Dr. Ricardo Romo has stepped down as president of UTSA, effective March 3, following an investigation related to his conduct.
Romo released a statement saying, “It is now my desire to step down as president and retire from UTSA effective immediately. This will eliminate the possibility of any distraction or disruption of the great work going on at UTSA.”
The University of Texas System Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Steve Leslie announced the action in an email addressed to the UTSA community.
The UT System Chancellor William McRaven thanked Romo for UTSA’s accomplishments during Romo’s 18 years of leadership.
Included in Leslie’s announcement was Romo’s response to allegations of improper behavior.
“I have been made aware that the manner in which I embraced women made them uncomfortable and was inappropriate,” Romo said in the statement. “I understand and respect Chancellor McRaven’s concerns about my behavior and I deeply apologize for any conduct that offended anyone.” In the statement Romo defended his actions as a misunderstanding of a cultural expression.
Following his initial statement, Romo released a second statement through his attorney Ricardo Cedillo.
“The reaction to the announcement of my retirement has been overwhelmingly positive, and Harriett and I are forever grateful for these sentiments from people in all walks of life in this city, this state, and across America.
“Nonetheless, there may be accusations, rumors, and speculations about conduct other than the ‘abrazos’ that were considered offensive. That I had no improper intent giving or receiving ‘abrazos’ is of no consequence. If they were thought improper and offensive then they were, and but for a prohibition from contacting anyone involved I would have already directly apologized.
“The Chancellor is correct in establishing that there is no ‘abrazos exception’ for a 73-year-old retiring university president. I accept that this is the world we live in. But he has taken no action
giving any false rumor or accusation credence. This I would have fought without hesitation. My family was fully prepared to have me wage this battle, my legal team was confident of the outcome, and falsehoods did not drive my decision to retire now. I made it clear to the Chancellor that I was not afraid of the truth, and that I would not run from a lie.
“The only thing certain about my tenure as President is that it would end. The average for service as President of a University in America is about 6 to 8 years. I have been blessed with 18.”
The UT System Director of Media Relations and Communications Programming Karen Adwal said the UT System could not provide further information about the persons filing the complaint, and the matter was cited as a privacy concern.
UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the Office of General Counsel has closed the investigation and she declined to discuss details.
Student reactions to the controversy vary. Dylan Verdi, senior art history major, said she was disappointed by Romo’s statements.
“The statements made light of the sexual harassment allegations that forced Romo to resign—passing them off as simple ‘abrazos’ does a disservice to the magnitude of what happened,” Verdi said. “I have heard and seen many people on social media defend Romo by saying his hugs are a side effect of Latino culture. As a Latina with a big Mexican family and friend group, I can safely say that ‘inappropriate embraces’ are not a part of our culture; they are sexual harassment and sexual harassment is beyond inexcusable.”
Josév Moncada Jr., sophomore accounting major, said he would have liked to have heard the complainant’s side of the story.
“I feel there has to be more than ‘abrazos’ involved. If it were that simple he could have simply apologized publicly,” Moncada Jr. said. “There has to be more to the story.”
Sources previously told the Express-News that Romo’s chief of staff, Sonia Martinez, was placed on leave along with the president. They also said two staff members had been fired sometime earlier, possibly in retaliation for some unnamed action, but were subsequently rehired. No information about Martinez’s situation or the other two staff members was available Monday.
“I feel like Romo’s actions are being dismissed because he was so beloved within UTSA and that is doing the biggest injustice to the women who were harassed,” Victoria Guajardo, senior communication major said. “No matter who is being accused, they should be held 100 percent accountable. The fact that people are actually defending him just reinforces why women are so terrified of coming forward after they are harassed.”
Mr. UTSA, JaCorey Patterson, believes Romo’s made the right decision in stepping down.
“It shows Romo’s character of always doing what’s right for the university,” Patterson said.
Ms. UTSA, Isabella Beltri, and SGA members Andrew Hubbard, Frankie Trynoski and Kelly Zoch declined to comment on Romo’s retirement.
Leslie affirmed the search process for a new president is proceeding as planned.
“We look forward to appointing a president in the fall, prior to the start of the next academic year,” Leslie said. “In the meantime, Dr. Pedro Reyes will serve as president ad interim.”
Before stepping into his role as interim president, Reyes was the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the UT System and at one time was Romo’s boss.
Reyes issued his first statement as interim president to UTSA’s faculty and staff on March 3. He announced he will provide the support the university community needs to be successful and encouraged his colleagues to contact him if they have any thoughts on how to advance the university mission.
Subsequently, Reyes issued a similar statement to the UTSA community.
“Together, we will carry on our tradition of excellence and continue taking bold steps that will bring us ever closer to Tier One,” Reyes concluded. “I am so honored to have the opportunity to serve you.”
Reyes did not mention Romo’s alleged conduct in his statements, but did acknowledge the past few weeks have been uncertain times.