Incoming SU President makes good first impression

In a friendly atmosphere, as laughter mingled with compliments, the new president of Salisbury University outlined his philosophy of education.

Dr. Charles Wight.

“I really hope what we do is, we teach students how the world works and how they can change it for good,” Dr.  Charles Wight told faculty, students, staff and community members who gathered in Holloway Hall on Friday morning to welcome him.

A couple years ago, while teaching a class at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he was president five years before accepting the position at SU, Wight was talking to students about technologies people carry around in their pockets and explaining how the batteries work.

A wide-eyed student told him she suddenly realized the class wasn’t about theory, but about how the world works.

“That was a moment. That was a big deal for me,” Wight said, to hearty applause.

“We’re going to get to know each other over the next several months,” he told the audience.

“I will be meeting with many, many of you, asking lots of questions about Salisbury University …  and you will be asking questions of me, getting to know me,” Wight said.

“So far, almost everything we know about each other is stuff that Google tells us, right? And that is not always the greatest picture.”

Known as the students’ president, Wight, a native of Virginia who has family on Deale, Md., will take over as SU president on July 1, replacing Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, who led the university to national distinction during her 18-year presidency.

Wight was selected from a small pool of finalists recommended by a search and screening committee led by Regent D’Ana Johnson, who was also at SU on Friday.

Representatives from SU faculty, staff, students and alumni and members of the community comprised the search committee.

Wight, who accepts invitations to visit classrooms and spends time talking to students, said he likes to have fun. Once, he arrived at a student meeting and immediately had large pythons placed around his neck as he was photographed.

“That was OK,” he said, hesitantly, to more laughter.

“I’m not a really big snake lover but it was OK. But then one of the snakes disappeared into my coat jacket and started rummaging around in there so I said, ‘OK. That’s enough of that,’” he said.

Another time he agreed to take a pie in the face for a fraternity raising money for worthwhile causes.

Introduced in Holloway Hall by Robert Caret, chancellor of the University of Maryland System, who praised his accomplishments, as well as the high standing of SU, a beaming Wight walked to the podium and said, “Wow. No pressure, right?”

“This is an amazing moment and an amazing opportunity, so I thank you for the opportunity. I have received many messages from people on campus welcoming me to Salisbury University and a lot of help with the transition already. Thank you all for that,” he said.

Now that an interim president is in place at Weber, he is free to begin learning about SU.

“The first thing I plan to do it to go on a listening tour. It’s important for us to get to know each other before I start making important decisions and start changing things.

“I’m very fortunate in the fact that Salisbury University is in great shape and is a Maryland University of National Distinction. Things are going really well.

“We will make some decisions that will take this institution to the next level but I think I’m going to listen first before I start making those decisions,” Wight said.

“Going to college really opens students’ eyes. It is exceptionally important that every institution is not only welcoming to all kinds of students of all economic backgrounds but also that it’s a place where people feel immediately that they belong,” Wight said.

“A college education is so important for opening doors to students, not only for job opportunities but for their own cultural enrichments and civic engagement. So, they must be culturally and linguistically competent,” he said.

SU, he said, is a leader in the community, a necessary attribute for economic prosperity and social justice.

He thanked Dudley-Eshbach “for the great position this university is in.”

Dudley-Eshbach, who welcomed Johnson and Caret, made  them, and Wight, laugh when she said she had no torch to pass, but she would hand Wight the club-like mace used at formal academic occasions.

Laughing, Wight said it will come in handy during faculty meetings.

“It has been a great honor to serve Salisbury University eight years as your president. I am so grateful for all of the … teachers, students and staff who have greatly enriched the life and history of Salisbury University,” Dudley-Eshbach said.

“As I’ve said many times, change is good. I’m honored to serve and equally honored to turn over the leadership of this institution to Dr. Charles A. Wight,” she said.

Johnson said the outgoing president has consistently “walked the walk and talked the talk and you are wonderful.”

“I know I feel like I am going to cry. I speak from the heart,” Johnson said.

Caret said he believes the transition will be seamless and called  SU one of the finest institutions in the country.

“That’s a tribute to all of you but it’s also a tribute to the leader. Leadership does matter. Leadership is not something to be taken lightly,” he said.

“If you’re going to actually change things and make them better and better you need leadership,” Caret said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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