John Coyne, chair of Mount St. Mary's University's Board of Trustees, stepped down seven months early Monday, saying he wanted a "seamless transition" as the college searches for a new president.
The previous president, Simon Newman, recently resigned after an uproar over controversial comments he made about students at the university who were struggling academically. Coyne was a vocal supporter of Newman.
Coyne became the board chair in February 2014, and his term was set to expire in October. The board appointed Mary D. Kane, an alumna of Mount St. Mary's, as the first female chair of the board at a meeting Monday.
"As my term as chair is nearing an end, I felt that stepping aside now would ensure a seamless transition to naming an interim president," Coyne said in a statement. "It's important for a new president to have a chair of the board at their side, not only at the outset of the process but throughout the entire transition period."
The Emmitsburg college, the second-oldest Roman Catholic university in the country, came under national scrutiny earlier this year after Newman was quoted by the student newspaper as saying that low-performing students should be encouraged to leave the university and comparing them to bunnies that should be shot or drowned.
Newman also fired a couple of faculty members, one of whom had advised the student paper and the other who had publicly criticized him. He subsequently reinstated the fired professors after widespread criticism of his actions by alumni and a national organization of academics.
Newman later apologized for the remarks and said they were taken out of context, but his tenure sparked a debate about academic freedom and whether universities should be run by those without backgrounds in academia. Newman was a businessman who previously worked in private equity.
He resigned as university president Feb. 29.
Coyne, as chairman of the board, publicly backed Newman before his resignation. Coyne was a longtime member of the board and is vice chairman of Brinker Capital, an investment advisory firm in Berwyn, Pa.
Kane, the new board chair, is the president and CEO of Sister Cities International. She is a former secretary of state for Maryland and an executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. She was the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor as Robert L. Ehrlich's running mate in 2010.
At the meeting Monday, the board extended the term of acting President Karl Einolf, the dean of the college's business school, through June.