Salisbury University 1101 Camden Ave. Salisbury, MD 21801 410-543-6000
Announcing Salisbury University’s New President
An Interview with SU's New President, Charles Wight
What attracted you to SU and Maryland’s Eastern Shore?
I grew up in northern Virginia, and my father and sister and their spouses live in Deale, MD (on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay). So, this move brings me closer to both family and home. But the thing that sealed the deal for me is the fact that SU students and graduates are so highly successful.
Why have you pursued a career in higher education and administration?
Teaching students has always been exciting for me, but I moved into administration to be able to make a positive difference in the lives of a larger number of students. It’s all about scale.
Sounds like your field of study is quite explosive! Can you tell us a bit about your research and how it helps you as a university president?
The chemistry of explosives and rocket propellants is enormously complex, but we were inspired by a couple of high-profile accidents to see if we could develop simplified computational models that could simulate large explosions and lead to improved safety of transporting and handling large quantities of energetic materials. The papers we published recently were wrapping up research done by students at the University of Utah, and that is now completed as far as my involvement is concerned.
How do you balance the demands of being a university president and teaching an undergraduate class?
Teaching is why I got involved in the higher education business in the first place. I still love it, and it keeps me better grounded in what our faculty are doing and experiencing every day.
Do national issues in higher education (e.g. rising costs, diversity and inclusion, increased competition for applicant pools, public questioning of higher ed value) affect your priorities?
Of course! The costs of higher ed borne by students have risen dramatically as many states have disinvested from public institutions. But the value of a college education remains very high, both in terms of professional training and learning to become a civically engaged citizen. It is important that we work to ensure that college remains accessible to everyone by keeping costs low, by maintaining robust financial aid programs, and by ensuring that our campus climate is welcoming and inclusive.
How would you describe your management or leadership style?
Whenever practical, I try to lead by setting direction at a high level and empowering people to implement their own strategies. A long time ago, someone asked me a similar question, and I responded, “My definition of staff excellence is when someone brings me the solution to a problem I didn’t know I had yet.”
If you were a student at SU, what would you hope your educational experience would be like?
I love the fact that SU is a residential university, and students can be fully immersed in their college experience. Years from now, SU graduates will look back on this time as the best years of their lives.
Technology has impacted higher education in a myriad of ways. What do you see as the pluses and minuses?
For some people, the traditional classroom lecture best fits their style of learning, and for others the best way to learn is individually online. However, I’m convinced that a mixture of these represents the sweet spot in higher education. We all have access to unprecedented amounts of data and information through computers and mobile devices, but the greatest value that we can provide students is by teaching them how to cut through the clutter and connect the dots to seek truth and understanding.
What can you tell us about your wife and family?
Victoria Rasmussen and I will celebrate our tenth anniversary next month. She is also an educator, and she spent many years assisting faculty and K-12 teachers to incorporate technology into their teaching practices. Although she has committed a lot of time to supporting me as president at Weber State, Victoria has maintained her commitment to educating with tutoring and in serving on boards in the community. We don’t have any children of our own, but I have three grown daughters from my first marriage, and three grandchildren.
Is there a recent book you read that made a lasting impression on you, from a professional standpoint? A book you read for fun that you particularly enjoyed? Do you have a favorite author?
I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite author, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve read everything that Malcolm Gladwell and Dick Francis ever wrote. Right now, I’m reading ‘The Wizard and the Prophet’ by my cousin, Charles Mann. Two books that made me think a lot were Einstein’s ‘Relativity’ and the late Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.
What else do you do to de-compress, such as movies, hobbies, sports, etc.?
I haven’t seen a movie for ages, but I love to go flying in my 1976 Bellanca Super Viking, either for fun or on a mission for Angel Flight West. Moving to the Eastern Shore, though, might prompt me to trade in the airplane for a boat!
What do you most enjoy about being a university administrator?
Being a president is mostly about cultivating relationships, getting people excited about supporting students through their journey, and celebrating their many successes along the way. That puts a smile on my face almost every day.
What do you find most challenging?
Remembering the thousands of names and faces. Some people have brains that are wired for this, but unfortunately, it’s more challenging for me. I’m getting better at it, but I still must work hard and get plenty of help.
What are you looking forward to the most at SU?
Interacting with students has always been the most fun part of the job. A couple of years ago, a student in my class suddenly exclaimed, “I just realized this class isn’t about memorizing formulas and equations. This class is about how the world works!” That was a big win.