Wight inaugurated as SU’s ninth President

Dr. Charles “Chuck” Wight was inaugurated as Salisbury University’s ninth president on Wednesday, during a festive ceremony including state officials, student and faculty performers, and SU shared governance representatives.

Dr. Charles Wight.

For the first time, Wight officially outlined his priorities for the University: ensuring educational accessibility and affordability, building on SU’s culture of diversity and inclusion, being a steward of financial resources and the environment, and furthering mutually positive community relationships — all with the ultimate goal of providing students with the greatest opportunities for success.

The President noted that all are “things that we do well already. But these are the four areas where I will spend some of my personal time and energy taking us to the next level.”

Expounding on the first priority, he said: “We need to make certain that money is never an insurmountable barrier to a college education. We need to create this opportunity for every student who is willing to commit to a plan of study, work hard and succeed.”

Discussing his second initiative, Wight referenced the recent opening of SU’s Center for Equity, Justice and Inclusion, adding: “No university can fulfill its true potential for educational excellence unless it embraces the idea that the best learning occurs when we gather people together from different backgrounds, different experiences, different cultures, different races, different religions and different nationalities to have respectful conversations.”

On stewardship, Wight noted the initiative would include using tuition, taxpayer and donor funds responsibly, as well as serving as an environmental leader. “In many ways, the Eastern Shore is ground zero for the adverse consequences of living beyond the means of the Earth,” he said. “It is therefore our responsibility not only to teach our students about environmental sustainable practices, but to model those practices as an institution.”

Speaking on community partnerships, Wight lauded SU’s connections with local governments and organizations including the City of Salisbury, Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce, Greater Salisbury Committee and Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore. He also said SU will participate in the Maryland Governor’s Office’s “Day to Serve” initiative by granting employees four hours of paid leave to engage in community service projects next fall.

He also spotlighted two efforts being explored with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore: combining public radio resources from both campuses to create a Delmarva Public Media partnership and envisioning a plan to recruit, train and retain highly skilled health care professionals in the region.

“These initiatives will help our students to be even more successful, which is the core mission of this University,” he said.

Bestowing Wight with SU’s Presidential Medallion, University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Robert Caret charged him with broadening the University’s vision and horizons; continuing to strengthen its academic programs and community ties; being an advocate for its students; valuing the contributions of students, faculty, staff and alumni; being a force for unity and diversity; and upholding its history and traditions.

Since taking the helm at SU last July, Wight has made progress in many of these areas, the Chancellor said.  In the past nine months, the University has expanded its presence in downtown Salisbury and supported two new student-led initiatives to assist those on campus: a Career Closet, from which students may borrow professional clothing for job interviews, and the “Food for the Flock” food pantry for students in need.

In addition, this academic year SU has again been named one of the nation’s top producers of Fulbright Students by The Chronicle of Higher Education, earned some $1.8 million in National Science Foundation funding, and been ranked among the top universities in the country by publications including U.S. News & World Report, The Princeton Review, Forbes, Money and Washington Monthly.

“It is a great challenge to assume leadership of a major university,” said Caret. “A new president is expected to bring his or her own unique vision to the task. At the same time, he or she must also incorporate that vision with many others. Chuck’s response to that mission has been strong and clear.”

Other state education leaders, including USM Student Regent Langston Frazier of UMES, joined the Chancellor at the ceremony, led by Dr. Karen Olmstead, SU provost and senior vice president of academic affairs. Two USM Board of Regents members — Assistant Secretary Robert Rauch, and D’Ana Johnson, who chaired the search for SU’s new president — also lauded Wight’s leadership.

“Chuck is the right leader at the right time for Salisbury,” said Rauch. “He brings insightful and energetic leadership and has an unfaltering commitment to the students he serves. His vision for excellence and his commitment to this institution will serve SU and the USM extremely well.”

“Since taking office last July, Dr. Wight has quickly implemented his vision of collaborative leadership focused on student success,” Johnson said.

SU Student Government Association President Devin Neil, agreed: “Dr. Wight has a reputation for being the ‘student president,’ something that, as the representative of the undergraduate population, I am extremely excited about. Since the beginning of the fall semester, I have already seen the great enthusiasm he has for engaging the student body, working tirelessly to reach out and hear their needs and interests.”

Faculty and staff representatives also were enthusiastic.

“We are positioned to create and re-envision what higher education is and can be for the students, staff and faculty here,” said Dr. Jennifer Jewell of the Social Work Department, vice president of the Faculty Senate. Addressing Wight, she added: “We want you to succeed because when you succeed, the SU community succeeds.”

“SU’s path to quality and excellence has been a journey of persistence, passion and innovation,” said Stefanie Hurst, chair of the Staff Senate. “Like any great vision, its success and achievements would not have been accomplished without the support of our leadership. We look forward to working with Dr. Wight to continue the University’s practice of coming together to accomplish big things.”

Since coming to Salisbury with his wife, Victoria Rasmussen, Wight has immersed himself in the region. He is part of Leadership Maryland’s Class of 2019 and is active in the Greater Salisbury Committee, the Salisbury Area and Greater Ocean City chambers of commerce, Junior Achievement of the Eastern Shore, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Eastern Shore, the NAACP and other organizations promoting economic development and quality of life in Salisbury and the state.

His background in higher education spans some 35 years. He earned his B.S. in chemistry at the University of Virginia in 1977 and his Ph.D. at Caltech in 1982. Following two years as a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Colorado, he was appointed assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Utah and rose to professor. A physical chemist, he researched the chemistry of explosives and propellants.

Between 1999 and 2012, Wight held a host of administrative and leadership roles at Utah, including Academic Senate president, coordinator of web-based instruction, associate dean of undergraduate instruction, assistant vice president of continuing education, associate vice president of academic affairs, and Graduate School dean. From 2013-2018, he served his first presidency at Weber State University, a public regional campus in Utah with some 28,000 students.

At SU, he is excited about continuing to spark an interest in learning among young people and provide them with the resources to succeed — goals that have driven him throughout his career.

“This institution is in great shape,” he said. “It is highly ranked, and it’s on all the best value lists. The faculty and staff are highly dedicated, the students are highly successful, and the campus is spectacular. … Thank you for placing your trust in me as its president.”

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