Ward Foundation ‘surprised’ by Salisbury University’s decision to sever ties

Ward Foundation Su

SALISBURY, Md. – The Ward Foundation is responding after Salisbury University announced they are ending their relationship following the planned relocation of the Wildfowl Art museum.

In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, the Ward Foundation said the University’s decision came as a surprise to the Board of Directors and museum staff.

Ward officials then went on to say that the museum’s assets, which were acquired by the University decades ago, belong to the taxpayers of Maryland as Salisbury University is a state-owned institution.

“It is true that SU assumed $1.6 million of debt in 2003. In return, however, SU acquired title to a recently built museum, the Schumaker Pond property, and a decoy and art collection worth several million dollars,” the Ward Foundation stated in a press released. “As these are assets now owned by SU, a state university, they are assets belonging to the taxpayers of Maryland.”

Over the years, Salisbury University has subsidized a portion of the Ward Museum’s operations, but the amount claimed by SU seems high and includes annual payments that were pledged by SU as part of the 2003 transaction transferring ownership of the museum and collection, officials emphasized in the press release.

“The Ward Foundation has always been transparent with SU about its operations and finances, and SU employees, including members of SU’s finance department, have, during the past 20 years, served on the Ward Foundation Board of Directors,” the press release read. “The Ward Foundation has been an avid supporter of the University as well, and has provided student programs, internships, and events in support of university objectives.”

This comes in response to Salisbury University’s decision to sever ties with the Ward Foundation following their announcement to move the Wildfowl Art museum from Schumaker Pond to the Powell Building in Downtown.

In a press release issued earlier this week, Salisbury University officials said they long been concerned over the Ward Foundation finances. As a result, they announced they would be ending their operating agreement effective July 1, 2023.

“The financial position of the Ward Foundation has been a significant concern of SU for the past several years,” SU’s press release stated. “The most recent independent audit reports on the foundation’s financial position, as of June 30, 2022, highlight issues such as a significant decrease in net cash flows and an increase in the line of credit balances.”

Moving forward, the future of the museum’s staff has been in question since SU announced their intentions to sever ties with the foundation.

“The eight remaining Ward Foundation employees will be given their termination notices,” the foundation stated in the press release issued Thursday. “The Ward Foundation will do all that it can to assist each of these conscientious employees in seeking new employment.”

Following that statement, Salisbury University issued its own press release stating that they are involved in talks to potentially keep those staff members employed.

“In response to the statement from the Ward Foundation, SU has elected to accelerate that timeline, and will offer employment to the majority of the Ward Foundation staff,” Salisbury University said in response. “Today, SU initiated conversations with those who are being eliminated by the Ward Foundation to discuss the University’s plans and how they may be a part of them.”

All of this comes despite weeks of controversy where donors, volunteers, and members of the foundation have called for the University to reconsider the relocation. A petition was even started that has garnered over 4,000 signatures in opposition to the move.

The Ward Foundation is still hosting the Ward World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition in Ocean City at the Convention Center on April 21 through April 23, 2023. The future of the Ward Foundation after that will be determined by its board and stakeholders.

There’s been no official word on what the plan is for the Schumaker Pond location. When asked about this, Salisbury University Spokesman Jason Rhodes said they don’t currently have any plans in mind for the building at this time.

“We don’t have plans for the building,” Rhodes said. “We can’t sell the building without the permission of the Maryland Board of Public Works because it is a state building and that’s not something we’re pursuing at this time.”

Moving forward, those opposed to the plans are considering protesting the move. This continues to be a developing story that 47 ABC is following very closely. We will of course keep you updated as further developments emerge.

Categories: Education, Local News, Maryland