As students at The University of Texas at San Antonio cram for finals week, Taylor Eighmy is preparing for a test of his own: the launch of a major initiative to expand the university’s downtown campus
Eighmy became president of San Antonio’s largest four-year university in September. His predecessor, Ricardo Romos, resigned in March following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Eighmy said those allegations didn’t factor into any decisions he’s made since he became president, but the university will soon put new plans in place to better respond to sexual harassment and assault in the future. The plans will be based on a report compiled by a task force after Romos resigned.
“It's going to be around victim support,” Eighmy said. “But it's also going to be especially focused on training — bystander training — and how we train faculty and administrators in this space, but also how we train students to support each other in this space.”
Eighmy’s top priorities are growing UTSA’s reputation as a research institution and expanding the university’s downtown campus.
He first laid out his ideas for the downtown campus in November, during the campus’ 20th anniversary. Details, however, have been slim, as the university finishes putting its plans in place.
“I don't want to get out ahead of our planning process,” Eighmy said. “But the end game in 10 years might be something like 15,000 students with a residential environment, with students and faculty living close by.”
Eighmy’s goal is to follow the model of Arizona State University, expanding both buildings and course offerings downtown. The idea is to make the downtown a destination, while increasing enrollment on the downtown campus. UTSA’s current enrollment on the downtown campus is about 4,000 out of a total enrollment of about 30,000.
“This city especially would greatly benefit from having a vibrant higher ed presence downtown,” Eighmy said. “You might have been following the discussions that took place around why we didn't go after the Amazon opportunity and bid on that. And part of the issue was we didn't have a strong university presence downtown.”
Eighmy said the first step towards expansion will be to build a dorm on the downtown campus. Details of the residential building’s location are slated to be released in January, but the president said UTSA has four parcels of land to choose from.
“It will be more than a dorm,” Eighmy said. “It will involve dormitory space — housing, it will involve other forms of community engagement. It will involve parking. It will involve livability; where do you eat, where do you buy food, where do you go get a beer. All of those things will be part of what we’re thinking about for the first building.”
UTSA eventually plans to house more degree programs downtown so students can graduate without taking classes on the main campus.
As indicated earlier in the year, Eighmy confirmed that UTSA will be asking the University of Texas System for permission to raise tuition by 2 or 3 percent next year.
“Which is very modest,” Eighmy said. “Frankly it's right at the cost of living.”
Based on student input, UTSA is proposing different tuition rates depending on a student’s major.
UT’s board of regents is slated to vote on the tuition proposals in February.
Asked why UTSA couldn’t use that money to increase scholarships or avoid a tuition increase, Eighmy said UTSA’s portion of the endowment is limited.
“I haven't seen the most recent number, but it's on the order of $160 million or so,” Eighmy said. “But in that we do have funds that are dictated by gift agreements that come back to benefit students, that come back to benefit faculty, that come back to benefit programs and when we do our next capital campaign we’re going to be doing even more of that.”
Free Speech vs Hate Speech
In November, a banner promoting white supremacy ideology was hung on the main campus of UTSA. Because the banner wasn’t backed by a student organization, the university had a clear policy allowing it to swiftly remove the banner and condemn its message.
“We're very mindful of our requirement, the constitutional requirement, for free speech. But we're also very cautious about giving too much airplay and discussion about this, too.”
Eighmy said he and several other university leaders will be outlining their views on the topic in a letter to the Express-News soon.
“The fact that it's very prevalent here in Texas, and the fact that there's an upswing in it, just gives me cause to say that, yes, we do honor the constitutional right for free speech but we do not in any way support hate speech or racism or bigotry or hatred,” he said. “And we as an institution need to stand up and be accounted for in that regard.”
While a growing number of universities have been forced to walk a tighter line when students or other groups promoted speakers with controversial, and sometimes hateful, views,, Eighmy said universities can, and should, play a pivotal role in the current cultural discussions of race, politics and identity.
“It's our job to lead the nation in these kinds of things and how we discuss, in a civil manner, painful subjects,” Eighmy said. “It's when we get into incivility and hatred and lack of respect that institutions get into trouble and it's hard to maintain the high ground in this in this case for a lot of reasons, but I think that's our goal here, and it would be the goal of all presidents and all universities.”