UTEP gave research role to former Border Patrol official accused of sexual harassment
Tony Barker received an unpaid fellowship to make him “less risky” for other universities to hire him, emails show.
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A University of Texas at El Paso administrator created a research position for a former U.S. Border Patrol official accused of sexual harassment so other universities would find it “less risky” to eventually hire him, according to emails obtained by El Paso Matters.
“Although I cannot pay anything, it will attach you to a university making it less risky for another university to take a chance. It will also allow me to include you (in) any future grants and you can use it for journal articles we will be submitting. It would be the start of your academic career!” Victor Manjarrez Jr., the director of UTEP’s Center for Law and Human Behavior, wrote in a Dec. 22, 2022, email to Tony Barker.
Two months earlier, Barker had left a high-ranking Border Patrol job amid an investigation into sexual harassment claims. Federal officials have not disclosed the status of the investigation.
Manjarrez is a former Border Patrol sector chief in El Paso and Tucson who has been with UTEP since 2013. Since 2020, he has directed the Center for Law and Human Behavior, which does research on border security and related issues that is largely funded by the federal government, he has said.
Barker and another controversial former Border Patrol official, Jeffrey Self, were listed as research fellows on the center’s website for a month this year.
Those fellow positions were eliminated, and their information was stripped from the center’s university website, on Feb. 6 and 7 amid media questions and criticism from at least one alum, according to documents obtained by El Paso Matters under the Texas Public Information Act.
In documents and statements, Manjarrez has said he was unaware that Barker had been accused of sexual harassment until Feb. 5.
NBC News and The New York Times reported on Jan. 23 that Barker resigned from the Border Patrol in October after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced when he was being considered for a promotion. At the time of his resignation, Barker was the acting chief of the Border Patrol’s law enforcement directorate.
Barker has denied allegations of sexual impropriety while at the Border Patrol. He did not respond to email, text and phone requests for comment from El Paso Matters.
Manjarrez did not respond to emailed questions from El Paso Matters about the fellowship program, and how Barker and Self were selected.
According to emails, Manjarrez proposed the research fellow idea to Barker on Dec. 22. In the initial email, Manjarrez appears to display sympathy for Barker, though he doesn’t mention Barker’s departure from the Border Patrol.
“As always, it was great speaking with you. Sometimes you have to ask, is it worth it,” Manjarrez wrote.
Manjarrez followed up a few hours later with the proposal to make Barker a research fellow.
“Oh my gosh, thank you! I will absolutely take you up on that,” Barker responded.
Manjarrez told Barker he would add him to the center’s website when a webmaster returned from holiday break. Manjarrez has said Barker was added to the website as a research fellow on Jan. 5 or 6.
Self, the other research fellow listed on the center’s website earlier this year, is retired from the Border Patrol and served as chief of the agency’s law enforcement directorate. While with the Border Patrol in 2017, Self initiated a pilot test in El Paso of taking away children of migrant parents when families crossed the border without authorization, according to reporting in The Atlantic.
The Trump administration, encouraged by what it viewed as the success of the El Paso family separation program, implemented it across the U.S.-Mexico border in the spring of 2018, taking more than 5,000 children from their parents for weeks or months.
The program was quickly abandoned after widespread public criticism, but about 1,000 children are still separated from their parents.
El Paso Matters asked UTEP for all written communications that led to Self’s appointment as a research fellow, but the university said it had no such documents.
El Paso Matters could not locate Self for comment.
On Feb. 4, El Paso Matters sent questions to UTEP and others about Barker’s research fellow position. News of the appointment began circulating on Twitter later that night.
The next morning, a UTEP alum sent an email to Manjarrez that criticized Barker’s role with the university.
“UTEP should have done its due diligence in the vetting and hiring process. UTEP has always promoted a safe space for its students and should not have sexual predators on its staff,” said the email from Liz, who received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UTEP and now lives in the Washington, D.C., area. She asked El Paso Matters to use only her first name because she has concerns for her safety.
Within 90 minutes of receiving Liz’s email, Manjarrez forwarded it to his supervisor, Roberto Osegueda, UTEP’s vice president for the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects. He explained the research fellows program to Osegueda.
