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Home | Tag Archives: Heather Wilson

Tag Archives: Heather Wilson

UT System names Heather Wilson next UTEP president, despite objections from Democrats and LGBTQ activists

The University of Texas System Board of Regents has officially selected Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson as the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso, despite the local and state-level uproar about her past positions on LGBTQ issues.

The board vote was unanimous, and Chairman Kevin Eltife called her a “mission-focused, values-driven, people-oriented leader.”

“She has a stellar reputation for serving her community and constituents based on their needs, goals and aspirations,” he said.

The regents chose Wilson as the sole finalist for the position early last month, and the regents have lauded her public service background. Her appointment Tuesday comes after a state-mandated 21-day waiting period.

Her selection has garnered a wave of opposition from El Paso community members, including staff, alumni and students who urged the regents to vote against her. Concerns have sparked on-campus protests, phone banking drives, and an online petition with more than 10,000 signatures.

At issue is Wilson’s record while serving in Congress and concerns about her ability to work with a diverse community. During her time in Congress, she voted for a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and against bills aimed at protecting LGBTQ individuals from hate crimes and employment discrimination.

In a statement, Wilson said she looked forward to “leading this great university toward its bright future.”

“No institution means more to the future of El Paso and Juarez region than UTEP. Its deep commitment to providing access to education and excellence in research is a model for the nation,” Wilson said in a statement. “UTEP is a catalyst for economic growth in the fourth largest manufacturing region in North America – the source of ideas and high quality education to meet the needs of the 21st century.”

In addition to local discontent, the state Democratic party and multiple state Democratic legislators have voiced concerns about her presidency and the process used to select her.

“While Secretary Wilson has an impressive resume and numerous political accomplishments, that does not necessarily translate into the appropriate appointment for UTEP president,” said Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, in a statement before Tuesday’s vote.

Gonzalez said she spoke on the phone with Wilson, who was “unable to name specific policies she would implement as a university leader to encourage an inclusive learning environment.”

Both Gonzalez and Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, have called the selection process “flawed,” lacking transparency and community input.

“Most importantly for me, Secretary Wilson is not representative of this community and has no experience with the border,” Rodriguez said.

The regents said they received multiple letters in support and against her nomination, and multiple students, alumni, and community members railed against Wilson’s nomination at the Tuesday morning meeting in Austin.

“She is unqualified. She is harmful to the UTEP community,” said Eden Klein, a UTEP alumna and current UT-Austin law student.

Multiple critics cited UTEP’s mission statement on its homepage and argued that Wilson fell short of UTEP’s ideal “to [provide] quality higher education to a diverse student population.” Critics have also rebuked her March 2006 vote against providing $84 million in grants for colleges that predominantly serve black and Hispanic students, and her vote that same year to construct a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Regent Ernest Aliseda, who lives along the U.S.-Mexico border in McAllen, highlighted that, as the president of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Wilson worked to increase the number of women, first generation, and low-income students at the school.

Wilson will start in mid-August to replace longtime leader Diana Natalicio. During Natalicio’s 30-year tenure, she boosted the university’s budget and cultivated a nationally recognized research program for the school’s diverse student body, which is 80% Hispanic.

Students will work to ensure the core values Natalicio has instilled at UTEP are upheld by Wilson, said Hira Ali, a leader of the We the Student coalition, a group of student organizations and activists opposed to Wilson’s presidency.

“From here on out as We The Student coalition and other students on campus, we’ve banded together to be a watchdog organization for Wilson,” she said. “We want to let Wilson know we’re going to be watching her every step.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas System, Ernest Aliseda and the University of Texas at El Paso 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.

Heather Wilson named president of UT El Paso

Tuesday morning, the UT System Board of Regents named Heather Wilson, Ph.D., the next president of The University of Texas at El Paso. She begins her new role August 15, 2019.

Wilson’s accomplished career in public service and higher education has spanned more than 35 years and includes top leadership roles in higher education, the military, government and private industry.

Regents approved the appointment at a special called meeting of the board today. Wilson was unanimously selected as the sole finalist for the position at a board meeting March 8. Under state law, university governing boards must name finalists for a presidency at least 21 days before making an appointment.

