President Apologizes for Questionable Photos
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The photos were a joke between family members, certainly not something for public consumption. But this week, Salisbury University's president was learning that nothing is private when it's posted on the Internet.
Janet Dudley-Eshbach, Salisbury's president, spent yesterday apologizing for two photos she had on a social-networking Web site, one of which showed her brandishing a stick before a Mexican man with a caption saying she had to "beat off the Mexicans because they were constantly flirting with my daughter." The other photo of a male tapir, a pig-like animal, commented on the animal's ample genitalia.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Dudley-Eshbach said the two pictures on her Facebook profile were taken on a vacation to Mexico and Central America with her daughter. She said she thought her page could be accessed only by family and friends, when it was actually open to the entire Facebook community in Salisbury, a town in Wicomico County on Maryland's Eastern Shore.
"I very much apologize for any offense that anyone may have taken who saw these pictures," Dudley-Eshbach said. "I'm 54 years old, and here I thought I was trying to be up with the latest technology. I guess a little bit of knowledge could be a dangerous thing."
She removed her profile from the Web site Monday after a local television station, WBOC, began inquiring about the photos. The station displayed the pictures on its Web site.
Dudley-Eshbach is a specialist in Latin American studies who lists Pablo Neruda, Gabriel Garc¿a M¿rquez and Jorge Luis Borges among her favorite authors on the school's Web site. President of the 7,500-student university since 2000, she said she has worked to make the school more diverse. She said she was with her daughter, then a senior at the University of Delaware, on a vacation to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala in January when the pictures were taken.
Their primary goal on the two-week vacation was to see the Mayan ruins at Tikal -- "Tikal is absolutely extraordinary," she said -- but they had other adventures along the way.
They snapped the tapir, an animal best known for its generous endowment, on a trip to the Belize Zoo. Toward the end of the vacation, they stayed on the island of Cozumel, Mexico, befriending a local man -- Dudley-Eshbach thought his name was Enrique -- who took them on snorkeling tours. The president joked with Enrique about his flirting with her daughter and asked a tourist to take the picture that wound up on the Web site.
"We posed the picture, and if you look at the picture, my daughter is laughing uproariously," Dudley-Eshbach said. "Somebody said that the fact that I was apparently going to hit a Mexican, that that was racism. That's not the way it was intended. Frankly, I think the media locally here is trying to make a sensational story about something that was, on our part, innocent.
"The truth is, I am a very fun-loving person. What we were doing was having fun. There was nothing immoral, there was nothing illegal, there was nothing illicit," she said.
Elizabeth H. Curtin, president of the Faculty Senate at Salisbury, said she was "disappointed" that the pictures had become a story and said there has not been much reaction from the faculty. "I just don't think we understand the context. . . . I know her background so much that it was not meant to be disrespectful," she said.
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said Dudley-Eshbach had called him after the story gained public attention.
Dudley-Eshbach "told me that she realized she had made a mistake and she had removed the photo album from the Web site and issued, in effect, a public apology," Kirwan said. "All of that was appropriate." Kirwan declined to say whether any disciplinary action would be taken against Dudley-Eshbach, saying it was a personnel matter.
Dudley-Eshbach said that the incident hadn't soured her on Mexico and Central America and that she planned to revisit Cozumel and Enrique.
"We intend to take him out to dinner and visit him," she said. "Maybe leave the camera at home."