“The Fellows program is a non-paid position but with the potential to be paid as a consultant if certain requirements are met. As this program is relatively new for us I expect all fellows will be remote associations with the Center. This is the first that I hear about the allegations regarding Dr. Barker,” Manjarrez wrote.
He recommended to Osegueda that Barker’s appointment as a research fellow be ended and that he be removed from the center’s website. Osegueda emailed Manjarrez three hours later with instructions to “proceed as described.”
Two hours after receiving Osegueda’s blessing, Manjarrez emailed Liz: “Although Dr. Barker is not an employee nor was hired (paid) by the university as a Center for Law & Human Behavior (CLHB) Fellows, the CLHB will end its association with Dr. Barker. We will also review our internal processes for fellow’s collaborators in a non-paid status.”
References to Barker were scrubbed from the center’s website the next day, Feb. 6. References to Self were removed on Feb. 7 after El Paso Matters raised questions about his appointment.
Manjarrrez sent an email to Self on Feb. 7 stating, “The Center for Law & Human Behavior’s [CLHB] fellowship program procedures are currently being revised. As such, your association with the CLHB has been placed on hold and you will be required to reapply at a later date.”
UTEP did not provide any record of Manjarrez notifying Barker that his fellowship had been withdrawn.
How they were selected
Selection of fellows was to be done through a “careful and extremely selective process,” according to a concept paper Manjarrez shared with Osegueda on Feb. 5. Candidates were to be reviewed by representatives of the Center for Law and Human Behavior — Manjarrez is the only employee listed on the center’s website — and UTEP’s criminal justice department, according to the concept paper.
However, the selections of Barker and Self show no signs of a selective process. Documents provided by UTEP show that Manjarrez was the only person involved in making them research fellows.
Manjarrez offered Barker a fellowship within six hours of receiving his curriculum vitae on Dec. 22, emails show. Barker did not provide other paperwork supposedly required for the fellowship, such as proof of a security clearance.
The record for Self’s selection is even skimpier. UTEP did not provide El Paso Matters any written record of an application or selection process for him. The only documents provided by the university to El Paso Matters were a photo and biography from Self that were used for his entry on the center’s website, and the Feb. 7 email terminating his fellowship.
UTEP officials did not respond to a series of questions from El Paso Matters, including whether the university had a policy for these sorts of fellowships, whether any policies and procedures had changed in the wake of this incident, and whether any disciplinary action had been taken.
The university also declined to disclose the amount of grant revenue received by the Center for Law and Human Behavior over the last three years, or the nature of Manjarrez’s employment contract with the university. UTEP spokesperson Victor Arreola said Manjarrez is paid $110,079 a year and reports to Osegueda.
“Jeff Self and Tony Barker are not, and have never been, employed by UTEP or received any compensation from UTEP. They were erroneously listed for a brief time on the Center for Law and Human Behavior website as research fellows,” Arreola said.
“Throw it under the rug and call it a day”
Liz, the UTEP alum who wrote the email to Manjarrez criticizing Barker’s association with the university, said she was surprised when she got a response from him within a few hours on Feb. 5 informing her that Barker was being stripped of his appointment.
She said in an interview that she was suspicious that such a decision was made so quickly, without an investigation of her complaint.
“I was, like, somebody’s trying to cover themselves. It raised that flag for me,” Liz said.
She did not disclose a crucial bit of information when she emailed Manjarrez: She is friends with one of the women who have filed complaints against Barker.
Liz said she didn’t know when she sent the email that Manjarrez was a former Border Patrol official. Her friend told her later that he and Barker had stayed in touch with each other after Manjarrez left the agency in 2011.
“That made me even more mad because then I knew that it was more like, I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine,” she said.
Liz said she and her friend don’t believe Manjarrez’s claims that he didn’t know about the investigation into sexual harassment allegations against Barker before her email. She said his rapid response to her complaint was telling.
“It was more like right away, I didn’t know anything about it. Let’s get rid of him,” she said.
Liz said she has been disappointed in her alma mater’s response to the appointments of Barker and Self as research fellows.
“I feel now that they removed them just to do like a quick, throw it under the rug and call it a day, but that they’re not really taking into consideration that the processes were broken, that they were not followed,” she said.
This article first appeared on El Paso Matters and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.
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