West Texas A&M faculty condemn university President Walter Wendler after drag show cancellation

West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler addresses the crowd at the WT Festival of Lights and winter carnival in Canyon on Dec. 2, 2022. (Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News/Usa Today Network Via Reuters, Michael Cuviello/Amarillo Globe-News/Usa Today Network Via Reuters)

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Most West Texas A&M faculty have lost confidence in university President Walter Wendler, according to the results of a campuswide vote that came weeks after he canceled a charity campus drag show.

Faculty senate leaders announced the results of the weeklong no-confidence vote Tuesday evening. According to faculty senate president Ashley Pinkham, there were 179 votes to condemn Wendler and 82 against it.

Pinkham said in an email to faculty that some colleagues provided comments with their ballots, which will be tabulated and released in the coming days.

The vote is nonbinding and largely symbolic, but faculty hope it sends a message to other university leaders and the Texas A&M University System, which oversees the university.

[West Texas A&M University students file free speech lawsuit after president cancels campus drag show]

In a statement, university spokesperson Kelly Carper Polden confirmed the results of the vote. A spokesperson for the Texas A&M University System declined to comment citing pending litigation.

According to Pinkham, 281 ballots were received out of 368 sent to full-time faculty and professional librarians. Twenty ballots were considered invalid because they were submitted incorrectly or received after the Friday deadline. Overall, about 69% of eligible ballots were cast condemning the president.

Wendler drew fire from students and free speech advocates last month when he canceled a student drag show last month arguing that the performances are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”

In a letter to the campus community, Wendler said the shows “stereotype women in cartoon-like extremes for the amusement of others and discriminate against womanhood,” and said allowing the show would be considered workplace prejudice because the shows make fun of women. LGBTQ advocates and students have argued Wendler mischaracterized the art form.

In a resolution announcing the vote of no confidence last week, faculty senate leaders said their concerns were broader and went beyond Wendler’s recent handling of the student drag show. They accused him of abusing his role as president by running the university based on his own religious ideology and said he has exhibited a pattern of “divisive, misogynistic, homophobic and non-inclusive rhetoric that stands in stark contrast with the Core Values of the university.”

They also accused Wendler of presenting his personal opinions and religious beliefs in online blog posts as the official position of the public university. Faculty leaders said those opinions go against the university’s mission, violate state and federal law, damage the university’s reputation and hurt fundraising efforts.

Faculty who spoke to The Texas Tribune and requested to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation say Wendler’s handling of the drag show was the last straw for many of them who feel he has exhibited poor leadership with other issues.

In the resolution, faculty also accused Wendler of actively encouraging prospective students to avoid attending a four-year university immediately after high school and attend community college first, which they say has led to enrollment declines.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, enrollment at the public university in Canyon dropped between fall 2019 and 2022 by nearly 700 students to 9,275 at the start of this academic year.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University and Texas A&M University System have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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