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Outgoing Sul Ross President Pete Gallego facing possible “no confidence” vote by faculty

An internal faculty body at the Big Bend-area university is pushing forward with a process that could result in a non-binding, yet symbolically powerful, resolution calling for Gallego’s “immediate removal.” But some have raised concerns about the effort being rushed and procedurally flawed.

By Travis Bubenik

Less than two weeks after announcing his plans to retire at the end of the school year, Sul Ross State University President Pete Gallego is facing a potential vote of “no confidence” by a group of faculty members that, if approved, would call for his “immediate removal.”

The university’s "faculty assembly," an internal body that acts as a liaison between educators and Sul Ross officials, could vote on the matter soon after the Thanksgiving holiday.

Still, much of the dustup remains in flux and there is lingering uncertainty over whether the matter will actually get to a vote anytime soon, in part because Gallego has alleged certain procedural flaws that could derail the effort. Meanwhile, the faculty group’s own executive team has raised concerns about the process being inappropriately rushed.

“I would say that things are a bit messy at the moment,” Kathy Stein, President of the Sul Ross Faculty Assembly, said Monday.

While “no confidence” votes are often a powerful statement of displeasure against an administration, they don’t always lead to university officials stepping down or being removed, as the news outlet Inside Higher Ed has reported.

Still, the Sul Ross faculty group’s recent decision to move the process forward suggests at least some of the faculty community has grown disillusioned with Gallego’s tenure.

At a meeting on Nov. 15, just days after the Alpine native and former Democratic lawmaker announced his retirement plans, a professor on the faculty assembly brought forth a proposed “no confidence” resolution laying out a 22-point list of grievances against Gallego.

The proposal, brought by communications professor Joey Velasco, criticizes Gallego for allegedly prioritizing “administration over essential academic functions” and slams his appointment in June 2020 as an “experiment to hire a higher education outsider.” The list of grievances targets Gallego on everything from budget matters and the university’s declining enrollment to his “commitment to the academic mission.”

Ultimately, the assembly declined at the mid-November meeting to vote on the “no confidence” resolution itself. But the group did agree — by a 14 to 12 vote, with 7 abstaining — to a procedural step that moves the process forward and paves the way for vote on the resolution as early as the week after Thanksgiving.

While Gallego did not respond to a request for comment on the situation, his office did provide all the related documents, including Gallego’s point-by-point response to the list of grievances.

“This is not a failed experiment,” wrote Gallego, defending his time on the job. “It is a rousing success.”

In a letter Tuesday, Gallego also asked the faculty group’s president to investigate whether or not the assembly had a quorum when it voted to move forward with the “no confidence” process. Without a majority of the group’s members present for the vote, the  move would “appear to be invalid.”

“The resolution was presented late in the meeting when many faculty members were no longer present,” he wrote. “They had no opportunity to participate in the conversation.”

Stein, the faculty assembly president, said Monday the potential quorum issue is “very unfortunate” and “muddies things up,” but she could not be reached for an update before the university’s holiday break began.

For now, Gallego appears to have found allies in the assembly’s executive council, which criticized the broader assembly’s vote to move the process forward in a letter to Gallego.

“The move to vote on the resolution was hasty,” the leadership team wrote.

Stein, who sits on the executive council, echoed that sentiment.

“To make a stance such as this is impactful,” she said. “And we need to make sure that if this faculty is going to vote for such a resolution, than it has to be factual, non-emotional, completely objective, completely sound.”

The path forward on the matter likely won’t be clear until classes resume at Sul Ross next week after the Thanksgiving break.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.