Pete Gallego resigns from Sul Ross presidency after 16 months in office

ALPINE — Sul Ross State University President Pete Gallego resigned from his job in a Friday afternoon announcement last week. The Alpine-born, Sul Ross-educated attorney will have served just two years as president of the university when he leaves office in June 2022.

“After much reflection and discussion with family and friends, I have decided to step away from my responsibilities as president at the end of the academic year,” Gallego said in a released statement. “This is not an easy decision, but it is the right decision for me and for Sul Ross, the university I dearly love.”

“President Gallego’s commitment to Sul Ross long preceded his tenure as president, and I know he will continue to serve the university long after he leaves the president’s office,” said Texas State University System Chancellor Brian McCall. “I’m particularly grateful for the way Pete has connected and cared for Sul Ross students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.”

Gallego was appointed as the 13th president of SRSU in June 2020, after serving in public office previously as U.S. representative for TX-23 and for many years as a state representative in the Texas Legislature.

He faced a series of obstacles while at the helm of the university and its three satellite campuses in Del Rio, Eagle Pass and Uvalde. He inherited the school’s chronically declining enrollment, faced a debate about moving the institution into a new university system, grappled with recommendations to reorganize departments and lay off staff, all while managing complications caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Gallego’s office declined a request by The Big Bend Sentinel to interview the president and redirected questions to the communications department of the Texas State University System.

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board showed enrollment declining at the Alpine campus from 1,644 in 2019 to 1,557 in 2020, and further down to a preliminary enrollment of 1,485 for the 2021 fall semester. At the satellite campuses, the school grew in 2020, dipping slightly this year, though still remaining higher than 2019 numbers.

The school was able to achieve a slight uptick of semester credit hour enrollment this year, despite the pandemic’s effect of decreasing enrollment across many higher education institutions in the United States. “In any year that would be good news, but particularly through the lens of COVID it’s extraordinary news,” said Mike Wintemute, the vice chancellor for marketing and communications at the Texas State University System.

Enrollment numbers have exacerbated the financial challenges the school is facing. In the past year alone, 27 faculty have left or been fired, and the school has shuttered amenities like the school’s childcare facility. Earlier this year, Gallego rebuffed recommendations made in a report by the Academic Planning Committee, which rattled employees as it recommended sizable layoffs and consolidations of departments.

Meanwhile at the state level, the local senator of District 19, Roland Gutierrez, introduced a bill to move Sul Ross into the A&M University system after over 100 years in the Texas State University System. While the effort gained little traction in the Legislature, a vote taken by the faculty senate of the Sul Ross satellite campuses in April resulted in the faculty senate approving a resolution in support of the move to Texas A&M — an opinion at odds with Gallego’s decision to stand firm with Texas State.

As news broke of the resignation last week, the university was also in the final stages of its search for a new provost. That process was seemingly uninhibited by the sudden resignation. On Monday, SRSU announced the hiring of finalist Bernardo Joaquin Canteñs, Ph.D, who currently serves as associate provost and chair of philosophy at Morovian University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Canteñs “accepted the offer after hearing of the news” of Gallego’s impending departure, a spokesperson from the president’s office said.

Wintemute, the university system spokesperson, said, “We are obviously sad to see President Gallego moving on, but excited for the opportunity to continue momentum on some of the challenges facing the university.”

The university system will continue to improve Sul Ross’ online offerings, and this week the board of regents will consider allocating $59 million for capital construction projects at the Alpine and middle Rio Grande campuses. “All of those initiatives will continue unimpeded,” he said.

In light of Gallego’s announcement, the Texas State University System will develop a transition plan to search out and identify its next SRSU president.

Gallego wrote in his statement Friday, “We’re building a new Sul Ross. I’m proud of what we have accomplished, ensuring the university’s financial stability, laying the foundation for a more robust recruitment and retention program, enhancing the college experience for our students, and taking the necessary steps to ensure a smooth and successful SACS accreditation process in 2023.

“I am grateful to Chancellor McCall and the TSUS Board of Regents for giving me the opportunity to serve Sul Ross as its 13th president.”