Subject: Please remove defamatory articles

Email to scott.jaschik@insidehighered.com

CC: mark.belles@insidehighered.com; editor@insidehighered.com; linc@quadpartners.com; dan@quadpartners.com

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Dear Scott,

CC: Mark Belles (CEO), Doug Lederman (Editor), Lincoln E. Frank (Quad Partners); Daniel P. Neuwirth (Quad Partners)

I should have written to you some time ago, but you need to refrain from continuing to write false, scandalized and defamatory articles about me and my time as President of Mount St. Mary’s University. You have had your fun, but this now has to stop and you need to remove and correct the falsehoods in your numerous articles about me.

Here is your latest:

https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/11/23/mount-st-marys-has-unusually-successful-year-admissions

I am sorry if this letter is quite long, but you wrote so many false and defamatory things about me — there is a lot to correct.

Defamation

First, let’s just deal with the defamation. I use the word defamation here not in a strict legal sense, but to describe what are completely false allegations that were designed to cause unfair damage to me and my reputation, and to instill hate and distrust so I would get fired or quit my job. In my opinion, many of these false allegations were made with malice: the people who crafted these false narratives and character attacks knew or should have known they were false, but they did it anyway.

During my tenure as President of the Mount I was gaslighted and brutally defamed by a professor group or “cabal” that formed around some liberal arts professors and their agents who were opposed to the changes I was charged with making by the board. The term cabal was not coined by me, but the words of the university’s legal counsel who investigated the situation. The cabal did everything they could to avoid any direct discussion with me about any of their concerns, such as they really existed, and encouraged others to avoid direct discussion as well. The cabal used students and other agents to spread false, toxic narratives to the media about me, my administration and the changes we had to make, thus putting these young people in harm’s way.

Your newspaper published many of these toxic narratives about me, and it is now time for you to correct them, remove them, and tell the real truth about me and my time at Mount St. Mary’s. I have refrained from commenting on this childishness to date, because I do not wish to detract from the success of the school. However, since you persist in continuing to perpetuate these falsehoods, it now has to end. It is important you do this because the Mount is a bellwether for other struggling universities that need help from professionals in order to survive; professionals like me.

The following is a partial list of defamatory and false claims about me and my administration that has been reported in the media, and on social media or verbally communicated to people. Please remove all reference to these false claims from your publication:

  • I attempted to kick out struggling students (disproved by the board investigation, and an investigation by middle states. The original claim was based on innuendos, non-sequiturs, parsed sentences and falsehoods)
  • Used a survey to work out which students should be kicked out (disproved by board investigation and an investigation by the Attorney General for MD. The survey instrument was approved by the IRB)
  • Said “You have to drown the bunnies… put a Glock to their heads” (manufactured quote. This combination of words I never said. What was said has been misquoted, scandalized, and had context removed. The false quote has been repeated often in your publication and it has been used to support two highly defamatory narratives, (a) I did not care about students at all and encouraged faculty to think of them as bunnies worth drowning or shooting, and (b) I wanted to goose the retention statistics by kicking out students not likely to succeed. )
  • The “secret” goal of the retention program was to kick out students to boost the retention statistics before the federal reporting deadline: (after the retention program and refund plan was already in place and budgeted, I learned from Institutional Research that if students took the refund before half way through the semester then it would positively impact retention stats. It was a surprise to me at the time, because I thought retention stats were based on matriculated students. After relaying this piece of information to the Provost and assistant provost, they twisted the meaning to the cabal and to reporters so my intentions were falsely reported. It is a pure anachronism to claim that improving the retention statistics of the university by somehow kicking out students early could ever have been part of any “secret” plan. )
  • Attempted to reduce the schools’ Catholic Identify, and other absurd claims including:
  • Ordered the removal of crucifixes
  • Tried to turn the university into a non-Catholic school
  • Stole money from the seminary, or diverted funds to the university intended for the seminary
  • Encouraged students to watch pornography by offering HBO
  • Tried to close, or reduce the departments of philosophy and history
  • Attempted to eliminate the D1 sports program
  • Harbored plans to kick the seminary off the campus

Any many, many other false and absurd narratives targeting specific interest groups, and designed to inflame hate and negative emotions towards me and my administration

Retention Program

Your publication’s characterization of the retention program we developed is highly inaccurate, and defamatory and you need to stop describing it that way.

