By Caitlyn Freeman, Editor in Chief
Towson University’s embattled chapter of Turning Point USA has until mid-March to find a replacement for their now-retired adviser, Richard Vatz, or they will lose their status as a university-affiliated student organization.
To be an official Registered Student Organization, groups must meet baseline requirements each academic semester, including having at least five members and maintaining an adviser, according to Student Affairs documents.
The faculty adviser must be a full-time employee. Thus, Vatz, who became the group’s adviser during the fall 2022 semester, is no longer eligible after retiring in January.
With Vatz now ineligible to advise the group, Turning Point has until March 1 to find a replacement. As is with all student organizations, if they don’t meet the deadline, they’ll receive a two-week grace period, according to information provided in an email from Matt Lenno, assistant vice president of Student Affairs.
The group’s status will be set to “frozen” during the grace period, meaning they cannot reserve meeting or event space. Once the period ends, if still without an adviser, the organization will be marked as inactive.
Chris Rindosh, the university’s student organizations coordinator, said the adviser requirement stems from legal and safety concerns.
“[An adviser requirement] has been a long-standing as like a […] best practice, but it’s like if you look nationally, I think you will find that, I’m not going to say all, but if not most, the vast, vast majority of colleges will have similar requirements,” Rindosh said.
The chapter did not respond to several requests for comment sent via email and direct message. During the Involvement Fair on Feb. 8, a representative from The Towerlight went to the Turning Point booth to follow up on the request and was told “no comment” by a chapter member.
Prior to the impending adviser deadline, Towson’s chapter will be hosting a debate on Feb. 22 between the 2016 Presidential candidate for the Libertarian party, Austin Petersen, and Shekinah Hollingsworth, a 2022 Republican Maryland House of Delegates Candidate for district 34A in Harford County.
Rindosh did not respond to additional questions about the policies surrounding clubs and their ability to operate without an adviser prior to the March 1 deadline.
Founded in 2016, the Towson chapter aims to advocate for limited government and promote free speech, according to their Involved@TU webpage.
TU’s Turning Point chapter is part of a national organization based in Arizona. Founded in 2012 by Right-wing commentator Charlie Kirk, the national branch of Turning Point seeks to spread conservative values on high school and college campuses, its website states.
The Towson chapter came under fire in October when GroupMe messages showing members using racist, homophobic and ableist language spread around the campus.
Despite heavy outcry from many students and faculty in response to the messages, the group remained on campus as they continued to meet the baseline requirements.
They did so through Vatz, a longtime professor and conservative commentator. Essentially, as long as Vatz upheld his sponsorship, the group could survive as the messages, while offensive, was viewed as a free-speech debate.
Vatz told The Towerlight in October that he continued supporting the students as they were apologetic to him.
“Turning Point knows that their advisor was genuinely appalled and considers them effectively on probation,” Vatz said in an October email. “If I were a betting man (and I am not), I would bet heftily that their rhetorical immaturity and irresponsibility will never be repeated. I do believe in redemption for those who seriously seek it, especially for non-capital crimes committed by youth.”
Vatz previously said he routinely sponsors conservative groups because they struggle to find allies on a predominantly liberal campus.
He previously sponsored a student group called Youth for Western Civilization, which in 2012 sparked controversy by chalking “white pride” on sidewalks across campus.
Due to the chalking, the group lost its status as an official university club after Vatz stepped down from his role.
After the group was dissolved, its leader, former TU student Matthew Heimbach, started the White Student Union. However, because they could not find an adviser, WSU was never an official student organization.
Vatz previously distinguished Youth for Western Civilization from the Towson chapter of Turning Point.
“[YWC] were the organization that I will not sponsor,” Vatz said in an October email. “They were racist, ugly and everything that I do not like.”
The organization and its university chapters are often the subjects of controversy. Similarly to Towson’s chapter, in February 2022, members of the University of South Carolina’s chapter were seen using racist and homophobic slurs in a group chat, the Pacer Times reports.
Additionally, in April 2022, the University of Alabama’s chapter hosted a tabling event with a sign reading “Hot Take: No One Is Born Gay,” The Crimson White reported.
Correction: an earlier version of this story said student organizations must have 15 members to be university-affiliated. This is incorrect. The story has been corrected. The Towerlight regrets this error.