West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler faces no-confidence vote from faculty after canceling drag show
By Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune
“West Texas A&M University President Walter Wendler faces no-confidence vote from faculty after canceling drag show” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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West Texas A&M University faculty leaders have called for a vote of no confidence this week to condemn President Walter Wendler less than a month after he came under fire from students and free speech groups for canceling a campus drag show.
In a resolution obtained by The Texas Tribune, faculty senate leaders accused Wendler of abusing his role as president by running the university based on his own religious ideology. They 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 argued that Wendler has presented his personal opinions and religious beliefs in online blog posts as the official position of the 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.
“We do not take this step lightly,” Ashley Pinkham, faculty senate president, wrote in a letter to all professors Monday announcing the vote. “However, we believe that the mission to provide intellectually challenging, critically reflective, and inclusive academic programs at a well-respected, high-quality institution of higher education is at jeopardy. We believe we must act now to restore the reputation of West Texas A&M University.”
The vote started Monday morning and will go through Friday afternoon. A university spokesperson confirmed the vote is in progress but declined to comment. The no-confidence vote is nonbinding and largely symbolic, but faculty hope it will send a message to the Texas A&M System Board of Regents and Chancellor John Sharp.
In a letter to the campus community last month, Wendler canceled a student drag show fundraiser and drew criticism from students when he argued that the performances are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”
Student leaders in a campus LGBTQ group sued Wendler, the university and the Texas A&M System, alleging he violated their First Amendment rights by canceling the show.
Federal Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk denied the students’ request to immediately reinstate the student event. The case is still pending. Sharp declined to comment on the resolution, citing pending litigation.
But the no-confidence vote goes beyond the recent fracas over the campus drag show. Faculty who spoke to the 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 accused Wendler of actively encouraging prospective students to avoid attending a four-year university immediately after high school and encouraging them to attend community college first, which they say has led to enrollment declines.
They point to Wendler’s “Your Community, Your University” tour, in which he visited 66 high schools in the Texas Panhandle, telling students to start at a community college first, rather than borrowing money to attend a four-year university. Faculty leaders say in the resolution that Wendler has continued to encourage prospective students to start at a community college, even as the number of community college transfers to the university has declined.
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.
The resolution also pointed to a spring prospective student event where only 32 potential students registered, calling it a “significant decrease.”
The faculty senate argued Wendler’s actions as president are part of a larger pattern, citing issues at his prior position as chancellor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where he was removed for a communication breakdown with university leadership.
Wendler was also criticized at the time for pushing back on the SIU Board’s decision to extend certain medical benefits to the same-sex partners of employees several years before Illinois legalized gay marriage in 2014. A Southern Illinoisan article quoted Wendler as saying the measure would encourage “sinful behavior.” In 2018, Wendler told the Tribune the quote was taken out of context.
Disclosure: Texas A&M University and West Texas A&M University 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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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/04/17/west-texas-tamu-walter-wendler-no-confidence/.
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