The program was conceived and designed by faculty members with decades of experience and post-doctoral research in student success. Much of the approach was modeled after work done by Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth. The survey used was based on other standard batteries designed to understand critical cognitive abilities and other factors known to be relevant to student success: it was approved by the IRB prior to its use. The retention program was mischaracterized, scandalized and deliberately derailed by the provost and other faculty administrators without first understanding what it was, or the intention behind it.

The purpose and design of the retention program was to get students help early so they would transition well to their college life. It also identified areas where the student could improve their abilities to learn, to focus, to concentrate and to handle emotional challenges better. It was designed to start immediately the students reached campus. I have lots of materials that were used to describe this program to members of faculty, which I would be happy to write about. Our work was cutting edge, and if implemented it would have resulted in significant improvements in retention and student success and wellbeing.

Perhaps the saddest part of the toxic narratives about the retention program (mainly published in the Washington Post) was the false and ugly claim that there was a plan to kick out depressed students. The truth was that we tried to help depressed and troubled students. Mount St. Mary’s attracted many students who had experienced adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and there were far too many who were depressed, suffered from mental illness, and a shocking number who attempted suicide. My retention team decided to do something about it, and looked for ways to identify students who may need help and refer them to one of the under-utilized professional counselors on campus.

As an editor and reporter, I would strongly urge you to interview some depressed students and then interview the parents of someone who has lost a child through suicide at college — as I have. I hope the experience will encourage you to never be so cavalier and cruel in your reporting of this important issue of mental health ever again, or on good efforts to try and address the problem.

When I arrived at the Mount, the university had been preying (sic, I wished they had been praying) on unsophisticated and first generation students by lowering its acceptance criteria (down to SAT of 800) and then not systematically helping the students when they got to the university and struggled. These weaker students were needed for the university to meet its admissions goals and remain solvent. There was, however, a clear distinction between struggling students and students who did not want to be there.

In the years before I arrived, around 15–30 first year students were academically dismissed every Christmas, many had received little or no help. Only 30% of first year faculty members made any effort to refer students for help, despite the university having one of the best Learning Services programs of any university in Maryland. The faculty governance committees had turned down repeatedly a request by Learning Services to offer a bridge program for students who, based on SAT and GPA, may need a little more academic help with their transition to college.

There was a remarkable lack of concern among some faculty and administrators about the wellbeing of struggling students. Many faculty considered helping students beyond their subject was not part of their job description — so they did nothing. Other members of faculty were superb and were very active in the volunteer program called “Mount Cares” to help students.

Most of the students who left the university (transfers mainly, but also dismissed students and withdrawals) knew they wanted to leave after only a couple of weeks. Many stopped going to class, preferring to play video games: these kids wanted to flunk out — it was often the only way they could convince their parents the school was not right for them. Some became belligerent and disruptive. These students who did not wish to be there were encouraged to stay, only to be academically dismissed at Christmas when they were charged the full cost for the semester ($12–15K). Many left with few or no transferable credits. Also dismissed were some students who wanted help, but did not get it. For the record, the average student who would leave had a 2.6 GPA (high school); the average who stayed had a 2.7 GPA.

It was exactly this unseemly and immoral practice of encouraging students who did not wish to be there to stay, not helping them, kicking them out at Christmas, coupled with some faculty’s attitude of indifference to helping the struggling students, that led me to the retention initiative.

For students who did not want to be there, we simply increased the refund. Like a money back guarantee, if things did not work out at the University and they left before half way through the first semester they could get their tuition reimbursed. We would also make more efforts to find a better home for those students where they would be happy. This refund was budgeted to cost the university $300,000. That was it.

