Loyalty is an ethical virtue; the whole concept of duty often depends on it. Loyalty is also the most dangerous of all ethical principles. Misapplied, misinterpreted, followed blindly or carried to extremes, it can lead to absolute wrong. A current controversy at Maryland’s Mount St. Mary’s University illustrates how.
A reliable source obtained information that the school’s president, Simon Newman had argued that the school needed to be ruthless in maintaining high standards by getting rid of less competitive students, and had done so by telling colleagues opposing him, “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.”
The student newspaper reported the conversation, which Newman hasn’t denied, and it was duly published in The Mountain Echo, the student newspaper.
Shortly after the “scoop,” The Mountain Echo’s faculty advisor Ed Egan was fired by Newman for violating the “code of conduct and acceptable use policies.” During the same period in which Egan was fired, Newman did a Michael Corleone on some other “disloyal” lieutenants.” Thane Naberhaus, an associate professor of philosophy, was dismissed after criticizing Newman’s policies, and David Rehm, was stripped of his role as provost after questioning university policies.
The dismissal letter to Naberhaus, signed by Newman, said “As an employee of Mount St. Mary’s University, you owe a duty of loyalty to this university and to act in a manner consistent with the duty. However, your recent actions, in my opinion and that of others, have violated that duty and clearly justify your termination.” Ed Egan says that he was also told that he had been “disloyal.”
I can’t speak to the dismissals of the other employees, but in the case of Egan, his loyalty was where it should be. President Newman doesn’t understand his own job, or the ethical principles applicable in academia. Continue reading