Presidential Advisory Search Committee host town hall meeting

Brianna Chavez, Reporter

The Presidential Advisory Search Committee held a town hall meeting to gather input on what the UTEP community would like to see in their next university president.

Dozens of people filled the Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall at the UTEP Campus Tuesday afternoon to voice their concerns and learn more about the process the committee will go through.

Members of committee were joined by two members of the law firm Russell Reynolds Associates, who will be conducting the candidate search.

Steven Leslie, chair of the committee, lead the town hall and beginning with a quick overview of President Diana Natalico’s achievements as UTEP President. Back in May, Dr. Natalicio announced she would be retiring after 30 years of service.

Leslie noted that Dr. Natalicio personally addressed the committee for the about a half hour on what her recommendations for the committee before the public event.

Representatives from Russell Reynolds and Associates explained that the search committee, will recommend three to four members to the Board of Regents. It is up to the Regents to make the final decision.

The entire process is completely confidential per UT System rules and regulations, which did not sit will for members of the public who were in attendance.

The firm explained that the confidentiality of the process is in the best interest of the university and the candidates.

“What we want to do is take all of the input from (the community) and figure out what are we looking for and then go out and find (candidates) and convince them that they’re interested in this opportunity.”

The search firm will spend about two months recruiting candidates and will share each candidate they have selected plus the candidates who have applied for the job, as well as those who have declined with the committee.

The committee will then select around 12 people and conduct two rounds of interviews to determine who they will selected to present to the Regents.

The firm stated that they are trying to do what’s best for the community and promises 100 percent transparency between the firm, the committee, and the community.

After the briefing, Leslie opened the floor to questions and concerns, and invited Oscar Martinez, a former UTEP professor to start things off.

Martinez reiterated what he wrote as a guest columnist on Sept. 14 in the El Paso Times.

He and 28 other prominent members of the community from a variety of backgrounds believed there was a lack of inclusiveness in the presidential search.

Martinez stated that some of the members of the committee represent the business sector in El Paso.  

“It is not hard to imagine that business elite will dominate and spear the selection of candidates their way,”

In 2017, the University of Texas at San Antonio went through the same process of selecting a president. The UT System faced backlash from the San Antonio community for not being transparent and did not consider Latino candidates.  

Martinez and the adherents of the letter feared that what happened in San Antonio last year, will happen in El Paso.

“Because the UTEP search will be conducted in secrecy, the only way to allay suspicions and prevent protests regarding the UTEP search is for the regents to appoint more at-large community representatives to the committee,” Martinez said.

Other members of the audience voiced their concerns about the committee selection process and fear that the overall El Paso community will not be represented when selecting a candidate.

In response to the concerns, Leslie reiterated that the way the committee is selected per UT System rules and regulations.

He also tried to assure the audience that the committee and the firm will do everything they can to make sure they selected the right candidates.

Despite the complaints, the biggest quality the community is looking for a president who will continue UTEP’s core mission — access and excellence.

Among those who addressed the board about this was Dean of Health Sciences, Shafik Dharamsi.

“An emphasis on access (is) not very common at universities.” Dharamsi said.  “As you think about the next president, perhaps and equally fruitful question would be where does this university be in next 30 years and what will be known for?”

The phrase access and excellence was repeated multiple times be several different people who address the board.  

“Access and excellence uniquely to this institution is something that we need to really attend to,” Leslie said.

It was requested by members of the audience that there be another town hall meeting outside of the UTEP campus. However, nothing was confirmed by the committee.

While the process is completely confidential, the UT System is trying to be as transparent as possible.

A website will be posted the UT System server to provide a timeline of the search process and an opportunity for members of the public to privately submit candidate nominations in the next few days.