Statement on UTEP Presidential Finalist

Austin – The following statement was released by State Sen. José Rodríguez:

The University of Texas System Board of Regents will vote Tuesday to formally appoint Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as President of the University of Texas at El Paso. I oppose this action.

The selection of this sole finalist was the result of a flawed, closed search process that shut out any substantive input from the community. The UT System chooses to not make its finalists public. This is in contrast to other higher education systems, like El Paso Community College or the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology that Secretary Wilson led, which announce three or more finalists who are then publicly vetted. Even among institutions that choose a sole finalist, there is far more robust engagement and communications with the campus and community.

I understand the need to provide confidentiality to ensure high quality candidates apply. However, this must be balanced with the need to weigh the community’s input in the final selection of one of the most vital, high-level positions in the region and country.

With this particular finalist, the Regents either failed to anticipate the obvious concerns about Secretary Wilson’s past voting record and the opposition it would engender, or simply did not care. For example, her lack of support for public education funding and for equality for LGBTQ Americans. Most importantly for me, Secretary Wilson is not representative of this community and has no experience with the border.

It appears the Regents still do not appreciate the depth of concern among students, faculty, and the community. At least some of this could have been mitigated if the UT System had planned outreach with the campus and the broader community as soon as the finalist was named; this would have allowed for some of these concerns to be aired in a more collaborative setting. Although I appreciate that some meetings were held, none were open to the general public. 

Nothing in state law requires the Regents to name only one finalist; and while a vote may not take place sooner than 21 days after a finalist in named, there is no requirement that a vote take place that quickly. Given this, and the shared concerns raised by students, faculty, alumni, and other constituents, I urge the Regents to listen to the students and the community, and not appoint her on Tuesday.


José Rodríguez represents Texas Senate District 29, which includes the counties of El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, and Presidio. He represents both urban and rural constituencies, and more than 350 miles of the Texas-Mexico border. Senator Rodríguez currently serves as the Chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and is a member of the Senate Committees on Agriculture (Vice Chair); Natural Resources and Economic Development; Transportation; and Water & Rural Affairs.

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