Western Colorado University President Greg Salsbury is retiring this summer following months of controversy including a vote by the majority of the Gunnison campus’s faculty in favor of his ouster after he equated the Jan. 6 insurrectionists with Black Lives Matters protesters.
A statement released Friday morning on behalf of Western’s Board of Trustees and Salsbury praises Salsbury for helping secure the second-largest private donation in Colorado public postsecondary history and establishing a partnership between Western and the University of Colorado, among other achievements listed.
After more than seven years at the helm of the university, Salsbury’s last day will be June 29.
“Dr. Salsbury plans to spend more time with his family, in particular his first grandchild,” the statement reads. “The Board recognizes Dr. Salsbury’s service to Western and wishes him well. To ensure that the announcement of his retirement does not overshadow the excitement of the students and their families participating in commencement this weekend and in support of COVID-19 best practices to limit the number of participants on stage, Dr. Salsbury has delegated his master of ceremonies duties for May 8, to Vice President Bill Niemi.”
A university statement issued last week addressed a series of listening sessions the Board of Trustees held following a faculty and student uprising triggered by Salsbury’s statement after the Jan. 6 insurrection: “Over the last year, rioting, burning, looting and violence have emerged from protests across our country – resulting in seemingly endless confrontations, destruction of entire cities, properties, serious injuries, the public’s overall sense of security, and deaths,” Salsbury wrote. “Most of us have watched these events unfold with a mixture of confusion, fear, disgust, anger or sorrow. Many have openly questioned whether this is America any longer. The violence yesterday that interrupted the traditional, peaceful transfer of power punctuated these feelings.”
The majority of faculty voted in favor of firing Salsbury after he released that statement, but the Board of Trustees decided the president would keep his job.
The board’s statement last week said the listening sessions were “designed to define the university’s strengths, challenges, opportunities and threats.”
“In the quest for input from the Western community, we hear words of encouragement and thanks, as well as areas for growth and a few allegations that merit immediate investigation,” the statement read. “Rest assured that these latter statements were of the utmost concern and have been prioritized for immediate action. While the university is constrained from commenting publicly on these matters based on privacy laws, the Board of Trustees is committed to dealing rapidly and appropriately with any and all misconduct.”
The Faculty Senate previously raised other instances it said illustrated Salsbury’s lack of awareness regarding diversity and social issues — noting his years at Western had been “too frequently characterized by turmoil, turnover and tension among faculty, staff and administration” — including a 2016 Chronicle of Higher Education letter to the editor entitled, “Will colleges now have to let students self-identify as a different race?” in which he equated gender identity with race and ethnicity.
The Board of Trustees will announce Western’s interim president and provide information about the university’s search for a new leader in the coming days, the university said.
“I am greatly disappointed that Salsbury made no effort to acknowledge his actions nor make any kind of apology to the communities within the institution whom he repeatedly invalidated, tokenized and failed to support,” said Emerson Grace, a Western student, in response to the retirement announcement.