By Any Other Name

by Akim Reinhardt

Van Bokkelen Hall Directions & Parking | Towson University
Van Bokkelen Hall

There is a building on the Towson University campus called Van Bokkelen Hall. In that building, one of the rooms has recently been renamed for Richard E. Vatz. I don’t know who Van Bokkelen was (I should probably look into that), but I can tell you who Vatz is.

Professor Richard E. Vatz has been at Towson University more than twice as long as I have, and I’ve been there over twenty years. When I first met Vatz, he struck me as a fairly harmless, banal right winger. He was a type. Fashioning himself a Socatic gadfly, he complained about the school and state bureaucracy (Towson is a public university). He warned against faculty unionization (it’s actually against the law for professors to unionize in Maryland). He was a free speech advocate who cut against academia’s grain in his conversations and later in his uninspiring blog posts. I found him to be entirely unimpressive. But the university was big enough that I was able to largely ignore him, despite his efforts to be a presence and a “character.”

Then it got serious.

First he made himself the faculty sponsor of a hardcore racist student club: Matthew Heimbach’s White Student Union. A history major, Heimbach was a student in one of my classes. He was smart. He was articulate. He was over-the-top polite. And he was a very committed White nationalist. Because of this, and because being such a person on a college campus was such an oddity in pre-Trumpist America, Heimbach garnered his fair share of press. CNN, the New York Times, and some other major outlets all indulged him with interviews and coverage, holding him up as a curio.

Richard Vatz sponsored Heimbach’s White Student Union. This made it an official Towson University student organization, which it could not be without faculty sponsorship. Their activities included things like campus safety patrols. You don’t need to read too hard between the lines to understand just whom Heimbach and his cronies thought were the threat. Read more »