Your paper’s coverage of the retention program is hopelessly inaccurate. Here are some quotes I said which you should use in future (as opposed to the synthesized, false quote you keep reporting)

Of the existing retention efforts — where so many students were falling through the cracks and being ignored

“We are not exactly being good shepherds here are we?”

Clarification with Dr. Greg Murry about his absurd and inflammatory claim that I had wanted to kick out struggling students

“If a student needs help, we help them. That is what we do. The program is designed to get students the best help we can. If you are short of helpers, call me, I will volunteer myself.”

Do these quotes and facts jive with the twisted version of events fed to you by the Faculty Group?

It is true that following 9 months of heavy gaslighting, I made some sarcastic, hyperbolic comments to a faculty member who was in charge of first year programs. The worst thing I said was: “Greg you are a *** idiot, you have no idea what damage you have done”, in a private conversation, after he revealed that he had derailed the perfectly good retention program and spread a scandalized version of it to fellow faculty members without bothering to understand the program in the first place. I apologized for any comments I made. It appears Dr. Murry was himself misled by the provost.

Within days of being told about the derailing of the retention program, I learned the results of the mid-terms. In the first year class of 510 students there were 290 deficiencies (failing grade): students cannot graduate with a deficiency. By Christmas, the faculty administration who had mischaracterized, scandalized and derailed a perfectly good program, oversaw the academic dismissal of 26 students (7 dropped out). All dismissed students were charged for the privilege of being kicked out with no transferable credits and with no help in finding somewhere else to go; many of them were not receiving any help.

As I am sure you realize, once the toxic narrative about the retention program went public, and was amplified and exaggerated by “Inside Higher Ed” and other publications, the only way to reasonably defend myself would have been to tell the truth about what was really happening. Truth would be to reveal how the university was preying on unsophisticated students only to kick them out every Christmas. I could not do that, so I took the hit: it is what you have to do as a leader in higher ed these days.

Other Mischaracterizations

Your many other characterizations in the articles you have written that I was impatient, willfully ignored shared governance, fired tenured professors purely for disloyalty, and many other negative allegations are also either completely untrue, or so heavily one sided and editorialized so as to make them misleading and possibly also defamatory.

Your coverage of the Mount St. Mary’s scandal appears to be merely a repetition and amplification of the toxic and false narratives you have been fed by members of the professor group that attacked me. When the scandal was happening, the administration and the board at the Mount were perplexed as to why there was never any accurate reporting of the events. All media outlets, including “Inside Higher Ed”, only reported on the cabal’s talking points and twisted narratives like this one — including its HBO-like scandalized video of some loony running around shouting (that is supposed to be me, right Scott?):

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/03/01/president-quits-mount-st-marys

I would later find out after I was fired, that the board knew of the apparent complicity between the professor group and the media. Quoting from board documents, which reported on their own investigation, it appears Dr. Naberhaus claimed before he launched his character attacks “We have the media in our back pocket, it is just a question of when to play the card.” Perhaps you could enlighten me, and your readers, on what that phrase meant in your case?

The Real Situation at Mount St. Mary’s

There is a lot more to the Mount St. Mary’s situation that needs to be told, and you need to know before you launch another editorial missive against me or my team. Many of your readers’ schools are failing, and many of these schools lack the understanding, knowledge and skills to fix the institutions. Most institutions like the Mount, don’t know what they don’t know. You have far more positive things to learn from me about how the Mount was helped which will be of benefit to your readers.

Let’s start with the results of the strategic review I completed in the first 3 months. This review revealed in gory detail what was really going on at the university, along with a plan for turning around the institution.

