Salisbury State U. Induction Set Today

Merwin Inauguration First Rites There For A President Since '56

April 25, 1997|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

SALISBURY -- When William C. Merwin is inaugurated this morning as the seventh president of Salisbury State University, the ceremony will be heavy with symbolism -- literally.

During the procession that will begin the inauguration at 10: 30 a.m., senior faculty member John Knowles will carry the university's new symbol: a sizable mahogany mace created for the inauguration. The mace is embellished with words and images representing the university: a sea gull, the school seal and pewter bands etched with the names of the seven men who have led the school in its 72-year history.

"It's the symbol of authority for the institution," said Merwin yesterday as he prepared for the ceremony, the first of its kind at the school since 1956. Although there have been several presidents in the past 41 years, no inaugurations were held because of financial constraints, personal taste and a general indifference to ceremony that permeated academic institutions during some of those years.

Merwin, 57, assumed the presidency of the school in August, coming from the same post at the State University of New York at Potsdam. He has been president of Montana State University, and holds a doctorate in history and social education from the University of Georgia.

Merwin hopes to expand the role of Salisbury State University in the region it serves. The school has changed and expanded since its founding as an all-female teachers college in 1925. Now, Merwin said, it is time to advance more.

"My vision: that Salisbury State by the year 2002 will achieve national eminence," he said.

Salisbury State is "at the large end of being small," he said -- and it will stay that way. He plans to increase enrollment by no more than 3 percent over five years, adding perhaps 150 students to the roster of 6,000.

As technology brings the fruits of research to anyone with a computer, Merwin said, educational institutions must change, offering more than just information handed out from a classroom podium.

"I believe we have a civic responsibility to improve the world in which we live," he said. The university already enjoys strong links to the business community -- it has four schools endowed by area industry leaders, including the Perdue family.

Merwin would like to expand the university's curriculum to include engineering so that area workers will be ready for the high-tech jobs that Salisbury is attracting, he said.

"This area needs a highly educated technical work force -- I think we are going to need engineering," he said. "Right now, there is no engineering [program] on the Shore."

He also hopes to continue the steady rise in the caliber of student at the school -- a goal of his predecessor, Thomas E. Bellavance, who died last year.

The school's entering freshmen this year had SAT scores that averaged 1,130, he said, and grade-point averages of 3.23.

"We've decided to become more selective," he said.

The school draws a wide range of applicants, he said, although slightly more than a third of Salisbury State's enrollment comes from Wicomico, Worcester, Somerset and Talbot counties. A quarter of the student body comes from out of state, mostly from states touching Maryland.

Salisbury State also has a substantial number of foreign students, he said, representing 37 countries.

Merwin and other administrators at the university believe a strong identity is essential for the school to achieve national prominence.

"I think institutional identity goes more to `what do you want our graduates to provide to the region, state and country?' " said Florence Pritchard, assistant vice president of institutional accountability and research.

Pritchard, associate professor of psychology Natalie Hopson and Salisbury real estate agent Loudell Insley have been working for several months as the Ceremony Committee in charge of inauguration festivities.

The last inauguration was so long ago that the committee essentially started from scratch, she said. The members used a book of protocol -- "kind of an Emily Post of inaugurations," she said -- to script the cross-campus procession, speeches by visiting dignitaries, music, investiture and recessional that will make up today's ceremony.

The mace is not the only item making its debut today. Merwin also had arranged the creation of a school medallion, which he will wear with his faculty robe, and a school flag, two symbols the institution had never had.

Like Merwin, Pritchard sees today's ceremony as an important symbol.

"There seems to be emerging a real sense of community, community service" at Salisbury State, Pritchard said.

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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