Wilson was appointed Secretary of the U.S. Air Force in 2017 and oversees 685,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces, and an annual budget of $160 billion. Prior to that appointment, she served as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, an engineering and science research university, from 2013 to 2017.

In 1998, Wilson became the first female military veteran elected to a full term in Congress, representing New Mexico until 2009.

After she graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in its third class to admit women and was selected as a Rhodes Scholar – one of the world’s most celebrated and distinguished international fellowships – she served as an Air Force officer for seven years. She was subsequently appointed to the National Security Council and as cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.

Board Chairman Kevin Eltife acknowledged that many members of the UTEP and El Paso communities had contacted the regents to express both praise and criticism of Wilson. The criticism of Wilson focused mostly on her voting record while in Congress, representing the constituency of New Mexico’s 1st congressional district after being elected in 1998.

“Our job as regents is to select the best possible person to lead an institution, to make it a better version of itself in every way, from academics to the arts, from research to athletics. We select presidents who make students their top priority, by focusing on all areas of student success in and out of the classroom – from academic advising to support services like counseling, wellness and mental health,” Eltife said.

“My colleagues on the board and I have listened to the concerns raised, but we also have considered Sec. Wilson’s professional experiences over decades, each of which demonstrated she has always focused on the well-being and advancement of the people and communities she has served. Furthermore, colleagues everywhere, throughout government to higher education, who have worked closely with Sec. Wilson commend her for her impressive leadership, diplomacy, vision and compassion.

“We are proud of the UTEP community, especially students, who got involved in this process, including those who supported Sec. Wilson and those who opposed her,” Eltife added. “We will work with Dr. Wilson as the incoming president of UTEP to earn their trust and respect. I have no doubt she will be an outstanding president.”

A search advisory committee that included two UT institution presidents, three members of the Board of Regents, representatives from UTEP students, faculty, staff and deans, as well as alumni and members of the El Paso community, reviewed candidates and made recommendations to the Board of Regents.

Prior to today’s vote, Wilson visited El Paso twice to meet with several hundred students, staff, faculty, alumni and community and elected officials.

“No institution means more to the future of El Paso and Juarez region than UTEP. Its deep commitment to providing access to education and excellence in research is a model for the nation,” Wilson said. “UTEP is a catalyst for economic growth in the fourth largest manufacturing region in North America – the source of ideas and high quality education to meet the needs of the 21st century. I look forward to building on the tremendous legacy of President Natalicio and leading this great university toward its bright future.”

“Heather Wilson’s decades of significant leadership experience in multiple arenas will serve her well as president of UTEP,” UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “I look forward to working closely with her on behalf of this extraordinary institution with its essential mission of serving El Paso and Texas.”

Wilson succeeds Diana Natalicio, Ph.D., who announced in May that she would retire after serving as UTEP’s president for 30 years.

Wilson and her husband have three adult children. In addition to receiving her undergraduate degree from the U.S. Air Force Academy, she received her master’s and doctorate degrees in international relations at Oxford University. Wilson plans to step down from her current post as U.S. Air Force Secretary on May 31.

Backlash builds against UTEP president nominee Heather Wilson

Earlier this month, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson was chosen as the next president of the University of Texas at El Paso, with President Donald Trump’s Twitter blessings and praise.

But over the past few weeks, she’s faced backlash from students, professors and local activists over her anti-LGBTQ record and concerns about her ability to support the school’s diverse population. Her nomination has sparked a wave of protests, a petition that’s grown to more than 9,300 signatures and now the official disapproval of the Texas Democratic Party.

“The most alarming part of all of this is seeing her voting record … and how opposed she is to the community she’s now about to lead,” said Hira Ali, a leader of the We the Student coalition, a group of student organizations and activists opposed to Wilson’s presidency.

The main point of contention is Wilson’s anti-LGBTQ voting record from her time as a congresswoman for New Mexico in the late 1990s and early 2000s. During her time in Congress, she voted for a federal amendment to ban same-sex marriage and against bills aimed at protecting LGBTQ individuals from hate crimes and employment discrimination.

