The embattled Mount St. Mary's University president resigned Monday amid growing criticism in recent weeks that drew national attention to the small Catholic university and stoked a debate over academic freedom.
Simon Newman had pledged to press a controversial overhaul of academics and finances at the Emmitsburg school, which has about 2,300 students. His resignation is effective immediately.
"I care deeply about the school, and the recent publicity relating to my leadership has become too great of a distraction to our mission of educating students," Newman said in a statement released by the university. "It was a difficult decision, but I believe it is the right course of action for the Mount at this time."
School officials did not make Newman available for questions Monday night.
Karl Einolf, dean of the Richard J. Bolte Sr. School of Business, was named by the board of trustees as acting president. Einolf spent five years working for the Sprint Corp. before arriving at Mount St. Mary's in 1998. He became a professor in 2010 and served six years as the director of the university's honors program. He has published papers in business and economics journals, according to his biography on the university website.
Newman drew criticism from alumni and educators after he fired two professors and demoted the provost as controversy over his policies mounted.
Among the most incendiary of Newman's ideas was to weed out struggling freshmen by encouraging them to leave the university. The move was intended to bolster Mount St. Mary's student retention rate and national ranking.
Criticism escalated after the college newspaper quoted Newman referring to students as bunnies that should be drowned or shot. Newman later apologized and said his words were taken out of context.
The American Association of University Professors wrote an open letter to Newman, urging him to reinstate one of the faculty members who had tenure and was fired without an administrative hearing, an action it characterized as "fundamentally at odds with basic standards of academic due process."
A separate petition signed by thousands of professors from across the country circulated on the Internet and demanded that both Mount St. Mary's professors be reinstated. Petitioners argued that the circumstances of the firings raised questions about "intellectual freedom" at the university.
Newman later reinstated them.
In early February, faculty members announced that they had voted 87-3 to ask Newman to resign.
Newman rejected the faculty's demand for his resignation, telling scores of cheering students at a rally in Emmitsburg: "I'm not going to stop."
He had some support from the board of trustees and students.
A survey last month of about 60 percent of Mount students found a majority supported Newman. The student government association polled 951 students in its survey. About 76 percent voted in favor of Newman, and 24 percent voted against his leadership, according to an email from the student government leadership.
Board members could not be reached Monday night to comment.
"The board is grateful to President Newman for his many accomplishments over the past year, including strengthening the University's finances, developing a comprehensive strategic plan for our future, and bringing many new ideas to campus that have benefited the entire Mount community," John Coyne, chairman of the Mount St. Mary's University Board of Trustees, said in a statement. "We thank him for his service."
Joseph Baldacchino, a 1970 graduate and outspoken critic of Newman, expressed relief at his resignation.
"This has just been an unbelievable situation, absolutely unbelievable," Baldacchino said. "The board stuck with him for so long, when he did so many scandalous things."
Newman was named president of Mount St. Mary's, the second-oldest Catholic university in America, in December 2014
He succeeded Thomas H. Powell, who had been president of the university for a decade.
Newman had 30 years of experience in business and finance and served as managing director of JP Capital Partners, a private equity firm, and CEO of Cornerstone Management Group, an investment and advisory company. He had started four businesses in his career and said he raised more than $3 billion in equity funding.
Upon taking the job, Newman, who grew up in England, said he hoped to "raise a lot of capital and start a lot of programs and start the university on a more aggressive growth trajectory."
In a statement released by the university Monday night, the school's deans and department chairs expressed "thanks to Simon Newman for his work on our behalf and wish him well in his future endeavors. We also express our gratitude to the Board of Trustees for their leadership. We look forward to working closely with Acting President Karl Einolf in the coming months."