Former dean accuses San Diego State president of promoting ‘political litmus test’ for top jobs

Adela de la Torre, the new president of San Diego State University
Adela de la Torre began serving as president of San Diego State University in June 2018.
(Howard Lipin / The San Diego-Union-Tribune)

San Diego State University President Adela de la Torre has been accused by one of her former deans of saying that education leaders in California cannot obtain or keep top jobs unless they pass a left-leaning “political litmus test.”

The accusation, which De la Torre denies, was made by Lance Nail, who stepped down as dean of SDSU’s Fowler College of Business in May, less than two years after his high-profile recruitment from Texas Tech University, where he was an innovation expert.

Nail said Monday that De la Torre made the political claim when he told her he was leaving for a deanship at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At the time, he was willing to consider staying at SDSU, which hoped that he would make the most of a $25-million donation the campus received to improve the business school.


Nail claims that De la Torre said, “If you’re not a Democrat and you don’t support unions, there will be no place for you in education in California.”

He added that, “I was shocked; you shouldn’t have to pass a political litmus test to keep a job.”

Nail said he believed that De la Torre was talking about him, even though he had not disclosed his political leanings.

“I ... unequivocally deny that statement,” De la Torre told the San Diego Union-Tribune Monday in a statement. “Furthermore, any sentiment that is exclusionary to one group or identity is out of alignment with my values.

“Diversity and inclusion have been a focus and priority at every level during my presidency, meaning I appreciate the identities and perspectives of every one of our students, faculty and staff. These values are reflected in our mission statement, are strongly embedded in our strategic planning process and underscore how we approach one another as community members.”


Nail’s claim also elicited surprise Monday from Adam Day of San Diego, chairman of the board of trustees in the California State University system.

“I find it difficult to believe that any campus leader would say something like this, and the alleged statement strikes me as out of character when it comes to the personal values of President De la Torre,” Day said.

“There shouldn’t be a litmus test for anyone in higher education. It is antithetical to the freedoms and diversity of thought that we stand for in higher education.”

Such a dispute hardly seemed possible when Nail arrived two years ago from Texas Tech.

“Lance has an extraordinary record of success improving the national rankings and increasing philanthropic giving at the universities he has served,” Chukuka Enwemeka, SDSU’s provost at the time, said in a public statement.

Little has changed. SDSU’s undergraduate business program was ranked 87th nationally in 2019 by U.S. News and World Report.

And friction developed between Nail and De la Torre, who didn’t hire him.

On Saturday, Nail sent De la Torre an email claiming that people involved with the university had been telling him that the president had belittled his service as dean.


He was especially bothered by the alleged claim that he wasn’t an effective fundraiser, and frustrated that he wasn’t chosen to be the university’s new provost.

Nail said he didn’t apply to be provost, and that he surpassed his fundraising goals. He also objected to the implication that he did not get along with key members of San Diego’s business community.

“I do hope that what I have heard about these statements is a misunderstanding or miscommunication and may simply be cleared up with a clarifying response from you,” Nail wrote to De la Torre.

“However, I have personally experienced you disparaging former SDSU employees and I will not tolerate you intentionally making known incorrect statements about me.”

SDSU said in a statement: “We are grateful for Dean Lance Nail’s contributions at SDSU and as dean of the SDSU Fowler College of Business. We also wish him all the best in his new position in Texas. As a matter of institutional policy, we do not comment further on personnel matters.”

Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.