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Home | Tag Archives: utep president

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Heather Wilson delivers first ‘State of the University Address’ as new UTEP President

In her first address to The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) community since leaving her role as Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, newly minted UTEP President Heather Wilson laid out the remarkable path that lies ahead for the campus and the efforts it will undergo to keep the cost of a college degree affordable, including a plan to offer low-cost or no-cost textbook options, and advocate for continued public support for higher education.

“UTEP is a comprehensive public research university that is increasing access to excellent higher education,” President Wilson said. “We advance discovery of public value and positively impact the health, culture, education and economy of the community we serve. We are a 21st century university. No school will be prayed for or worked for with greater dedication. I am honored to be a part of it.”

President Wilson’s address came a little more than a month after entering UTEP’s highest leadership role. She assumed office Aug. 15, three months after completing her service as Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, a position to which she was appointed in 2017.

Her arrival at UTEP comes on the heels of a period of unprecedented growth in enrollment, academic programs and physical structures throughout the campus.

These feats recently culminated with the University achieving an R1 top tier doctoral research university designation in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education.

While the institution’s history is laden with exceptional moments, President Wilson was clear in her assessment of where the campus must now shift its sights.

“The regions of the world that educate people will thrive in the 21st century. Those that don’t will be left behind,” President Wilson said. “What was good enough for our parents and our grandparents is not good enough for our children and our grandchildren. UTEP must take its place as a national leader, a 21st century university.”

On Tuesday, President Wilson lauded the University’s recent significant feats, which, in addition to the R1 top tier designation, include $91 million in research expenditures capped by a recent $19.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center; seeing nearly half of the campus’ science-focused students maintain a GPA of 3.5 or higher; and the school-record recognition of 160 UTEP student-athletes by the Conference USA Commissioner’s Honor Roll, among many other accolades.

Wilson pointed to several tenets that the University will abide by in the years ahead to continue those trends. They include:

• Working with the Texas Legislature and other groups to garner more support for higher education.

• Keeping the price of a UTEP degree a cost-effective endeavor through efforts such as a recent collaboration by 45 faculty members to offer low- or no-cost textbooks.

• A campus pledge to be an inclusive environment for students of all backgrounds and foster their success.

• A commitment to becoming a leader among 21st century universities and serving the unique student demographic that resides throughout the Paso del Norte region.

Wilson said knowledge isn’t merely transmitted at UTEP, it is created. The notion of engaged scholarship – the scholarship of place – defined the campus from its outset, and continues to drive it today.

President Wilson delivered her remarks Tuesday, September 17, 2019, to a large crowd of UTEP faculty, staff and students as well as community stakeholders gathered at the campus’ Fox Fine Arts Center Recital Hall.

Click here for a complete transcript of President Wilson’s remarks.

UTEP President Named Spirit of Amigo Award Recipient by Visit El Paso

UTEP President Diana Natalicio’s role in the enhancement of El Paso’s stature as one of the country’s marquee destinations has been recognized by Visit El Paso, an organization that oversees the city’s destination marketing.

President Natalicio has been named the recipient of Visit El Paso’s Spirit of Amigo Award, which recognizes a person or organization that has profoundly and positively impacted the image of El Paso.

The award will be presented Thursday, May 9, 2019, during the organization’s 16th annual National Travel and Tourism luncheon at the Judson F. Williams Convention Center. The event is held annually in conjunction with National Travel and Tourism Week.

UTEP’s Hall of Fame basketball coach Don Haskins is a previous recipient of the award.

“I am pleased to accept this award on behalf of UTEP’s 25,000+ talented and hard-working students, and the faculty and staff who have enabled them to attain their highest aspirations,” President Natalicio said.

“UTEP plays a major role in the development of the surrounding region, educating the next generation of leaders, conducting top-tier research that has earned us national recognition as a Carnegie R1 university, and contributing in a variety of ways to the region’s prosperity and quality of life. With its mission to continue spreading the word about this region’s many rich assets and opportunities, Visit El Paso complements our successful efforts to attract outstanding faculty and staff to this region. I thank Visit El Paso for this recognition and for its support of The University of Texas at El Paso.”