Additionally, her opponents have raised concerns about her ability to support UTEP’s mostly Hispanic student body, pointing to her March 2006 vote against providing $84 million in grants for colleges that predominantly serve black and Hispanic students. Some opponents also have criticized her vote that year to construct a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“If Heather Wilson didn’t support and represent all of her constituents while a NM congresswoman, how can she represent a diverse university?” Cristina Calvillo-Rivera, a UTEP alumnus and local LGBTQ advocate who met her wife at UTEP, said in a statement.

But Jan Puszynski, vice president of research at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, where Wilson was president for four years, said Wilson never made any anti-LGBTQ comments to him during her tenure.

“We didn’t have any issues. … She was always forthcoming against hate speech,” he said.

Except for her brief stint in academia, Wilson has spent most of her 35-year career working in national defense. She served as the director of defense policy and arms control for the National Security Council and as a defense planning officer for the U.S. Mission to NATO.

Wilson’s visit to UTEP, just days after the UT Board of Regents announced that she was the sole finalist, spurred protests in the heart of campus. While Wilson was holding a private press conference, students, faculty and local protestors clustered outside and hoisted up rainbow flags and protest signs while chanting, “We deserve better.”

During that press conference, Wilson said her “general approach with respect to LGBT issues is to treat everyone with dignity and respect,” according to the Associated Press. She could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Calvillo-Rivera was circulating an online petition opposing Wilson’s nomination. On Thursday, UTEP students and local leaders delivered the petition to Paul Foster, the vice chair of the UT System Board of Regents and a businessman based in El Paso.

Although students requested an in-person meeting, Foster denied the request and said “the best and most productive way” to voice their concerns would be to meet with Wilson directly. He said Wilson would host question-and-answer sessions with UTEP student and faculty groups, along with other community members, the next time she visits the campus.

Days later, the El Paso County Democratic Party joined the opposition movement with a vote of no confidence against Wilson. On Friday morning, the state Democratic Party released a statement calling on UT Chancellor Milliken to withdraw Wilson’s nomination and look for other candidates.

“Heather Wilson’s nomination as a sole finalist shows a complete disregard for everything it means to be a part of the Miner “Glory Road” tradition,” Texas Democratic Party spokesman MarcoAntonio Orrantia said in a written statement.

The UT Board of Regents must wait at least 21 days before confirming Wilson’s appointment — the earliest date would be Friday — but the board hasn’t scheduled a meeting to vote.

Wilson plans to return to UTEP to meet with students, faculty and staff before the regents vote, according to UT System spokeswoman Karen Adler.

Meanwhile, student and community activists have been running phone banks and emailing Gov. Greg Abbott, regents and state legislators to register their opposition to Wilson becoming UTEP’s next president.

Ali said student leaders are planning another on-campus protest on Wednesday to “let Wilson know that we’re not going to give in without a fight.”

Disclosure: The University of Texas System and the University of Texas at El Paso 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.

Author: ARYA SUNDARAM –  The Texas Tribune

Video+Story: New UTEP President Heather Wilson Holds News Conference at University

Former Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather and sole candidate for the UT El Paso Presidency spoke to the media Monday morning during a news conference.

Video courtesy our friends over at KTSM 9 News.

***Previous Story Below (3/8/19)

UT Regents select Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson, Sole finalist for UT El Paso Presidency

The University of Texas System Board of Regents named Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson – a former university president and U.S. congresswoman from New Mexico – as the sole finalist for the president of UT El Paso.

Regents voted unanimously Friday to select Wilson, whose accomplished career in public service and higher education has spanned more than 35 years and includes top leadership roles in higher education, the military, government and private industry.

Wilson was the first woman selected to serve as president of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, an engineering and science research university.

During her tenure there, from 2013 until 2017, the institution doubled its research awards and experienced enrollment growth, the creation of new masters and doctoral degree programs and significant investments in capital projects.

Wilson also strengthened a scholar program to increase the number of American Indian graduates, and she successfully orchestrated the institution’s athletics transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II.

