Editorial: Shooting bunnies versus freedom of speech: The Mount St. Mary’s controversy

While many students and their parents don’t ask their friendly neighborhood Canisius tour guide about the rate attrition for freshman students, retention is a hot button issue for higher education across the country. It’s difficult to spend money welcoming and preparing for 700+ new students to come to campus, devoting time and resources to keeping them here when they may in fact leave after a certain period of time. Freshman retention rates have been hovering in the 80s, and it’s not exactly where we want to be, but the College has been responding with the implementation of a number of new programs, including the GRIFF 101 program and the increased focus on cooperation between Student and Academic Affairs. However, at Mount St. Mary’s University, the President, Simon Newman was recently quoted in the student newspaper as 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…put a Glock to their heads” in response to hesitant faculty members over the course of the Mount St Mary’s retention efforts. This comment has led to a number of issues at the school and across the country.

Recently, both Ed Egan, the faculty advisor for the student newspaper, and Thane Naberhaus, a tenured faculty member, were fired from the University. Each professor’s dismissal letter cited that they were being “disloyal to the University.” Little other reason was given for their termination, but members of the Board of Trustees, faculty members and students at the University, and higher education professionals across the country have risen up in outrage against Newman’s comment and against the professors’ firings. The Griffin would like to join in this outrage.

Ed Egan has been accused of convincing student staff members of the Mount St. Mary Echo to write on the President’s comments, hence leading to his “disloyalty.” However, the Echo, like this publication, is entirely student-run as far as its writings go, and so it is within a student’s right to write on a controversial statement made by a member of the administration. Further, Newman’s business-minded approach to running the University has been called into question, and this paper can certainly see why, given his comment about freshman students. It’s difficult to imagine Kathleen Davis, Canisius’ Vice President for Enrollment Management making a similar remark.

Additionally, the Echo has not published anything on their website since 27 January of this year, and this paper is concerned to think that their productivity–and the utilization of the 1st Amendment–has been halted because of Egan’s termination. We ourselves like to think that we’re providing a vital service to the College and imagine that similar publications at colleges and universities provide the same. The silencing of a professor and potentially a paper for reporting a statement that was made, particularly one that Newman has not refuted, is against everything that we as a paper and, hopefully, we as a country believe in. If a similar comment was made here, you can be sure that we’d report it. It’s part of our job as journalists. Regardless of whether Egan mentioned it to the students, it is their right to write on it, and it is not disloyal for their advisor to have mentioned it to them.  Much like mothers tell their children that “if they don’t have anything nice to say, then you shouldn’t say it at all,” administrators should be careful to consider that if they aren’t comfortable with students hearing a particularly nasty phrase on the treatment of their fellow students, they shouldn’t say it all. Or perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect that someone shouldn’t refer to students as bunnies that need to be shot. Perhaps.

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