Members of Towson’s SGA, Academic Senate, Graduate Student Association condemn renaming of Van Bokkelen Auditorium after Richard Vatz

By: Caitlyn Freeman, Editor in Chief 

Several members of the Towson University Student Government Association, Academic Senate and Graduate Student Association in a joint statement Thursday condemned the renaming of the Van Bokkelen Hall Auditorium after Richard Vatz, a longtime professor who came under fire for advising the campus chapter of Turning Point USA, 

The statement, which was sent to The Towerlight Thursday evening, includes signatures from 10 individual members across three of the university’s four shared governance bodies. They include Academic Senate Chair Desirée D. Rowe, SGA President Jordan Colquitt and Graduate Student Association President Marcus Tuah. The joint statement outlines  their disapproval of the decision to dedicate the auditorium to Vatz. 

“The announcement that he will have a room named in his honor is shocking, disappointing, and odious,” the statement reads. 

Van Bokkelen, located behind Stephens Hall, is home to several majors, including Communication Studies. Vatz, a faculty member within the Department of Instructional Leadership & Professional Development, teaches a persuasion class within Communications Studies.  

For most of his 48-year tenure, Vatz — who plans to  retire at the end of the fall 2022 semester — has taught his class in the auditorium.

The decision to rename the auditorium stemmed from Vatz’s long history of university-related philanthropy.  Vatz previously made several donations to the university and, as part of one gift, he requested his name be put on the auditorium, a university spokesman told The Towerlight. 

The Baltimore Banner reported  the decision to dedicate the auditorium to Vatz was made five years ago. 

The statement acknowledges Vatz’s philanthropic contributions, but said it doesn’t justify the dedication given his history of club sponsorship..

“As a longtime faculty advisor to student organizations smitten with hate, he has not upheld our university’s aim to foster a climate grounded in respect and inclusion,” the statement reads. “Respect and inclusion can not exist with hate.”

Vatz said the joint statement was the most “academically irresponsible and reckless” action he’s seen while at Towson.

“I detest racism, religious discrimination, sexual orientation discrimination, political discrimination and any type of unfairness due to one’s identity, and in my entire career until now there has never been even a claim by anyone to the contrary,” Vatz said in an email Thursday.

Additionally, the statement calls on the university to amend its policy for dedicating buildings and academic programs.

The current policy says typically, representatives from the Academic Senate, Staff Senate and SGA must be involved with a facility dedication. However, the policy does not consider a classroom a facility.

Thus, the shared governance bodies said they were unaware the naming was taking place.

“This policy must be revisited to be more mindful of how we name all areas of campus, including classrooms, laboratories, and lecture halls to enrich the educational experience for all students,” the statement reads. “The naming of these spaces should be procedural and in alignment with the institution’s mission, purpose, and values.”

Vatz came under fire in October after he continued to serve as the faculty sponsor of the Towson chapter of Turning Point USA, a conservative student organization, despite leaked messages showing members of the group using homophobic, racial and ableist slurs.

He told The Towerlight he continued to sponsor the chapter because members expressed  remorse and assured him the bigotry would not continue. 

Also in October, Vatz’s coworkers within the Instructional Leadership & Professional Development Department denounced his continued support of the chapter and his past affiliation with Towson alumnus Matthew Heimbach.

Heimbach in 2012 started the Towson chapter of the Youth for Western Civilization, a far-right student group, which Vatz sponsored. The club sparked controversy by chalking “white pride” on sidewalks across campus , which led to Vatz to resign from his role. 

Once the group dissolved, Heimbach started aWhite Student Union, which was not affiliated with the university.

Outside of his club sponsorship, Vatz was the longest serving member of the university’s Academic Senate and a recipient of several honors, including the 2004 President’s Award for Distinguished Service, according to his faculty biography.

He is known locally for his conservative advocacy and commentary in local media and has authored several books.

The dedication ceremony for the auditorium is on Dec. 9.

This story will be updated.

Jake Shindel contributed to this story.


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