Institutions often do just about anything to avoid political controversy. And in some cases, such as the case of TCU and Rep. Roger Williams, it backfires and escalates the dispute.
Some faculty members and alumni argue that Williams, a TCU graduate himself, should not remain on the university’s governing board because he voted to uphold challenges to election results based on false and exaggerated claims.
The situation puts TCU in a bind. Some faculty members, alumni and, likely, donors want Williams gone. Others are no doubt pushing back against what they see as an effort to silence a conservative lawmaker.
The Board of Trustees will reportedly discuss a new rule to prevent elected officials from serving on the board. It’s understandable to think the solution may be just to make it all go away, but the downsides are considerable.
It’s useful for an institution to have powerful people participate in its governance and offer public support. In this case, Williams, an Austin-based Republican whose district stretches to Tarrant County’s southern line, is a tremendous TCU booster and fundraiser.
What to do about members of Congress who cast election-challenge votes is a conundrum. About two-thirds of Republicans in the House objected to congressional recognition of election results from at least one battleground state. Among them were several Texans, including Dallas-Fort Worth area lawmakers Michael Burgess of Pilot Point, Beth Van Duyne of Irving and Ron Wright of Arlington.
Most did so on the grounds that there were questions of fraud or legal manipulation substantial enough to make Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump suspect. Others said it was a way to draw attention to the issue of voter fraud.
Once again, there was no evidence of fraud anywhere near the scale to deliver even a single state to Trump. It’s for states to determine their own election procedures. And feeding misplaced suspicion about a legal election without substantial fraud to promote a cause is divisive and wrong.
As we’ve said before, Republicans who went down this path should stand up, admit they were wrong and help lead their followers away from lies and dangerous conspiracy theories.
But the mere act of voting for challenges that were not going to overcome a Democratic majority in either chamber of Congress is far from incitement of the despicable Capitol riot of Jan. 6. Conflation of the two has gotten wildly out of hand. To suggest Williams is responsible in some significant way for the riot and must be shunned is at best an overreaction. It smacks of political opportunism.
So does Williams’ response to the possible board action, though. He’s been fundraising off it, sending an email that portrays him as a warrior for free speech battling “liberal professors” who are targeting him only because he’s conservative.
Perhaps ideology is part of the motivation. But in this case, the problem isn’t Williams’ opinions. It’s not an opinion to say the election was stolen or there was massive fraud. It’s at best an unproven allegation and at worst an outright lie. Williams’ rights are not the issue; his judgment is.
And in interviews, Williams has talked down the TCU faculty. No one who loves the university as much as Williams does should trash talk it for political gain.
The Board of Trustees should consider admonishing Williams, but it’s too much to suggest he leave the board over this. And worse, a blanket policy against elected officials serving the institution smacks of an attempt to steer clear of controversy, not to operate by principle.
Editor’s note: Opinion editor Ryan J. Rusak’s wife is a TCU employee. She does not work in university administration.