by Egan, he quickly debunked those rumors, stating, ““I did not … no. Anybody on campus who knows the students knows that nobody would manipulate these students,” Egan said to CBSNews. “They are independent, strong, bright people.”
While “The Mountain Echo” may have faced backlash, they show no signs of regret for publishing the story that brought these quotes to the surface. Ryan Golden, the Managing Editor of “The Mountain Echo,” published an editorial about the staff’s experience since this scandal.
“I implore you to consider that student journalism is not always going to result in the fun short stories about the Mount of which the Echo has mainly consisted over the last four years,” Golden said in the editorial. “I implore you to consider that, though change may be needed at this university, this does not mean that all changes should go unquestioned or unpublicized.”
He goes on to speak about producing ethical pieces despite having a group of powerful people at the university who did not want them to publish this story.
Newman has apologized for his actions, and the students and faculty have said that they want to move on from this black mark presented on them. For some, it will be easy to forgive and forget, but for others, it will take a long while before this evades their minds.
There are several letters to the editor posted on “The Mountain Echo”’s website at msecho.com.