To begin with, the Mount had no accounting system and no accountability. There were slush funds totaling $2 million dollars into which around $0.7 million poured every year, but there was no accounting or oversight of where the money went. The school labored under a pile of junk-rated debt, 3x the level considered prudent for a university with a small endowment. Large though the debt was, it was dwarfed by the deferred maintenance mountain. The school had so mortgaged its future, and kicked so many cans for other administrations to pick up, that it was $125 million behind the starting line when I got there.

The Mount lost money for most of the previous decade, and only made a surplus when it won the death lottery — allowing it to collect a bequest from a doting alumni. The annual deficits were funded by adding to the debt pile, or by entering expensive contracts with vendors in exchange for upfront cash payments. In 2014, the school was tapped out at the bank. A year before I got there, the Mount unexpectedly ran out of cash, resulting in an emergency loan from the endowment to meet payroll. It was this near-death experience that led to a desire by the board to find a president (me) who was fiscally responsible, understood how to reposition the university for success, and who knew how to lead.

The Mount’s academic offerings were old, even for a liberal arts school. The university offered almost all degrees that had the highest levels of graduate unemployment, and almost none of the degrees that would lead to high paying jobs and careers. The Mount rarely added new degree programs, but when it did, they were chosen in a vacuum of facts or data to support projected demand for the program. Many new programs were simply pet projects of senior professors. Most new programs failed.

The strategic review revealed a long list of blunders, short-sighted decision making that led directly to poor performance in almost every aspect of the institution’s governance and operations. Conservatively, the entire institution should still make money by charging $25,000 less for a degree — and deliver better value. There are too many issues to elucidate here, but I would be happy to do so if we met.

Perhaps most concerning was a poisonous, bullying culture that created an air of complete disrespect and distrust, especially between members of the faculty and the administration. The distrust level was kept in place because of conniving and manipulation, in which some administrators would carefully control the flow and access to information, so that good intentioned people would draw the wrong conclusion to events, or worse, become emotionally outraged and angry. As we all know, an emotionally adamant individual who acts on their premature cognitive commitments, is never open to hearing new information or to changing their minds. (Just look at the current state of our politics).

Two days after I started as President, Fox Business News listed the Mount to be one of the next 18 universities likely to close. The CFO projected that unless immediate actions weren’t taken, the Mount only had 5 more years before it went out of business.

The academic departments at the Mount considered themselves to be excellent. Faculty members told me how great they were all the time, and suggested that all the university needed was for me to raise donations, and put more money in marketing to let everyone know how great the place was. For a while I believed them, and told the faculty that they were the true heart of the institution.

I did a lot of good things for the faculty. I doubled their academic support budget and gave them a 6 1/2 % increase in base pay — the largest in over a decade, paid for by savings I made (see below). Unlike the rest of the employees, the faculty were spared any reductions in headcount — for fear they would embark on a crusade against the administration — which would have been consistent with history. I promised the faculty that the best security would come from driving growth through new programs.

Just before the public character attacks started on me, and possibly a catalyst for sparking the attacks in the first place, the university received some professional market research reports (Simpson Scarborough) which showed the school had a student satisfaction rating (as measure by Net Promoter Score) of -9. A negative score was rare. Most schools scored between 20 and 60. The score of -9 was considered by our market research firm as one of the lowest ever measured in higher ed. If you were an African American, the score was -48. These terrible research results betrayed not only the simple fact that the academic programs at the Mount were poor, but there existed an ugly culture of passive aggressiveness and bullying towards minorities, the LGBTQ community and non-Catholics at the University — a fact later confirmed in surveys of school counselors.

The Core Problem

The worst rated departments (by student ratings) were Mathematics, Modern Languages, Philosophy and History. The most subsidized was the pre-law program. These same departments also boasted some of the lowest levels of productivity. For example, modern languages had 8 full time faculty and around 2 adjuncts, but graduated only one person when I was there. Philosophy had 9 full time faculty and several adjuncts, including the two highest paid professors in the university, but it graduated a mere 6 students. Some department like German never graduated anyone in over a decade. The school needed to graduate 2.5–3.0 students per faculty member per year to cover costs.

