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Ward Museum move intensifies with changed locks and imminent layoffs

(Left to right) SU Facilities VP Eric Berkheimer, Chief of Staff Eli Modlin, public relations officer Jason Rhodes and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Eric Stewart transfer Ward Museum keys after overseeing lock changes March 29. Image courtesy of Liam McGinnes.

Salisbury University sent a team of campus officials to change the Ward Museum's locks March 29, restricting employee access to the building without SU's approval. The development comes 10 days after a press release stated SU and the Ward Foundation would maintain their operating agreement through July 1.

SUPD officers and maintenance workers accompanied Chief of Staff Eli Modlin, public relations officer Jason Rhodes and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Eric Stewart to make the transfer.

Ward Museum Interim Director Brittany Andrew said employees were given two hours the next morning to gather personal items and vacate the building. Ward employees will be laid off at the conclusion of the operating agreement, though some will gain employment through SU.

Ward Museum Director of Education Brenda Miller said SU gave no prior notice regarding any changes before informing employees that the museum's artifacts could not be removed.

"There was really no attempt to communicate with us before they came and told us we cannot move anything offsite," Miller said. "A half hour later they were outside changing the locks on the building."

While museum employees were blindsided by these developments, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Karen Olmstead said it was motivated by a need to ensure all museum property is accounted for.

"We got word that they were moving things out of the museum, not that I think there is anything nefarious at all, but we need to sit down together to divide up all of the property," Olmstead said. "Because they did that without telling us, we had to change the locks on the building and control access."

"We feel very responsible for the artwork – it's very valuable."

Museum employees were working on moving necessary materials for the Ward World Championship planned April 21-23, including prize ribbons to be etched, according to Miller.

"We had no intention of moving anything owned by SU offsite," she said.

As a result of the changed locks, museum employees must ask for prior consent from SU to enter the building, though Olmstead maintains that employees will have access to the workspace to continue daily work and plan the world championship competition.

Ward employees still face restricted building access and are currently all working remotely with limited access to materials. SU and the Ward Museum cite miscommunication as a catalyst for the change in access.

"Everything about the actions being taken tell us that we are not welcome at that building," Miller said. "It sends this message of trying to shut down our efforts to continue the legacy of the Ward Foundation."

Ward employees remain steadfast in their preparation for the world championship despite staff cuts and restricted access. Miller hopes new support from former employees and the bird carving community will ensure the 50th world championship's success.

Public discourse regarding the Ward Museum continues to escalate, with a rise in calls for consistent communication and transparency for the entities involved. Miller said SU's actions are not matched by adequate communication.

"Actions speak louder than words, but the words have not been very forthcoming either."



News Editor

Featured image courtesy of Liam McGinnes

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