State senator questions selection of UTSA president finalist

Sen. Jose Menendez dismayed over lack of Latino UT presidents

SAN ANTONIOState Sen. Jose Menendez (D-Dist. 26) said he is dismayed by the selection of a finalist for University of Texas at San Antonio president who does not represent an enrollment that is 51 percent Latino in Bexar County, with a population that is 60 percent Hispanic.

“I believe that they could find a highly qualified person for the job who happens to be a Latino or Latina,” Menendez said.

The UT System Board of Regents on June 30 named as its sole finalist T. Taylor Eighmy, Ph.D., who is vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. 

READ MORE: UT Regents name UTSA president finalist

A UT System spokeswoman said the regents have not set a date for their vote, but it will be “no fewer than 21 days after he was named a finalist.” 

Menendez said if Eighmy is named UTSA president, “the UT System will have no Hispanics who are presidents of any campus,” including its medical schools.

In a letter to Gen. William McRaven, the UT System chancellor, Menendez pointed out that “nearly 87,235 Latino(a) students attend UT System institutions, but not one of the campuses will now be led by a Latino(a).”

Menendez said UTSA is one of the nation’s largest Hispanic-serving institutions, and that up until last March, it had the only Latino president in the UT System.

Dr. Ricardo Romo, who was said to be popular among faculty and students, resigned after being placed on administrative leave over allegations of sexual harassment.

RELATED: Romo steps down, retires as UTSA president

The letter also expresses his disappointment “over a selection process that lacked both transparency and diversity.”

Menendez’s letter asks the UT System chancellor to provide the policy outlining the review and vetting process, and he wants to know how many minority candidates applied, interviewed and were among the top five candidates. 

The senator said he had been following the search process to the extent that he submitted a list of eight to 12 candidates, all of them Hispanic.

The UT System spokeswoman said there were five Hispanics on the search advisory committee.

Spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo sent this statement regarding the search for the UTSA president:

"The Board of Regents was extremely pleased with the extraordinary caliber of candidates this national search attracted and delighted to have identified a sole finalist of Dr. Eighmy’s standing. UT System leadership appreciates Sen. Menendez’s support for and interest in the continued success of UTSA and looks forward to further discussion."

“Many consider San Antonio the capital of South Texas, where we have so many kids coming from Laredo or the (Rio Grande) Valley,” Menendez said.

He said he had hoped the next president of UTSA would be someone they could aspire to be, especially coming from predominantly Hispanic communities.

Read Menendez's full statement below: 

"While I congratulate Dr. Eighmy on his selection to lead UTSA, I am dismayed at the lack of transparency or consideration for a Latino(a) candidates. If Dr. Eighmy remains in this post past a required 21-day period after his selection, none of the nine UT System campuses will be led by a Latino(a). In a county that is 60 percent Latino(a), and a University that had an enrollment of 51 percent Latino(a) in 2016, that is unacceptable. Just two Latinos served on the sixteen member selection committee and no public vetting process or open forums were held to evaluate the candidates. We will not let that stand. The students and taxpayers of San Antonio deserve some answers. My office will be submitting an inquiry to the UT system to explain the selection process for the head of this public university and what consideration it gave to an applicant pool that better reflects the community served by its campus."

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