Mount St. Mary’s Tells Tenured Professor It Fired That He Remains on the Payroll but Is Suspended

February 12, 2016

André Chung for The Chronicle
Thane M. Naberhaus, fired earlier this week as a tenured associate professor of philosophy at the private Maryland institution, has received a new letter suggesting the "possibility of conciliation."
This week, Thane M. Naberhaus received a letter stating that he had been terminated from Mount St. Mary’s University. He was escorted to his car and banned from the Maryland campus. His dismissal provoked outrage from many academics who said that the university had trampled on his rights as a tenured professor.

Two days later, Mr. Naberhaus, an associate professor of philosophy, got another message: He remained on the payroll, the new letter stated, but he was suspended from the faculty. The letter, signed by Simon P. Newman, the university’s embattled president, encouraged Mr. Naberhaus to meet with campus officials so that they could explain "the reasons for the president’s decision and explore the possibility of conciliation of the dispute between us."

André Chung for The Chronicle
The new letter, dated Wednesday and signed by Simon P. Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s U. of Maryland, encourages Thane M. Naberhaus to meet with university officials to "explore the possibility of conciliation of the dispute between us."
The letter, obtained by The Chronicle, also said that as a tenured faculty member, he had the right to attend "an initial in-person meeting to advise you of the reasons behind the decision" and to invoke a "notice and appeal" process. It then asserted that Mr. Naberhaus had declined to participate in such a meeting on Monday, an accusation that he disputes.

"The due process is supposed to occur before someone is terminated" if they have tenure, he said. "You’re going to fire me first and then have talks about whether the firing was justified or not? That is crazy."

Mr. Naberhaus has vowed not to teach at the university again until Mr. Newman and John E. Coyne III, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, resign. Professors on the campus will meet on Friday to discuss scheduling a vote on a no-confidence resolution against Mr. Newman, who has been widely criticized for comments he made about a controversial freshman-retention plan.

Meanwhile, the abrupt firings of Mr. Naberhaus and Ed Egan, a nontenured professor who is the former faculty adviser to the campus newspaper, The Mountain Echo, continue to draw outrage from academics and free-speech groups.

On Thursday leaders of the American Philosophical Association said the university’s actions had raised "serious concerns" about the institution’s respect for academic freedom, tenure, and shared governance. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a free-speech group, sent a letter to Mr. Newman again criticizing his actions and asking for a response by February 18. And Germain Grisez, an emeritus professor of Christian ethics at Mount St. Mary’s, sent a letter to the university’s faculty calling on those with tenure to fight back by joining the new campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors.

Mr. Egan said on Thursday that, as far as he knows, he remains fired. Mr. Naberhaus said he wasn’t sure whether he was still officially a university employee.

Christian A. Kendzierski, a spokesman for the university, did not respond to numerous questions about the professors’ employment status. In a letter to parents on Wednesday, Mr. Newman stated that the professors had been fired and had "violated a number of our university policies and our code of ethics."

‘Apparently, I’m Not Cooperating’

Mr. Naberhaus said the university had not yet provided details about why he was fired in the first place. He also challenged the administration’s claim that he had refused to attend the meeting this week to discuss his firing. He said he had decided not to attend after he was told that he could not record the meeting, nor could he have legal counsel present. The university did not respond to questions about Mr. Naberhaus’s account.

"They’re putting it on me," Mr. Naberhaus said. "Apparently, I’m not cooperating."

Members of the university’s faculty met twice on Wednesday: once with Mr. Newman and Pauline A. Engelstatter, vice president for university affairs, and again for a gathering limited to the faculty. At the latter meeting, a no-confidence vote in Mr. Newman was discussed, according to several professors who attended. Faculty members will meet again on Friday and will probably schedule a vote.

They also passed a resolution with near-unanimous support calling for Mr. Naberhaus and Mr. Egan to be reinstated.

Mr. Naberhaus said he was pleased to see such a movement growing among the faculty. The local AAUP chapter, created just last week, has grown substantially already, he said. Still, he’d like to see his colleagues be less passive and speak out more about what he considers to be the failures of Mr. Newman’s leadership. "I’ve seen people just give him far too much benefit of the doubt," he said.

Mr. Naberhaus, for one, isn’t standing down: Even if he is reinstated, he says he won’t teach on the campus again until both Mr. Newman and Mr. Coyne leave.

"There’s so much damage being done to the Mount right now," Mr. Naberhaus said. "I just want us to get through it." He didn’t believe that could happen while Mr. Newman and Mr. Coyne remained at the helm.

If the two men stepped down, Mr. Naberhaus said, "we could say that we overcame this — the faculty, students, and alumni rose up and got rid of people." Then, he said, the university could tell prospective students: "We re-established ourselves on things we believe in, and you should come here."

Sarah Brown writes about a range of higher-education topics, including sexual assault, race on campus, and Greek life. Follow her on Twitter @Brown_e_Points, or email her at sarah.brown@chronicle.com.