Our view: Salem State president leaves legacy of integrity, commitment
When Patricia Maguire Meservey took over as president of Salem State College in 2007, she had some big shoes to fill.
Former President Nancy Harrington, a native of Salem, had pretty much devoted her adult life to the college, where she was widely respected, and had forged strong ties with the city and the community.
Ten years later, it is Meservey who is leaving; she announced last week that she will retire at the end of this academic year. And though her footprint has been different, she leaves a university that is much stronger and solidly positioned for the future. She, too, has won the respect and affection of the Salem State community, while reaching out to alumni; showing leadership on academic issues, including the move to university status; and handling some extraordinary crises, including the stabbing of a professor.
Not only has she continued to modernize campus facilities, she successfully launched and completed a $25 million fundraising campaign that will ensure a healthy endowment for the future.
In Salem and on the North Shore, however, it is not how she has operated within the academic community, but how she has interacted with the wider community that will seal her legacy here. Not everyone in Salem has been approving of the university’s growth, and there have certainly been some growing pains. But to her credit, Meservey has been a listener as well as a leader, and her sincerity, empathy and clear focus have helped to smooth some of the rougher passages.
When Salem neighbors opposed plans for Viking Hall, a striking glass dormitory on Loring Avenue, Meservey listened, and downsized plans for the building. When complaints arose about the university’s new parking garage, she tried and largely failed to appease the neighbors. But, despite vehement opposition, she refused to sugarcoat things; the university would continue to grow, she said, not so it could add more students, but so it could provide a better educational experience, with more students living on campus and using modernized facilities.
Honesty and an even keel count for a lot, but not if people don’t know you well enough to trust you. With Meservey, that was never an issue, because from the beginning she made it clear that she wanted to be part of the North Shore community and to use the university’s resources to make this a better place to live. So when state educators labeled Salem’s public schools “underperforming,” and gave the city three years to turn things around, Meservey was one of the first to step up to the plate.
Not only did the university provide academic assistance, but Meservey chaired an advisory board that helped to design the turnaround. Said Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll: “The commitment of university resources to our public schools has never been stronger.”