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Chairman of University Steps Down After President’s Comments

The chairman of Mount St. Mary’s University has resigned and the Board of Trustees has elected its first female leader following a furor over the former president’s comments likening struggling freshmen at the Maryland Catholic college to bunnies that should be drowned, the school announced Tuesday.

John E. Coyne III said in a statement that he stepped down as chairman and board member seven months before the expiration of his term to ensure a seamless process for choosing an interim president by the start of next school year. Coyne is vice chairman of Brinker Capital, an investment management firm in Berwyn, Pennsylvania.

Newly elected Chairwoman Mary Kane, a 1984 graduate of the university and former executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that she is looking forward to working with the school’s community “to bring us back together to focus on the Mount’s strong mission.”

In a telephone interview, Kane, president and CEO of Washington-based Sister Cities International, said the school will continue implementing certain changes former president Simon Newman initiated to strengthen its finances and enhance its appeal in the education marketplace. But Kane said the board won’t implement Newman’s divisive student-retention plan, which critics said seemed focused on weeding out, rather than helping, struggling students.

The student newspaper, The Mountain Echo, reported in January that Newman had told a faculty member opposed to the plan: “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.” Newman later acknowledged he used those words and apologized for them.

Coyne called the comment an “unfortunate metaphor” and defended Newman until shortly before Newman resigned Feb. 29. A board investigation of those believed to have helped the student journalists led to the firing and subsequent reinstatement of two faculty members and demotion of the school’s provost.

Newman was widely scorned by academic leaders, and a large majority of the faculty voted for his resignation. A poll initiated by the student government indicated strong student support for Newman’s leadership.

The school said Karl Einolf, dean of the university’s business school, will continue as acting president through June.

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