David May remembers his term as Interim President at EWU


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May is taking an undetermined time off after stepping down as interim president at Eastern.

By Isaiah Gessner, Co-Managing Editor

Dr. David May was appointed interim president of EWU on August 4, 2020 and has served within the EWU community since 1999, most recently as the provost. In his time as president of the university, he has dealt with a wide variety of issues such as the COVID-19 pandemic, bringing students back on campus, budget issues, racial upheaval that had touched places all over the world, and many more affairs.

When discussing being tossed into the position in the early-goings of the pandemic, David May stated that “It was an emotional time at Eastern” and referred to there being a big difference from studying the president position from up close and being thrown into the position officially. “There is a much bigger difference from being next to the chair and being the one in the chair… There was a constellation of issues that took the forefront.”  

Another point that was echoed frequently throughout the interview was David May”s love for the university. This was touched upon in nearly every major talking point. “Eastern is very near and dear to me, it’s been my career… I wanted to do my job well.” When taking the position, May echoed the desire to do whatever he could to push the university in the direction it was looking to head into.

Campus was forced to shut down at the beginning of May’s presidency. (Emily Powers)

Dr. May followed this up by talking about some of the issues with COVID-19 when having to make some of the tough divisions around what some of EWU”s first steps were. “We didn’t know what we didn’t know and what we did know was so much bigger than what we did know.” He also went on to address some of the reasons behind why they came to some of the conclusions that they did. “We did the best we could.. We had to follow health and safety even when it got really hard. Even when people were really upset with us.”

The COVID-19 topic later ended up segmenting its way into the discussions about George Floyd and the importance of addressing the university’s approach when talking about it. “I remember walking into a different conference room the day after.. I walked in and said before we did anything else on the agenda we have to talk about this.” 

He then talked about the importance of solidifying his stance at the presidential position. “In fall of 2020 I actually said the words “Black Lives Matter” and it was the first time the president of the university had ever said it.” 

Events are being held in the campus mall. David May sought to create a welcoming and diverse community at EWU during his presidential term. (Emily Powers)

Discussing the backlash of his statement, May referenced his “Choose a Side” statement that was sent out to people all across the Eastern community and said “The only way to talk about these things is to truly talk about them.”  And further attacked some of the critiques on people not wanting Critical Race Theory to be taught which is a major talking point within the United States in the last few months. “I watch with a little bit of wonder on Critical Race Theory… I teach critical race theory and the attacks on it are simply attacks on the desire for some of us – myself included – to have the honest although painful conversations.”

Later on, May talked about his thoughts on if he left Eastern better than it was when he stepped into the President position initially. Addressing that, he is happy to see a nursing program and the updated Cybersecurity program as two points that he is proud of contributing to. 

As a follow up, May referenced some of the things that could not get accomplished that he had hoped to in his time there. “Everyone is facing the same challenges – how do you maintain an institution of any size with declining demographics, fewer students coming out of high school…We also have a really bad college going rate in the state of Washington.” Stated May when addressing one of the main struggles.

May’s proudest accomplishments include starting a nursing program and navigating COVID-19. (EWU archives)

Discussing struggles, when May was asked about some of them that the new president, Shari McMahan, who was hired in February of this year from California State University to take the president position full time may face, stated that “I think the continuing to emerge from the pandemic creates a lot of ongoing challenges.” Which was echoed frequently throughout the interview of coming out of such a detrimental issue to the university.

Moving on to the talking point about achievements, David May was proud of his ability to navigate COVID but said it was the easy answer to the question. He then dug into his pride of EWU’s integrity throughout the pandemic. “I was proud of how we chose the right thing to do and not the easy thing to do. We did the right things and for the right reasons.” 

He also talked of finally getting the nursing program done and said that “I’m a little bit sorry I won’t be the one to shake the nursing students hands in 2025 but I’ll be there and I will be cheering as loud as anyone.” stated May.

About his next steps after his time at EWU, he stated that “I normally give facetious answers like I am going to be a vegan cattle rancher…But the serious answer is I am going to take some time off.” 

Clubs and organizations are back on campus and students are making connections in and outside the classroom. (Emily Powers)

In talking about potentially coming back to EWU at a professor position down the road, May stated that “I haven’t been in the classroom since 2016 so there is some work for me to do…Beyond that its looking at other opportunities that may present themselves.” 

May left the door open for a potential return, but reiterating that time off in the short term is much needed after such an eventful last few years. “I always imagined that I would retire from Eastern Washington University, and that may still happen,” claimed May on his potential return to the school down the road. 

Finally, May talked about his going away message to EWU in his final months, and stated that “I think my message would be that while we have disagreements…We have to believe in the inherent goodness of the people that we’re working with….We all want the same thing: a successful university.”

David May entered the position at a very eventful time, and the door still remains open to a potential time at some point. However, first, May wants to spend more time with his family and less time worrying about events at work.