New president picked at Western Colorado University after storm over old presidents email

Western Colorado University leaders selected a new president Friday after a year of tumult triggered by a controversial email the previous president sent to faculty condemning political violence.

The school’s nine trustees picked Brad Baca, 50, the current executive vice president, to be the 14th president of WCU, which was established in1901, a four-year public university in Gunnison with about 2,000 students on campus.

He’ll replace the previous president, Greg Salsbury, who retired amid controversy last June. Baca also has served as WCU’s chief operating officer and as interim president in 2013.

His goals, he said, will be to help WCU become “a school of first choice” for students and also for faculty and staff.

“It is important that we distinguish ourselves as an institution that provides a great education leading to student success,” Baca said.

“We have some work to do to rebuild trust and repair culture on campus. I look forward to leading that. My long tenure at Western has allowed me to understand well the faculty and staff and the values we hold as an institution.”

Trustees cited Baca’s “in-depth understanding of Colorado higher education” and commitment to the school.

He’ll take over from interim president Nancy Chisholm, who led WCU after Salsbury stepped down.

Faculty members this week said the controversy over Salsbury’s email became deeply divisive and that they see trustees naming a new president as a first step toward healing.

Salsbury sent an email the day after the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington D.C. that faculty and other critics saw as a false and hurtful comparison of violence at some of the mostly-peaceful demonstrations against police killings with violence of the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

A faculty majority voted for ousting Salsbury, saying his leadership over seven years fostered turmoil, turnover and tension.

The email said “we condemn this in the strongest of terms. It not only offends and threatens all civilized existence and freedom of expression but undermines our very republic.” It then referred to the demonstrations during the summer of 2020 against police killings.

“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.”

WCU trustees initially supported Salsbury and held listening sessions. Faculty members told them they saw Salsbury as ignorant of justice issues and urged greater emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

A 10-member team conducted a nationwide search for a new president. Their other finalist was Michelle Rogers, the vice president for administration at the University of Redlands in California.

Stormy campus politics led to similar tumult at the University of Colorado this past year. CU regents also have been searching for a new president, following the resignation under fire last June of previous president Mark Kennedy, a former Minnesota congressman who came to CU from the University of North Dakota. Kennedy’s conservative positions on social issues ignited controversy during his two-year tenure. CU’s faculty censured him for “failure to lead” on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion.

A CU search team plans to name a finalist or finalists before May 5.

At Western, Baca said navigating justice issues will be a core challenge. “It’s about being present, being available, being approachable, and listening – hearing different perspectives and letting people know you are there and interested in learning more.”

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