The only way these bloated departments could justify their heavy headcount was to fill the core curriculum with their courses — which resulted in a 68 credit core. The core was poorly researched, poorly taught, and was a major reason for students transferring out of the institution (the Mount had a 30+% transfer out rate). It was liked by only 3% of students. Surprisingly, faculty had little or no training in how to teach.

The faculty leadership had decided, without any evidence or data, that the school should compete on its core curriculum. Criticism of the core was often framed as going against the very principals of a liberal arts education, and even against the ethos of a Catholic University. Years before I arrived, the research firm Stamats told the faculty and administration that competing on the core was not a good idea because students did not choose universities based on it. The faculty and administration buried the report from Stamats and delivered a bloated core anyway. The core was a full employment act for the college of liberal arts.

It will be no surprise to learn that the cabal was formed from faculty and their agents from these worst performing departments of the university, plus the most subsidized. Some faculty did not appear to work very hard, and benefited financially from things staying the way they were. Thane Naberhaus, for example, earned six figures including his generous benefits package, and he only taught one half of one class in the spring semester of 2016, as compared to 3 or 4 classes for most other professors. (His other duties as head of the honors program were transferred to another faculty member with a full teaching load, who did it for a small incremental stipend).

Saving the Mount

Despite the sizeable challenges when I arrived, I assembled a strong team quickly and got a lot done. For most of my time as President I loved my job, and by most measures, I was very good at it.

In addition to reducing non-people expenses by $3 million, we reduced the amount of debts and long term obligations by $12 million. We started initiatives to create new degree programs in high demand areas such as PPE (Philosophy Politics and Economics), entrepreneurialism, data sciences, forensic accounting and cyber-security. Due to my connections, I forged a JV with Cambridge University, and agreed to host a summer program in the US (the first and only) with Cambridge Security Initiative.

While I was there I negotiated an MOU with a group that was prepared to donate assets to the university and create other joint ventures to advance catholic education, the combined value of which exceeded $100 million. This arrangement represented by far the largest potential donation and expansion in the university’s history.

I also proposed a $500 million joint venture with the FEMA to set up an advanced international center for emergency preparedness using University land a resources. This expanded center would help states and city administrators handle disasters like earthquakes, fires, hurricanes, floods and — pandemics. (I wonder where we would be today if that project had moved forward?).

While I was President, I significantly expanded shared governance — adding faculty members to committees on many aspects of the universities strategic planning, called The Project Oversight Board. Since the governing documents were convoluted and often contradicted common practice, for every decision I made concerning shared governance, I did exactly what the University Chief Compliance Officer and Provost recommended.

Energy levels on campus soared while I was President. After making changes to sports marketing, our Basketball games sold out for the first time in nearly a decade. We invested heavily in sports programs which led to 170 new students the school would never have otherwise. Due in no small part to my focus on doubling down on our best sports programs, we had conference winning teams and national champions in Men’s Basketball, Athletics and Rugby — a feat that had not happened in years.

We hosted lectures and events that sold out venues and overflow venues. We talked about Race in America with Tony Batts, former chief of Police for Baltimore, and Immigration with experts on the refugee crisis. One event I organized before being fired was a conference on international security and information, the scheduled speakers included Robert Mueller (FBI), Sir Richard Dearlove (MI6), George Tenet (CIA), Gen Stanley McChrystal (Joint Special Operations), and others. They were going to talk about disinformation: Oh the irony.

The work me and my team completed at the Mount has allowed it to exist. The sports program, on a fully rolled-thru basis, has gone from a loss of $1 million per year to a contribution of around $3 million. The new subjects I started have also attracted new students. This last year, the Mount has had one of its largest enrollment ever, due in a large way to the changes and initiatives I put in place when I was there.

The student growth, cost reductions and the implementation of a new accounting system (which was bungled after I was fired), has allowed the Mount to survive.

