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UTEP President nominee speaks with ABC-7 on student, staff concerns

UTEP President nominee talks oneonone...

UTEP students and staff know who will be the university's next president after Dr. Diana Natalicio retires. 

The University of Texas System announced earlier this month that former New Mexico Congresswoman and Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, Heather Wilson, will be proceeding Dr. Natalicio. But that decision didn't come without some backlash from part of the UTEP community. 

Wilson talked one-on-one with ABC-7 to discuss some of those concerns. 

"I thought it was really important to come back to engage with faculty and staff and student before the regents took their vote," Wilson said. "I would say there's not a single message because there were questions from everywhere. It was very open and they could ask me anything. I got all kinds of different questions and a lot of it has to do with access and excellence, which is the reason I'm here... to lead this university and continuing that great mission."  

Part of those concerns were displayed with a world-wide petition that disagreed with the UT System's decision. The petition includes more than 9,000 signatures, that include doubts of Wilson's acceptance of the LGBT community. 

"So while I don't minimize the number of people who clicked on that petition, that's of a very large, not of an El Paso or a UTEP specific kind of thing," Wilson said. "So set aside that, and let's address the issue which is making people feel welcome and comfortable no matter who they are." 

Wilson has an extensive background that covers many fields. But among the concerns is her lack of experience in higher education. She said her experience leading diverse organizations, like the U.S. Air Force, will translate to leading UTEP. 

"I don't make any apologies for my academic credentials," Wilson said. "One of the things I hope to bring to the campus is in the belief that you combine classroom learning with those internships and co-ops and research experiences in the real world and it creates a richness that you can get and build on your classroom experience."  

Wilson's latest education experience is serving as President of the South Dakota School of Mines from 2013 to 2017. She also taught a semester at the University of New Mexico. 

While Dr. Natalicio was announcing her retirement, she said one thing she wished from her replacement was that they spoke Spanish. Wilson admits she isn't fluent in Spanish but said she plans to learn while at UTEP. 

"I speak really awful Spanish because my second language is French and so it gets mixed up," Wilson said. "My husband and I will spend probably a good month this summer in a Spanish program in Mexico and also some students said they would help me, so we'll be ok."  

The UT Board of Regents will now have to schedule a meeting to confirm Wilson's nomination.   


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