Salisbury U's new president should avoid social justice fanaticism, not make same mistakes as predecessor
A tale of two presidents
Last Tuesday, Dr. Carolyn Ringer Lepre was named the new president of Salisbury University, officially replacing the outgoing Dr. Charles Wight in July of this year.
Lepre was plucked from Radford University where she’d served as interim president since 2021, having notched noteworthy achievements like the formation of a stand-alone School of Nursing, and the creation of individualized degree path programs.
Prior to that, Lepre had been a dean at Marist College and a professor, where her research focused on gender and diversity representation in media, a subject she’s co-authored a book on.
As Lepre now ascends to SU’s presidency, here is to hoping her future term is both longer and less troubled than that of her predecessor.
Wight announced his plans to step down in October of 2021, just three years and four months after being named to the post in July of 2018.
Comparatively, 2017 data from the American Council on Education shows that college presidents serve an average term of 6.5 years, which itself is down markedly from 2006 when 8.5 years was the average.
Perhaps the shortening lifespan of the university president corresponds directly to the gradual then sudden deterioration of tolerance on campuses nationwide. The woker a college gets, the harder it must be for a president to remain in compliance with whatever random standard rules the day.
Wight’s method of managing this unfortunate reality was to go full woke whenever any campus controversy was afoot.
When “racist” graffiti was found on campus in late 2019, which read in part “big white dicks rule”, Wight responded by pledging to hire a Chief Diversity Officer, after announcing his intention to have all faculty and staff complete required sensitivity training.
Later, the racist graffiti was revealed to have been a hoax, as the perpetrator was an immature 54 year old black man with no connection to campus named Jerome Jackson.
Incredibly, Jackson was not the first to scheme up a racist graffiti hoax at the university.
In 2016, prior to Wight’s tenure, a stick figure being hung accompanied by the text “#whitepower” was discovered on a whiteboard in the library. After a predictable hullabaloo, a group of black students were identified as being responsible.
Two hoaxes. One changed university. Zero actual racism.
But a Google search for “salisbury university racism” returns accusatory links aplenty — yet another example of how the public record often misreflects reality.
As for Wight, his political signaling was unconstrained by the physical boundaries of the campus he was responsible for. He called the death of George Floyd the “scourge of systemic racism”, then later called the January 6th protesters “violent rioters and insurrectionists” committing “nothing less than domestic terrorism”, who wanted to “return to a less equitable time in American history”.
The incoming Lepre would do well for herself and the university to steer completely clear of these social justice politics on her own campus and abroad.
No overreacting to accusations of racism without proof. No acquiescing to the demands of silly student activists. No orienting of the entire university in service of antiracism. And no weighing in on nationally divisive flashpoints.
Perhaps encouragingly to that end, Lepre’s introductory remarks to the SU community were evenly composed all things considered, containing only a couple milder gestures towards progressivism.
“I am thrilled to join such a prestigious, student-centered and forward-thinking university,”
“Salisbury University’s commitment to student success, academic excellence, and focus on inclusivity and belonging aligns with my personal and professional values. I especially look forward to working in partnership with and celebrating our most important resource – our purpose-driven people. Empowering students to excel as scholars, citizens and practitioners and instilling a passion for lifelong learning is an incredible responsibility and privilege. I am deeply honored to serve as the next President of Salisbury University, and I look forward to becoming a part of the Sea Gull Nation.”
Hopefully this slightly more moderate vocabulary is a reflection of a less fanatic, more discerning president. One who would protect campus from devolving into an existential terror at the first sight of explicit graffiti.
If there were indeed a legitimately existential threat to the sanctity of campus, it would not come in the form of any imagined oppression or faux hateful speech, but rather with the City of Salisbury’s escalating rates of gun violence, which seem to creep closer and closer to campus.
According to reports published by the city, aggravated assaults with firearms were up 52% in 2021 and 2020 compared to 2019 and 2018.
In February of this year, shots were fired outside of Guido's Burritos mere feet from campus, in what was apparently the second shooting at the restaurant since last October.
Within the same time frame, shootings have been noted at both Williams Landing and the The Flatts Salisbury on Onley Road, both complexes that often serve as off campus housing for students.
Then most alarmingly, there has even been reporting claiming to show off campus student houses that were shot up by local city residents who were denied entry into college parties.
Yes in early March, the Towson criminal law firm Turnbull Brockmeyer, which doubles as a local news organization, posted images and video to Facebook showing bullet holes in a student’s bedroom window and closet from one such altercation.
When actual bullets come knocking at the door, suddenly all the political posturing and social justice fanaticisizing are revealed to be, if nothing else, a misallocation of resources and focus.
Hopefully Lepre, unlike Wight, will have the good sense to administer her university accordingly.
Maryland Muckraker is a completely independent and fearlessly conservative blog covering local issues by me, Ethan Reese. After spending nearly a decade in corporate Baltimore in marketing technology, figured I’d have a go at writing. Since then I’ve contributed articles to FOX’s OutKick, PJ Media, and Rare Politics, as well as being named a Writing Fellow with the America’s Future Foundation.
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