The Presidents of Salisbury University from 1925 to Present
Holloway Caruthers Blackwell Devilbiss Smith Crawford Page Bellavance Butler Merwin Jones Dudley-Eshbach
Dr. David Wilbur Devilbiss
Service above Self
(1955-1968)
  Dr. Wilbur Devilbiss assumed the duties of president of Maryland State Teachers College (STC) on July1, 1955. He arrived with a mission to elevate emphasis on teacher training while down playing the prominence of the junior college curriculum. While this reversal of his predecessor’s policy which had sustained the school during troubled times may first seem inconsistent with perpetuating the institutions success, it represented a shift in wider state policy which had begun in the last year of Dr. Blackwell’s tenure.

Wilbur Devilbiss came to Salisbury with a background steeped in the needs of the Maryland public school system. As a child his first schooling took place in a one-room school house in Johnsville, Md., later he graduated from Boys High School of Fredrick County in 1921. Devilbiss received his Bachelor’s of Arts in 1925 from Western Maryland and began his teaching career a mere fifteen miles from STC at Mardela Springs High School; ironically in the same year in which Salisbury Normal School opened. Devilbiss returned to Fredrick County teaching in the public schools there for six years, and served as principal of Brunswick and later Fredrick High School for ten years collectively.

In 1935 he received his Master’s degree from the University of Maryland, and continued his graduate work at George Washington University earning his Ed.D. By 1942 Devilbiss had ascended to the position of supervisor of high schools for the State Department of Education, eight years later he was promoted to supervisor of teacher and higher education for the state of Maryland. After only holding the position for two years Dr. Devilbiss was named Dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Education. His impress array of administrative skill and hands-on experience made Devilbiss a natural choice to succeed Blackwell as president of Salisbury Teachers College.

The state board of education and STC had historically at times a tenuous push-pull relationship, where the state superintend sought to restrict the expansion of Salisbury’s curriculum into areas deemed beyond its founding ethos. On the eve of Devilbiss’s arrival the professional avenues available to graduates of the four-year teacher training program were to teach at the elementary or junior high level. Students who followed the four-year curriculum still benefited from the tuition waver the state offered in return for a pledge to teach at least two years in Maryland. Historically the training of high school teachers was done at the larger institutions of Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland, and other private colleges around the state. None of these institutions wanted their traditional role challenged while the need for elementary educators remained high state-wide. When Dr. Devilbiss arrived Salisbury Teachers College had its largest enrollment in school history with 346 students, of this group 257 had enrolled in the bachelor’s of education program. President Blackwell’s dream of STC becoming Delmarva College would have to seemingly be put on hold.

With his prodigious background in administering teacher training Devilbiss seemed perfectly suited to rededicate the college to a “singleness of purpose,” as he liked to say. During his first week as president Dr. Devilbiss gave a speech to an assembly of newly arrived freshmen describing the new course the college would assume. In it he stated that “The taxpayers in the state contribute four dollars for every dollar paid by a student attending this college. If the student fails, the college fails, and hence you are cheating yourself.” President Devilbiss was know for using stark language to inspire the student body. His approach consistently emphasized the theme that “in meeting challenges we find the most enjoyment and profit.”

Author Sylvia Bradley recounted a speech Devilbiss gave to a freshmen assembly a few years later where the same theme was echoed. In it he asked the students to look first to their left and then to their right, after which he informed the assembly that “now, chances are that one of the three of you won’t be here next semester.” Far from being scornful, Dr. Devilbiss seized on the notion that stark statements of fact can do more to motivate than contemptuous rhetoric. During the first few years of his tenure dropout rates after the first semester were as high as one-third of the freshmen class. However, according to contemporaries within a few years Devilbiss’s approach began to yield a change in the overall attitude of the student body. For the first five years of his tenure he would commit himself to the sole purpose of teacher training.
 
 


Drs. Smith, Crawford and Devilbiss

 


Salisbury University