Contrary to your characterizations of me, before I was defamed by the cabal, I was actually incredibly popular and very well-liked and respected by the board, by students, by the administration and by most of the faculty. Your description of me as some sort of corporate hiring mistake is, frankly, so hopelessly wrong that I would request you never repeat it again. The manufactured defamation-fueled scandal, amplified willingly by your newspaper, led directly to getting me fired.

Learned Hatred

The activities of the Professor Group was a form of learned hatred born from manipulation. If their actions sound like a form of Russian propaganda, or psyop operation — you would be right: they followed a disinformation playbook perfectly. It takes a lot of effort to do what they did, and based on the independent investigation conducted by the board at my request, it took 40–50 people to pull it off and months of planning.

During the last couple of weeks as President, I had to endure 2,500–3,000 negative emails per day, mostly hate-filled, thanks in no small part to your publication’s inaccurate and demagoguery-styled reporting. My assistant, who had to read all that hate-mail, had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized. Factions on campus likened me to Hitler and Mussolini. When I was fired, the wives of the members of the cabal broadcast their schadenfreude-laced celebrations on Facebook. Within hours the Facebook page “Mount Family Speaks Out”, which was managed by the cabal, and consistently spread propaganda, vitriol and hate, was taken down.

One day, I hope you truly know what it is like to be gaslighted, defamed, ridiculed and hated, and to then be internationally fired for things you did not do and words you did not say. It really is an out-of-body experience. Perhaps when it happens to you, you will learn how destructive your role as a newspaper editor and amplifier is in creating these academic mobbings, and in spreading misinformation and hate.

You could say that after my experiences at the Mount, I now have a university education in conniving, and an experiential PhD in character assassination from one of America’s finest universities in the field. I fully intend to learn from my experiences, and that will also mean to do everything I can to prevent the spread of hate, distrust and mobbing behavior whenever I can.

As for the Catholic Identity of the Mount? Well, I have a pretty good idea what that is all about too. It is not like any form of Christianity or Catholicism I have ever experienced: the opposite actually.

The Cost and Aftermath

The true cost to the university of the manufactured scandal and the bruises left by the actions of the cabal and their enablers has been enormous.

The Mount lost its deal with Cambridge. The large donation of assets was pulled. The FEMA proposal which would have created 2,000 new jobs never went anywhere. The conference on international security and disinformation was cancelled. Most of the wealthiest board members quit after I was fired. Many high net worth donors, including former Chairmen, refused to ever give the school money. Enrollment was hit by at least 100 students ($3 million per year). The total cost was well over $150 million of money or assets the school would have received — had it not been for the manufactured scandal.

“Inside Higher Ed” had a major role in this economic and reputation damage to Mount St. Mary’s, to its former Chairman and to me and my family.

You may also know, that most members of the cabal got promoted or had their contracts extended. Causing an academic mobbing appears to reward the instigators. As far as I am aware, no disciplinary action was ever taken against the faculty and their agents who defamed me and caused such enormous economic and reputational damage to the university that employed them.

So Scott — I would be happy to talk with you and your editors about the truth. I am only interested in you reporting the truth. You could go out there and find some small shred of information, a rumor perhaps, some kompromat, even someone’s strong negative opinion of me that you can spin into a narrative to justify your inaccurate reporting in the past. But why continue? Why not admit you made a mistake, correct it, and learn from this?

There is lots more to talk about. I know more about all this than you realize and if you are worried at all about saving liberal arts schools, you may want to write very different articles about me in future.

Please confirm your removal of the defamatory article(s) and please let me know if you would like to meet. I live in Maryland and would be happy to come to your offices to chat or have a zoom call.

Yours sincerely

Simon P. Newman

#MSMU #MountStMarys #Defamation #AcademicMobbing #InsideHigherEd #MountProud #HigherEducation #FakeNews #disinformation #HateMongering

CEO. Entrepreneur. Turnaround expert. PE Investor. Former University President. Founded 4 companies. Lived in three continents. Husband and Father of two.