On Tuesday, the UT System Board of Regents confirmed Taylor Eighmy’s appointment as the next president of the University of Texas at San Antonio. While he might be unfamiliar to San Antonians, San Antonio is not unfamiliar to him.
Eighmy, 60, has been watching UTSA from afar for a long time. In his role as vice president for research at Texas Tech University, he looked at the UT System schools as exemplary research institutions, and UTSA in particular as an example of emerging excellence in research. “I was always poking around at what was going on here,” he said.
UTSA’s demographics, relationship to the city, and growing research community gave it all the ingredients to become what Eighmy sees as “the university of the future.” It was his dream to lead such an institution, and now he will get that chance.
The UT System Board of Regents convened via teleconference on Tuesday for a special meeting considering the appointment of Eighmy as UTSA’s next president.
A quorum of the board convened at 3:30 p.m. and immediately went into executive session. When board members reconvened, Regent Ernest Aliseda, the board liaison to the UT System presidential search committee, announced Eighmy’s confirmation.
“This appointment is in the best interest of the UT System and UTSA,” Aliseda said.
Eighmy currently serves as vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Tennessee. The details of his contract, including compensation, will be negotiated before he takes office on Sept. 1.
Eighmy is in San Antonio for a week, and will return on Aug. 17 for meetings with stakeholders. He is entering a time of “listening and learning” before formulating initiatives. While he doesn’t know the details of those initiatives, as they will be informed by community conversations, he does not plan to waste any time once the way forward becomes clear.
During that time he will also be looking for a home for himself, his wife Peggy, and their three dogs. Their daughter and her fiancé plan to make it down for the first Roadrunner football game.
The UT System announced Eighmy as the sole finalist for the position on June 30 after a 10-month search process. The search committee was originally formed last fall after Ricardo Romo, UTSA’s fifth and longest serving president announced his plans to retire in August 2017.
Romo then stepped down in March following allegations of inappropriate physical contact with women in his office. After that, Pedro Reyes, a former UT System administrator and special assistant to UT System Chancellor William McRaven, was named interim president.
The announcement sparked backlash from the Latino community. State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and members of La Raza Faculty and Administrators Association, a Latino faculty organization, criticized the selection process that yielded only one finalist for UTSA’s president, saying the search committee was not transparent and did not adequately consider Latino candidates.
“If Dr. Eighmy remains in this post past a required 21-day period after his selection, none of the nine UT System campuses will be led by a Latino(a). In a county that is 60% Latino(a), and a University that had an enrollment of 51% Latino(a) in 2016, that is unacceptable,” Menéndez said in written statement.
Menéndez said he planned to submit an inquiry to the UT System for details about the selection process.
Reyes expressed confidence that the identity of UTSA as a Hispanic-serving institution was taken into account.
For his part, UTSA’s identity as a Hispanic-serving institution is part of what excited Eighmy. He looks forward to meeting Menéndez, who has been a champion for the university, and working together on a vision for UTSA’s role in the community moving forward.
“The passions and aspirations I have are common to the senator and everybody in the city,” Eighmy said.
La Raza member Lilliana Saldaña is among those who feel that the UT System is discounting the Hispanic population of the university in favor of its pursuit of research prestige.
“The UT Regents seem to be very clear about [their] vision,” Saldaña said.
Eighmy does not see the two facets of UTSA’s identity as contradictory. Much like the University of California-Irvine, Eighmy wants to see UTSA become an institution that maintains a strong relationship to the community, providing accessible entry points for any student interested in “discovery enterprises.”
He sees it as a place where Hispanic scholars are catapulted into cutting-edge research and high level scholarship, with all the support they need along the way to make that potential a reality.
With numerous fellowships and board positions, Eighmy has research and industry credentials to do build those top tier research initiatives. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Tufts University, a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from University of New Hampshire (UNH), and his doctorate in civil (environmental) engineering from UNH. In 2014, Eighmy stepped down from the Science Advisory Board of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency where he served for 10 years. Eighmy holds the patent for reactive barrier technology for contaminated sediments.
Prior to his position at the University of Tennessee, Eighmy served as vice president for research and professor at Texas Tech University and assistant vice president for research at the University of New Hampshire.
During his time in Lubbock, Texas Tech met the criteria for becoming eligible for the National Research University Fund, meaning an $8 million to $10 million infusion from the fund. That process usually takes five years, but Texas Tech completed it in two years.