Denise Trauth has been president of Texas State University since 2002. But never before has she sent an open letter to the university community quite like the one that emerged from her reflections during the Thanksgiving break.
“I personally used much of the time to review and mull over the emails, resolutions and letters I have received during the last three weeks pertaining to the presidential election and the events that have transpired in its wake, both on and off our campuses,” Trauth wrote. “These communications include resolutions and letters from academic departments, an open letter to the editor in the University Star, a communication from the Coalition of Black Faculty and Staff, and hundreds of emails from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the university.”
The Texas State campus, like much of the nation, has been roiled by the presidential campaign and its aftermath, as my colleague Anna Herod writes in today’s editions. For example, fliers on campus touted “our man Trump” and threatened school leaders with attacks for spouting “diversity garbage.”
More than 750 students, faculty members, staffers and alumni have signed an online petition asking administrators to declare the university a “sanctuary” for students and staff members who are in the country illegally. The petition complained of fliers calling for “tar & feather vigilante squads” to “arrest and torture . . . university leaders.”
Trauth is troubled by some of the developments.”We will not tolerate vile acts of aggression such as the vigilante posters that appeared the day after the election,” she wrote. “In my role as the leader of Texas State University, I remain staunchly committed to our core values that include diversity, equality, and inclusion. I have spoken plainly and forcefully on behalf of these values because they are fundamental to who we are.”
By the same token, she said, “many members of our campus community are pleased with the outcome of the election,” adding that a university president has a “duty not to speak out on controversial or societal issues that are beyond higher education, absent extraordinary circumstances.”
“This corollary duty not to speak allows me to be an impartial guardian of the sacred academic environment that we have on our campuses now that allows us — every member of our community — to engage in vibrant, unfettered discourse, discussion, debate, examination, and testing of ideas, thoughts, positions, theories, and concepts known and unknown,” she wrote.
Trauth outlined various initiatives intended to reassure those on campus who feel threatened and to spur intellectual debate, including stepped-up police patrols, public forums for “civil discourse” on controversial issues and a dialogue series on politics, freedom of expression and other topics.
She said university police had not received any reports in the three weeks since the election of “an assault or a direct threat of an assault upon a Texas State student, faculty, or staff member.” Any threat or assault should be immediately reported to university police, she said.
As for the growing national movement to support immigrant students and the petition urging “sanctuary” status for the university, she wrote: “I am reviewing these initiatives and determining what the University’s role should be.”