Dismissal of Struggling Freshman to Maintain Retention Rates

8:44 AM College Lawyer Blog 0 Comments

FRIDAY, 2/12/16


“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.” These are harsh words spoken by Mount St. Mary's University president Simon Newman during a January staff meeting where he unveiled his plan for improving the university’s retention rates.

Retention rates are calculated by looking at the number of students who start their freshman semester at a school but do not finish out the first year or return for a second year. Universities are concerned with maintaining good retention rates as they are a factor in determining the school’s ranking. Retention rates also factor into student’s decisions on which school to attend. US News and World Report, one of the most trusted sites used by students, instructs students that “if schools you're considering have low freshman retention rates, you'll want to ask the admissions office why”.

Newman’s plan to improve retention rates involves the dismissal of 20-25 students who struggle to adjust to the first semester of college by the end of September. When most semesters begin mid to late August, this leaves first-time college students with little time to adjust to the rigors of a college education.

Newman’s plan has been met with much criticism. On Monday of this week, Newman fired two professors for openly voicing their disapproval of his plan. One professor was fired for overseeing a January publication in the student newspaper which quoted Newman’s comment comparing students to bunnies. The other professor, who was tenured, was accused of disloyalty and was fired for openly condemning Newman.

"That’s something that universities don’t do lightly. It’s definitely a shock if a tenured professor has gotten the ax…” said Peter Bonilla of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education to The Washington Post. The firing of two professors already this week has raised many questions about whether or not the faculty of Mount St. Mary's has the ability to oppose Newman or his policies without jeopardizing their employment with the university. Questions have also been raised about whether or not this week’s firings infringe on the faculty’s right to free speech.

Faculty members are scared. One faculty member, who chose to remain anonymous, told Inside Higher Ed, "It's terrifying, and nobody is safe…it feels like the end of what so many of us have sacrificed for”.

Samantha Heuring
Levitt Law Firm, Law Clerk

Tyler Webb
Levitt Law Firm, Senior Law Clerk

Grenoble, Ryan. "College President Fires Professors Who Criticized His 'Drown the Bunnies' Comment." HUFFPOST COLLEGE. Huffington Post, 09 Feb. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.
Schisler, Rebecca, and Ryan Golden. "Mount President's Attempt to Improve Retention Rate Included Seeking Dismissal of 20-25 First-Year Students." The Mountain Echo. N.p., 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.

"Freshman Retention Rate." Us News & World Report. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2016.


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