Salisbury University President Charles Wight’s decision to step down at the end of the 2021-22 academic year has left the institution at a crossroads as the second search for SU’s president in five years is now underway.
The University System of Maryland Board of Regents launched a national search for SU’s tenth president on Oct. 7, led by its Assistant Secretary Robert Rauch, who will chair the SU President Search and Screening Committee.
USM Chancellor Jay Perman said in an email announcement the committee “will reflect the [SU] community, with representation among students, faculty, staff, alumni and stakeholders,” and is currently accepting nominations for members from the campus community.
In addition to the search committee’s efforts, the Board of Regents will also consider identified candidates and input from Academic Search, a national higher education executive search firm, as well as SU’s shared governance and leadership groups, Perman said.
Perman is scheduled to host a town hall Nov. 11 at SU to “hear the kind of background and experience – the character, qualities and perspectives – that [campus community members] want in [their] next leader.”
“I look forward to working with the entire SU community to identify the next leader of Salisbury University – one as dedicated as President Wight to the institution, its people and its vision of excellence,” Perman said.
Wight’s sudden departure due to health reasons will mark the end of an over three-year run as SU’s president after spending five years as president of Weber State University in Utah.
“[Retiring from the position] was a personal decision and one that will allow me to spend more time with my family and to take care of my own health,” Wight said in a recent press release.
Perman touted Wight’s accomplishments during his brief tenure at SU, praising the university’s academic growth, expansion of diversity and inclusion and the campus’ response to COVID-19.
“[Wight’s] commitment to securing the safety of his SU community and surrounding neighborhoods while minimizing disruption to the university’s academic and administrative enterprises required an enormous amount of planning – and an enormous amount of work,” Perman said. “That Dr. Wight has pulled it off is a credit to him and to the incredibly talented team he’s assembled.”
Wight will remain at the university into fall 2022 as a part-time faculty member in SU’s chemistry department.
Wight will shadow the path taken by his predecessor, Janet Dudley-Eshbach, who has continued as a Spanish professor at SU following her nearly two-decade tenure as SU’s eighth president.
Dudley-Eshbach said it was “very considerate” of Wight to announce his intention to step down as president during the fall semester, just as she did in 2017, to allow the USM and search committee a lengthy opportunity to identify potential candidates before the position becomes vacant at the end of the academic year.
Though the two presidents each faced distinct obstacles, Dudley-Eshbach acknowledged the immense challenges presented by the pandemic and its inevitable impact on Wight’s tenure.
“[COVID-19 has been an] extraordinarily difficult circumstance, and I think he has dealt with that very well,” Dudley-Eshbach said.
As the committee begins its preliminary sessions, Dudley-Eshbach said stability and the candidates’ fit in a niche Eastern Shore community must take the forefront.
“[The position] does require a high level of energy … and ideally the next president would be able to make a long-term commitment to the institution,” Dudley-Eshbach said.
Candidates’ identities will not be publicly disclosed during the search process “to facilitate the recruitment of high-caliber candidate pools … [as] many of [the] candidates will hold key positions at other institutions and will only submit an application if confidentiality is guaranteed,” according to SU’s presidential search portal.
Once appointed by the search committee, Wight’s successor is expected to assume office July 1.
Nominations for search committee members should be emailed to SUfirstname.lastname@example.org with the individual’s name, email address, SU affiliation and benefit to the search process.
By JAKOB TODD
Featured image courtesy of Salisbury University Public Relations Office.