Commentary: Below please find the Community First Coalition Position Statement on Heather Wilson as finalist for the UTEP Presidency. The Coalition has concluded that her meager academic qualifications, her lack of knowledge and experience with students of diverse backgrounds, her lack of knowledge of Spanish and our border culture, her staunch anti-LGBTQ and anti-civil rights voting record, and her ultra-conservative ideology make her an extremely poor fit to become the president of UTEP.
The Coalition calls on the U.T. Regents to withdraw her candidacy and to find either a qualified Latina/Latino educator or a non-Latina/Latino academic with the proper academic credentials, expertise, and experience to lead UTEP.
The Coalition urges the community to contact the U.T. Regents and the U.T System Office and demand that they drop Heather Wilson as the finalist and re-open the search. Phone the U.T. System at (512) 499-4200, or email at https://utsystem.edu/contact The Community First Coalition, composed of local organizations, leaders, and activists, has determined that Heather Wilson is not qualified to lead UTEP, a large university with a diverse student body, 80+ percent of which is comprised of Mexican-heritage students. Likewise, 80+ percent El Paso’s population is comprised of Mexican-heritage people.
Wilson speaks no Spanish and has paltry knowledge or acquaintance with borderlands Mexican heritage history and culture. This is unacceptable.
Moreover, Wilson’s meager background in higher education has not prepared her to run a university like UTEP. After her stint in the U.S. Congress she led a small, technical institution in South Dakota with 2,800 students, 86% of whom are of white European American descent. How can she leapfrog into a Carnegie-classified Research 1 institution of 25,000 students who are overwhelmingly of minority background? The R1 classification is limited to 131 higher education institutions including UTEP among thousands of other higher education institutions in the country. Further, Wilson has NEVER served as a faculty member, a departmental chairperson, a dean, a vice president or provost. At universities, these experiences are essential for anyone who aspires for the highest-level decision-making position in which critical judgments are made about teaching and research.
Equally as troubling, her votes in the U.S. Congress and her ratings from mainstream education, civil rights, and environmental groups reveal a protracted record of ultra-conservative interests and values that clash sharply with the progressive interests and values of most UTEP students and of El Pasoans. Wilson’s right-wing policy positions are of great concern to a community that embraces equal treatment and opportunity for all and rejects hate and discrimination.
Wilson was rated 0% by the Human Rights Campaign for her staunch opposition to LGBTQ rights and only 13% by the ACLU because of her stance against civil rights legislation. She voted for the border wall/fence and in support of the border vigilante group The Minutemen. She also voted against funding for African American and Hispanic-Serving institutions.
The press has reported that the Committee on Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) raised questions about her appointment as Secretary of the Air Force in 2017. The Trump administration disregarded these concerns. CREW also raised questions about Wilson violating ethics standards in corruption probes during 2008. The last thing we need at UTEP is a president who does not understand ethics, cronyism, and conflicts of interest.
Wilson became the lone UTEP finalist in a seriously flawed, secretive selection process driven by big-donor gubernatorial appointees, with the UT Board of Regents making the final decision. Although bureaucrats decorated the semi-inclusive search committee with several faculty members and a student, we believe their good names were used and abused to validate the decision-making process. We suspect that from the start wealthy businessmen who dominated the search committee and members of the U.T. Board of Regents already had in mind the kind of person they sought for the UTEP presidency: a conservative, business-friendly, border-control oriented person with a military background. In selecting Wilson, it is clear that little or no consideration was given to necessary academic qualifications and experience working in ethnic and gender-diverse educational settings.
Why was a qualified Latino or Latina not chosen as the finalist? UTEP faculty and prominent Mexican American community leaders and others emphatically pointed out to the U.T. System and to the UTEP search committee well before that body began its work that UTEP is long overdue for a Mexican American/Hispanic president, since it has never had one. This admonition, as well as suggested essential qualifications for candidates, were ignored by the search committee and the Regents.
As an Hispanic-serving institution in a bilingual, bicultural community, UTEP cannot have a president like Wilson. She is the antithesis of what students, faculty, and the community desire. She is exceedingly controversial. Her record is highly divisive and polarizing. If the Regents certify her as president, there will be much anger in the community and the campus will be in continuous turmoil.
UTEP Deserves Better! Say NO to Heather Wilson!
Community First Coalition Coordinating Committee:
Carmen Rodríguez, Verónica Frescas, Lily Limón, Dylan Corbett, Marisa Limón, Kathy Staudt, Cynthia Rentería, Liz Chávez, Rick Wright, Gloria Barragán, Scott White, Oscar Martínez (coordinator)
Hope Border Institute; Border Network for Human Rights; Mexican American Cultural Institute; Wise Latina International; Paso del Sur; Raza Organize; Social Justice Education Project; Union for Development and Quality of Life; LULAC Council 298; Velo Paso Bicycle-Pedestrian Coalition.