University president to step down in May

Gov. Larry Hogan with University of Maryland Eastern Shore President Dr. Juliette Bell, left, and Salisbury University President Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, during a visit to Salisbury last spring.

The community and Salisbury University campus were stunned to learn today that Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach, the university’s president for the past 17 years, will step down, effective June 30.

The university made the announcement Wednesday morning, then called a news conference for the afternoon in Holloway Hall, where she arrived, smiling.

“Hi. Is something going on here, today?” she joked in her signature friendly manner.

She’ll step down next year, then take a sabbatical, during which she’ll be an adviser to the university and new president, before returning to the classroom in 2019. Most likely, she’ll teach Spanish at SU.

She said she hopes her successor will remain through the university’s 100-year anniversary in 2025. She considered staying until then, she said, but a new major fundraising campaign will begin soon and she wasn’t sure she could commit to see it through.

The university’s only bilingual president, Dudley-Eshbach called her tenure “a labor of love.”

“After 18 years of getting to know the people of Salisbury University and the larger community, of getting to know the many alumni, I care deeply about what happens next. I think it’s important that there be a good fit with the next president,” she said.

During the sabbatical, she said, Mayor Jake Day has ideas for her to get involved in the community. And, she plans to return to activities she enjoys – playing guitar, spending more time with her grandchildren and traveling with her husband.

Once she made the decision to step down, she said, “I felt 50 pounds lighter.”

“As president, you always have something on your mind. Things are always happening. They happen on holidays and weekends, so it’s kind of non-stop.

“At same time for me, it is kind of bittersweet. It is emotional for me. I shed a few tears.

“The reason for that is, I love this place. This, for me, has been a dream job. There is no better place to live. I’ve lived a few places and I love the Eastern Shore. It’s been emotional for me. I think so highly of the people here,” she said.

The greatest achievement during her tenure has been building a sense of community and maintaining it, she said.

She’s looking forward to returning to the classroom and interacting with students.

“I began teaching at age 25 and that’s what I wanted to do. I miss that. I love interacting with students. There’s not as much time to do that as president as, frankly, I thought there would be,” she said.

In January, she celebrated her 65th birthday. Her husband is 10 years older, “so we’re thinking about where we are in terms of our life,” she said.

Just a week ago at the Greater Salisbury Committee’s anniversary gala, Dudley-Eshbach joked in a speech to the crowd that most university presidents only last about six years in their jobs before moving up or out — and then remarked that she had no plans to go anywhere else.

The announcement of her stepping down came in an email at 10:43 a.m. on Wednesday.

According to students and faculty members who were in the various academic buildings, gasps and other reactive sounds could be heard through the hallways. Only those closest to “Dr. Janet” could have seen the move coming.

“Change is good, for institutions and individuals,” Dudley-Eshbach said in her letter to campus. “Eighteen years is a long tenure for any university president, especially in today’s world.

“On reflection, I am immensely grateful to everyone associated with Salisbury University.  We’ve accomplished so very much together, and my own successes would not have been possible without the support and dedication of thousands of staff, faculty, students, alumni, donors and members of SU’s many affiliated boards.”

Indeed, Dudley-Eshbach’s leadership has been transformational. She was aggressive in all aspects of her job, from curriculum to enrollment to infrastructure. Just the buildings that she won approval for through the Maryland General Assembly would be enough for a permanent and positive legacy.

Her strategic vision resulted in the university’s growth in size, reputation and private support. When she arrived, the campus had a student population of 6,400 — now, it exceeds 8,700. She has worked to make the campus more reflective of the demographics of Maryland: Since she arrived, the number of minority students has more than tripled with one in four now from diverse backgrounds, up from 11 percent in 2000.

In recent years she has worked aggressively on town-gown relations. Outreach and civic engagement are now clearly a part of an SU education.

Her outreach has resulted in SU playing a key role in Downtown Salisbury’s revival — the university foundation’s receipt of the Gallery Building will allow eventual construction of the new Center for Entrepreneurship.

Additionally, the SU skyline has been transformed by state-of-the art facilities including Conway Hall, Perdue Hall, the Henson Medical Simulation Center, the Sea Gull Square residence-retail complex, the campus’s first parking garage, renovated fitness center and residence halls, and the re-configuration of the university athletics complex with new softball and baseball stadiums, soccer and intramural fields and tennis courts, all grounded by Sea Gull Stadium, now lauded as one of the best in NCAA Division III athletics.

The jewel in the crown has been the award-winning Guerrieri Academic Commons, a $117 million center and library-of-the-future which has elevated student use to record levels. Altogether, during Dudley-Eshbach’s presidency, the university has expanded from 59 buildings to 89, with some $350 million in new facilities.  The footprint of the campus also has grown significantly, from 114 acres in 2000 to some 220 acres today.

“I have wanted to time my decision in a way that fits the internal needs of the university,” she said.  “I will not be retiring, but looking forward to new opportunities.”

She wrote that in an agreement with the USM chancellor and regents, she will serve as a special advisor to the university during a sabbatical year which begins July 1, assisting her successor with transitional matters, supporting fundraising efforts and engaging in special projects, “so long as these activities do not interfere with the primary purpose of my sabbatical,” she added, “which is preparation to resume service as an active member of the faculty beginning the 2019-20 academic year.

“I am greatly looking forward to returning to my first love – teaching, mentoring students, and scholarship.  I also hope to make more time for family, music, reading and other interests.”

“I wish to be involved in community service activities and would like to work with our region’s Spanish-speaking community, particularly those who may need help with English language skills,” she said.

Dudley-Eshbach was appointed SU’s eighth president in 2000, the first woman to hold the office. She is the University System of Maryland’s longest-serving female president and is the second longest-tenured president in SU history.




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