Howdy, y’all. I’m back, and I have some thoughts. And this time, it’s not about the Texas State athletic department.
Believe me, I would love to keep my ramblings and ravings cloistered to the continuing lack of competence within Texas State Athletics that holds back Bobcat sports from reaching their potential. Unfortunately, recent events have revealed an uncomfortable, yet unmistakable truth that goes well beyond athletics: There is a leadership vacuum at Texas State at the university-wide level that rapidly needs to be addressed.
Specifically, I’m referring to the lack of leadership displayed by Texas State University President Dr. Denise Trauth during a series of controversial, divisive, and even dangerous events.
Disastrous Race Relations
True, race relations within this country are at an all-time low and our country hasn’t been this divided since the 1960s. But President Trauth’s lack of tact and aplomb in handling these tensions has been particularly galling.
The Racist Student Body President
First, there’s today’s embarrassing excuse for a public statement put out by President Trauth in response to a petition to recall student body president Connor Clegg because of racist, sexist, and overall plain ignorant material put out on his Instagram in 2014 and 2017.
A rundown of some of Clegg’s offensive content can be reached here.
Clegg is an extremely divisive and unrepresentative figure to many minority students on the Texas State campus. Given that his dumbassery was posted as recently as 2017, and his attempt to use the “locker room talk” excuse as a way to justify his behavior, a healthy skepticism towards the sincerity of his recent apology seems warranted.
This incident also comes under the backdrop of white supremacists and nazis spreading their racist and openly fascist ideologies via flyers all over campus, as well as a recent University Star column that caused a major controversy in its own right, so needless to say the university community is already divided and on edge. These are not times for lukewarm leadership, and Clegg deserved a much stronger condemnation from President Trauth than he got.
It goes without saying that Clegg’s damaged his trust within the university community so thoroughly that he needs to step down, but in many ways, he’s a symptom of a larger problem of this administration being caught flat-footed at every turn. Preceding this fiasco was Dr. Trauth’s ever-changing response to the University Star article by former columnist Rudy Martinez.
The Incendiary Student Newspaper Op-ed
Martinez’s column “Your DNA is an Abomination” caused a major uproar on the Texas State campus as it was undoubtedly intended to do. Reactions among campus and alumni were mixed, to say the least. Some rushed to defend his column as well as Martinez’s explanation that he was merely calling for the death of a cultural vehicle, i.e. that of white culture and privilege, rather than the actual death of Caucasian human beings.
Others criticized the piece’s execution, occasionally unclear language and lack of distinction between ideology and physical threat. Many took the piece literally, as the op-ed ended up circulating among right-wing media as an example of an overt threat to the lives of white people and public outrage ballooned as a result. Among most sides of the political spectrum was a consensus within the Bobcat community that the piece should’ve never made it through the editorial process without some major changes.
Dr. Trauth’s initial response was somewhat tepid, which didn’t satisfy the conservatives wanting immediate retribution, and then she changed her tune to fully condemning the piece, which angered Martinez’s defenders. She came out with a strong statement that said that racism of any form had no place at Texas State (a statement she undoubtedly considered uncontroversial, but was nonetheless to those asserting that racism is fundamentally rooted in power dynamics).
Martinez would eventually be let go from the University Star, and Connor Clegg called for a full defunding of the paper. Oh, the irony.
A Dangerous Double Standard
Whatever you believe on this extremely heated issue, it’s undoubtedly true that by saying that racism has no place at Texas State, Dr. Trauth set a zero tolerance precedent that she would be expected to uphold. Today’s weak response is an outright betrayal of that principle, and now she’s managed to embarrass almost everyone except Clegg’s strongest defenders.
Two wrongs don’t make a right, and it’s entirely reasonable to have a much higher expectation of your student body president rather than an op-ed columnist at the student paper.
Dr. Trauth could more than likely remove Clegg if she really wanted to, but she has chosen not to interfere with the internal dealings of the student government. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as respecting the ability of ASG to deal with these breaches of conduct internally is an important recognition of the body’s independence. However, Trauth’s statement essentially absolving Clegg of his behavior belies an apparent double standard in how student controversies will be handled.
Namely, if a rich, privileged white male in a position of power on campus puts racist and sexist commentary out in public for all to see, he’ll get little more than an extremely soft slap on the wrist and an admonishment to do better next time. If an ethnic minority dares to have an explosively controversial opinion in a media outlet on campus, he or she will get fired. That Clegg gets this slap on the wrist after threatening to defund a major free press outlet on campus is particularly galling.