In 1998, Wilson became the first female military veteran elected to a full term in Congress, representing New Mexico’s First District until 2009.  Previous appointments to the National Security Council and as cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department put Wilson at the helm of leading teams, building consensus and making qualitative organizational advancements.

A successful reformer of the foster care and adoption system, Wilson led efforts to reduce the number of children waiting for adoption.

As Secretary of the Air Force, Wilson oversees 685,000 active-duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian forces, and an annual budget of more than $138 billion.

The Regents’ decision followed an executive session last week where they interviewed candidates and considered recommendations from a presidential search advisory committee that reviewed applications and met with candidates for the position.

“Dr. Wilson’s broad experience in the highest levels of university leadership, and state and national government– whether securing federal grant awards, advising our nation’s most important national research laboratories, raising philanthropic dollars or running large, dynamic organizations – will help ensure that UTEP continues its remarkable trajectory as a nationally recognized public research institution,” Regents’ chairman Kevin Eltife said. “Most importantly, she is deeply committed to student success and has dedicated her life to enhancing upward mobility opportunities for individuals.”

As a young child, Wilson’s interest in aviation was inspired by her grandfather, who flew planes for the British and American forces during World Wars I and II. She graduated summa cum laude from the U.S. Air Force Academy in the third class to admit women, where she was the first woman to command basic cadet training.

Wilson then received one of the world’s most celebrated international fellowship awards—a Rhodes Scholarship. She received her master’s and doctorate degrees in international relations at Oxford University.

After serving as an Air Force officer for seven years, she was appointed to the National Security Council staff as director for defense policy and arms control for President George H.W. Bush during the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Warsaw Pact.

During Wilson’s decade in Congress, she served on the House Armed Services Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Wilson also has worked in the private sector, serving as a senior advisor to several national nuclear laboratories and as president of Keystone International, a company she founded that conducted business development and program planning work for defense and scientific industry.

“Secretary Wilson has had a remarkable career of firsts in education and national service, and it’s easy to understand why the search advisory committee and the board have been so impressed.  She has the experience, talent and leadership to build on UTEP’s exceptional momentum,” said UT System Chancellor James B. Milliken.

If appointed by Regents after the state-required 21-day waiting period, Wilson would succeed Diana Natalicio, Ph.D., who announced in May that she would retire after serving as UTEP’s president for 30 years. Over the course of her tenure, Natalicio led a significant qualitative transformation of UTEP, dramatically increasing research funding, degree offerings and student success.

In January, UT El Paso attained the coveted top tier designation from the Carnegie Classification of institutions of higher education that only 130 other universities in the United States have earned.

Eltife thanked the members of the search advisory committee for their time and commitment to recommending to the Board of Regents select the best possible candidates to lead UT El Paso.

The search committee included the following representation:

  • Chair of Committee (Steven Leslie, Ph.D., UT System executive vice chancellor for academic affairs)
  • Board of Regents (Vice Chairman Paul Foster, Regent Ernie Aliseda and Regent Rad Weaver)
  • Presidents of other UT institutions (Taylor Eighmy, Ph.D., president of UT San Antonio, and Sandra Woodley, Ph.D., president of UT Permian Basin)
  • UT El Paso dean, faculty, and staff (Charles Ambler, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School; Edward Castañeda, Ph.D., professor of psychology; Mark Cox, MSPH, Ph.D., associate professor of biological sciences; Elena Izquierdo, Ph.D., associate professor of teacher education; and Nadia Munoz, director of military services)
  • UT El Paso student and alumnus (Cristian Botello, UTEP student and president of the student government association, and Bonny Schulenburg, social media relations specialist at Ysleta ISD and president of the UTEP alumni association)
  • External and community members (Woody Hunt, chairman of Hunt Building Co.; Sally Hurt-Deitch, market CEO of The Hospitals of Providence; Renard Johnson, president of METI, Inc.; Mike Loya, CEO and president of Vitol, Inc.; Dee Margo, mayor of the City of El Paso; and Ed Escudero, vice chairman of WestStar Bank and president and CEO of High Desert Capital)
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