President Natalicio was selected for the award based on her work to enhance the University’s stature and the positive outcomes it has yielded for the rest of the Paso del Norte region, said Bryan Crowe, general manager of Visit El Paso.

“We are honored to recognize such an influential leader,” Crowe said. “Dr. Natalicio has not only put UTEP on the map but has been a vital ambassador for El Paso and the region. When selecting our recipients each year, we look for individuals who have embraced El Paso and its heritage, culture and people and go the extra mile to elevate the city to everyone they come in contact with. It only seemed fitting that we select Dr. Natalicio as this year’s recipient for her dedication to the University and to El Paso.”

President Natalicio announced in May 2018 that she will retire after 31 years in UTEP’s top leadership role. She was named UTEP President in 1988. Her tenure makes her the longest-serving current president of a public doctoral/research university in the country.

In her time at UTEP, she has guided the University to national prominence as a research institution, all the while being relentless in ensuring access and affordability for the student population that it serves.

In 2019, UTEP was designated as an R1 top tier doctoral university with very high research activity in the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. UTEP is one of only 130 (4.5%) universities among the 2,883 four-year higher education institutions across the U.S. to earn this distinction.

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.

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

Gallery+Story: Public Invited to Tour UTEP’s Historic ‘Hoover House’

Members of the public are invited to visit the official residence of The University of Texas at El Paso’s President, the Hoover House, during an open house June 3 and 4 to celebrate the home’s centennial.

“The Hoover House is not only a historic property but a place where University history is made,” President Natalicio said. “Each year, we welcome UTEP students, alumni, faculty, staff, friends and supporters to a variety of University events held in this beautiful residence. For me, it is an honor and privilege to live in UTEP’s official home, and a great pleasure to open its doors to share so many of the University’s happiest occasions with our UTEP family and friends, community members and visitors from across the world.”

UTEP President Diana Natalicio will officially open the house and give remarks at 9 a.m. Saturday and again at noon Sunday. She will be joined by Paydirt Pete and the UTEP cheerleaders. Birthday cake will be served.

The mansion, located in Kern Place, was one of the first homes built in the area in 1917. It is named for the family that donated it to the University and has been home to five UTEP presidents, including the current resident, President Natalicio.

Serving a dual role as both a residence and a center of hospitality for UTEP, the Hoover House has hosted dozens of dignitaries, including former Texas Gov. Ann Richards, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and former First Lady Laura Bush. It also is the setting for many celebratory and ceremonial events.

The last time the home was opened to the general public was in 2014, when community groups were invited to use the home for special events during UTEP’s Centennial celebration.

The Hoover House was built by Richard M. Dudley, a banker who became a Texas legislator and El Paso mayor, and his wife, Frances. Dudley, a member of the Texas House of Representatives, co-authored the bill funding the construction of the new State School of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) after the original campus was destroyed by fire in 1916.

In 1930, five years after Dudley’s death, Mrs. Frances Dudley sold the home to Rosario Campo de Fernandez Blanco and her husband Tomas F. Blanco, a wealthy brewer from Mexico.

Nine years later, the Internal Revenue Service took possession of the home for nonpayment of taxes. Robert Thompson Hoover, a prominent local cotton merchant, purchased the home in 1944 for $14,000. His widow, Mrs. Louisiana Hoover, donated the house to the University in 1965.

At their meeting on July 17, 1965, the Board of Regents, on the recommendation of Texas Western College President Joseph Ray, designated the home “Hoover House” in honor of the Hoover family. Ray was the first University president to live in the home, residing there with his wife, Jettie H. Ray, from 1965-68.

Other residents included President Joseph R. Smiley and Mary E. Smiley (1969-72), President Arleigh B. Templeton and Maxie Templeton (1972-80) and President Haskell Monroe and Margaret Joann “Jo” Monroe (1980-87).

President Natalicio moved into the Hoover House in 1988.

What: Public open house to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Hoover House, the official residence of the President of The University of Texas at El Paso

When: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday, June 3 and noon5 p.m. Sunday, June 4

Where: The Hoover House, 711 Cincinnati Ave.

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