Collective memories can often feel short on college campuses, a fact that is largely attributable to the high rate of turnover endemic to students.
However, it’s safe to say many of Western’s longer-serving faculty and staff likely have not forgotten (perhaps despite their best efforts) the administrative turbulence that punctuated the spring semester of 2021.
But for those who may not have been at Western just yet — or whose memories may have gotten a bit rusty after several jam-packed years of insane news cycles — let me fill you in.
That spring, then-university president Dr. Greg Salsbury under fire from the school’s Faculty Senate (and many students) for an email he sent that appeared to draw a one-to-one comparison between the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021, and the ongoing protests and civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd.
After months of upheaval, Salsbury announced his resignation on May 7 — just a day before Western’s commencement ceremony, which he did not participate in.
Salsbury’s unplanned resignation marked the conclusion of a six-year tenure, a span that included a highly publicized Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuit against Jackson National, the life insurance firm where Salsbury spent more than 14 years as a vice president at the Denver office.
In Jan. 2020, the company reached a settlement, paying out more than $20 million to 21 different plaintiffs.
The lawsuit alleged, among other things, “that African American employees were referred to as ‘lazy,’ had stress balls thrown at them, and were subjected to racially demeaning cartoons. [The] EEOC further alleged a high-level manager referred to multiple African American female employees as ‘resident street walkers’ and that female employees endured sexual comments and leering from male coworkers.”’
The horrific EEOC lawsuit had already rattled campus throughout much of Salsbury’s tenure, but at that point, in the wake of Salsbury’s Capitol riots comment, students were also protesting the Salsbury-led Strategic Resource Allocation, or SRA, a significant shift in university resources which ultimately led to funding cuts across several social science and humanities programs.
Following Salsbury’s resignation, and after months of turmoil on campus, the university’s Board of Trustees appointed interim president Nancy Chisholm, who presided over a relatively quiet year on campus as the college sought its next leader.
After a months-long, nationwide search conducted by an external search firm, Western landed on longtime Mountaineer Brad Baca, who officially became the university’s president in July of 2022.
Salsbury’s post-collegiate political life
But off-campus, and free from the shackles of leading a university, former president Salsbury didn’t wait long after his separation from Western before starting to churn out articles expressing his political persuasions.
Salsbury’s post-academic writing started in December of 2021, when he penned a piece for the Orlando Sentinel outlining his view that “biological men” should be banned from competing in women’s sports.
Despite a flurry of panicked legislation intended to prevent trans women from participating in women’s sports, it was estimated by researcher Joanna Harper hat there are fewer than 100 trans women engaged in NCAA sports across America, suggesting the scale of this issue is miniscule.
Rather than a good faith argument on a nuanced topic that is likely still under-researched, the targeted uproar over trans women competing in female sports is a conservative tactic aimed at advancing the hard right’s true aims: ushering in further discrimination against the trans community by fabricating a sense of injustice.
That Sentinel article was not a one-off, either, as it’s become clear that engaging in these sorts of trumped-up, culture war battles is exactly what Dr. Salsbury — a man with three degrees in communication, including a PhD — seems to have in mind for his semi-retirement.
More recently, Salsbury has taken to the American Thinker, a right-wing publication that questioned the legitimacy of the 2020 election (and was subsequently forced to publish a retraction), to pose his theory that the media, the federal government, and Democratic Party are in cahoots, forming a shadowy cabal committed to covering up rampant conspiracy and corruption.
Accompanying this cabal theory is the notion that conservatives, as Salsbury frames it: “From Trump on down,” are being forcibly silenced for their political beliefs.
“Daring to speak truth about the COVID virus and treatments, about Hunter or Joe Biden, about the irregularities and illegalities that occurred in the 2020 election, the invasion of illegal aliens, mis-gendering someone, constitutes speech drawing punishments ranging from suspension or censorship, to IRS and FBI visits, to fines, or to imprisonment,” writes the former president of Western in his Sept. 15 piece.
Less than two weeks later, The American Thinker published yet another op-ed from Salsbury (his sixth with the publication, by my count) positing that smartphones are being utilized by the far-left to brainwash America’s youth — centering on what he describes as “a trifecta of completely nonsensical tropes about race, gender, and climate.”
Salsbury’s argument fails to mention that many young, online Americans are being strategically bombarded with misogynistic and racist content from alt-right outlets on a regular basis — content that is designed to push them towards dimly lit corners of the internet where they will be greeted by the likes of Steve Bannon, Andrew Tate, and other flag bearers for the Alt Right.
How Salsbury, who continues to roll out his conspiratorial, right-wing beliefs steeped in an alternative reality on a regular basis, lasted as long as he did at Western’s helm looks more and more like a miracle — and a shameful stain on our university — with each passing day.
That Western’s leadership selected such a candidate and allowed him to preside over the university for more than half a decade is a significant blackmark.
While it’s true that the pandemic has deepened our political divides and sent some individuals crawling face-first down rabbit holes, it seems rather unlikely that Salsbury showcased zero signs of his political inclinations during (and, very importantly, before) his time as Western’s president.
Thankfully, Western appears to be in far more capable and stable hands today with Pres. Baca, as well as distinguished cabinet members like long-time dean of students and campus staple Gary Pierson, as well as Dr. Jessica Young, Western’s first provost, and Dr. Steven D Parker, the university’s first vice president of inclusivity.
So as Western’s former president continues to spill digital ink spouting the conspiracy du jour, Mountaineers can at least take solace in the strength of the university’s current leadership — and continue to build on more than two years of positive change at Western.