If Dr. Trauth thinks that her statement will do anything except destroy what little credibility she had left with the majority of students of color on campus, she’s beyond naive and out of touch. There will likely be additional protests and blowback from her statement, and there frankly should be.
As an alumnus, I’m appalled that a major public institution (and one that claims to be Hispanic-serving) would handle these controversies with such a lack of tact and comprehension of the demands of its student body. Additionally, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from such a statement strategically and it constitutes the worst response possible Dr. Trauth could’ve made. But that’s secondary to the horror minority students must be feeling when white students in power are caught being racist, Dr. Trauth and the university will abandon their supposed anti-racism principles and kiss white power’s ass every time.
Aside from those controversies, there have been numerous incidents regarding disasters, real and imagined, human and natural, that have caught university leadership consistently off guard. During numerous floods that deluged much of Texas State’s campus (including in areas where the majority of commuter parking is located), Dr. Trauth and the university were excessively slow to respond to unsafe conditions on campus and thereby put students, faculty, and staff in the difficult situation of whether to skip class/work and risk academic and/or professional blowback or whether to risk one’s own safety to make it to campus.
There was also the string of bomb threats where forthcoming information from the university about the level of safety on campus was exceedingly scarce. Although it was encouraging to see the university finally be proactive in the most recent ice storm scare of 2018 by canceling classes the day before, the fact that it’s taken upwards of 4-5 different incidents to seemingly give a damn about the community’s welfare looks incompetent at best and uncaring at worst.
If you add these recent failings to the long unresolved secondary issues under Dr. Trauth of a kafkaesque university bureaucracy that seemingly exists to sustain itself rather than serve the students who pay their salaries or deal with the school’s major growing pains, an apathetic student body whose school pride has been obliterated by lackadaisical leadership in athletics and poor university marketing, not to mention massive student loans (although that’s not really Dr. Trauth’s fault), and a still miniscule donor base thanks partially to her mass alienation of SWT grads, it’s increasingly easy to see the president and her administration as fatally out of touch with the university they’re supposed to represent.
An Unsustainable Situation
Texas State is a public institution whose leadership is trusted by its students, faculty, and alumni to grow and protect the university’s best interests (even if that means those best interests must be protected from the emotional and political excesses of said public). When that collective trust is breached, as it appears to be now, a change in leadership is necessary.
I don’t say this lightly. University presidents shouldn’t be thrown out on a whim, and it needs to be said that Dr. Trauth has made extraordinarily positive contributions to the past, present, and future welfare of Texas State University. I could write an entirely separate article about the beneficial side of her leadership, and perhaps someday I’ll do just that. We would very possibly still be a backwater party school without her leadership, and it honestly saddens me that we’ve gotten to such an unfortunate impasse with someone who has done so much for our university.
Texas State University is Bigger Than Its President
But at the risk of excessive pithiness, we also must remember that this isn’t Trauth State University.
We shouldn’t forget the positives from her tenure, and Dr. Trauth should therefore be given every chance to retire gracefully at age 70 and finish out the 2017-2018 academic year. If she chooses to do this, hopefully given a bit of time we will all be able to look back on her legacy with a positive perspective.
But whether she retains that largely positive legacy at this point is entirely up to her. If Dr. Trauth hangs onto her job for dear life and causes more damage to the reputation of the university, she runs the risk of wrecking her reputation by proxy as well as fomenting a movement that demands her immediate removal by termination if necessary. That’s an ugly road that few at Texas State will want to go down.
Therefore I implore Dr. Trauth and her administration to either retire or resign for the long-term good of the university.
What Texas State Needs to Move Forward
The next president needs to continue Dr. Trauth’s laudable support of faculty and scholarship over her 15-year tenure without hesitation. But in addition to that expectation, Texas State needs someone at President who can respond quickly and with a clear head in a crisis, and does not put out a tepid statement at the first sign of controversy that deploys many words but in the end says nothing at all.
Students and alumni will want a leader who can bring the community together and address each disparate group’s concerns in an empathetic and engaging manner rather than the removed and dismissive tone that we’ve become used to under President Trauth. Addressing student apathy and well-being in all areas needs to be a priority, and we need a leader that can recapture our alumni base’s energy and belief in Texas State’s potential throughout the community.
Those of us who were in San Marcos from 2005 onward still believe that Texas State can become a powerhouse on par with UT or Texas A&M many years from now, but it will take competence from those who lead the institution to make this vision even remotely possible.
Is asking all this a pipe dream in today’s polarized and underfunded higher education environment? Probably. But I’ll be damned if I’ll ever subject my beloved university to the soft bigotry of low expectations.
Eat ‘Em Up.