By: Caitlyn Freeman, Editor in Chief and Jake Shindel, Senior Editor
The Auditorium within Van Bokkelen Hall will be renamed the Richard E. Vatz Auditorium in dedication to longtime Towson University professor and adviser of the embattled chapter of Turning Point USA.
Van Bokkelen, located behind Stephens Hall, is home to several majors, including Communication Studies, Mass Communication and Speech Pathology. Vatz is a faculty member within the Department of Instructional Leadership & Professional Development but teaches a persuasion class within Communications Studies.
For most of his tenure Vatz, who will retire at the end of the fall 2022 semester, has taught his class in the Auditorium, numbered VB 204.
“I am honored to be so honored…the most fulfilling aspect of my 48+ years has been teaching students how to think about and question general political and ethical positions they have always held unthinkingly,” Vatz said in an emailed statement Thursday.
He said he did not pay to have the Auditorium named after him, but would’ve if asked. However, a TU spokesman said the plaque for the Auditorium is being paid for by Vatz’s past philanthropic efforts.
Essentially, a few years ago, Vatz made a donation to the University and as part of that donation, he requested his name be put on the Auditorium, the spokesman said. He did not provide a specific year of when the donation was made or the amount.
The University’s policy on naming facilities lists the below criteria:
- Facilities and programs should be named for scholars and other distinguished individuals who are/were prominent in their field or endeavor and/or have contributed meaningfully to Towson University or to the State of Maryland.
- One year must pass before the name of an individual who is formerly affiliated with the University, or held public office and/or has been employed by the USM or the State of Maryland may be considered for honorific naming.
- The legacy of the namesake should be aligned with the mission and values of the university.
- The individual’s work inspires effective, ethical leaders, and engaged citizens.
- The individual’s work crafts solutions that would enrich the culture, society, economy, and/or environment of Maryland, the region, and beyond.
- Facilities and programs can also be named for prominent geographic landmarks in the State of Maryland
In a statement, Brian DeFilippis, vice president for University Advancement, said Vatz is a frequent university donor and the Auditorium will honor his tenure at TU.
“TU has received very generous philanthropic support from Dr. Vatz during his four-decade affiliation with the university,” the statement read. “Dr. Vatz has been a vocal champion for philanthropy and is among our community’s most generous donors. His many contributions have significantly benefited TU students and the broader university community. Dedicating space in recognition of his philanthropic legacy is an appropriate way to celebrate his support of TU.”
During his time at Towson, Vatz was the longest serving member of the University’s Academic Senate and a receipent of several University honors, including the 2004 President’s Award for Distinguished Service, according to his faculty biography.
He is also known locally for his conservative advocacy and commentary in local media.
Vatz recently came under fire after he continued to serve as the faculty sponsor of the Towson chapter of Turning Point USA despite leaked messages showing members of the group using homophobic, racial and ableist slurs.
He told The Towerlight the chapter was remorseful and ensured him the bigotry shown in the messages would not be repeated, which is why he continues to sponsor them.
His coworkers within the Instructional Leadership & Professional Development Department denounced Vatz’s decision to continue supporting the group after the messages leaked and his past affiliations with Towson alumni Matthew Heimbach.
Heimbach started the Towson chapter of the Youth for Western Civilization, which Vatz sponsored. The club sparked controversy by chalking “white pride” on sidewalks across campus in 2012, which led to Vatz stepping down from his role.
After the group was dissolved, Heimbach started the non-university affiliated White Student Union, USA Today reported. He later founded the Traditionalist Worker Party, a white nationalist organization, according to the SPLC.
The Leadership & Professional Development Department declined to comment on the renaming.
Jessica Shiller, a professor within the department, said the renaming was surprising.
“I personally find this announcement a surprise, given Dr. Vatz’s entanglement with Turning Point,” Shiller said in an email Friday.
The University will be hosting a dedication ceremony on Dec. 9.
The Towerlight has reached out to the Student Government Association for comment but did not receive a response by publication Thursday.
This story may be updated.