Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs and Remy Tumin, New York Times, July 21, 2023
Texas A&M University said on Friday that its president was resigning “immediately” following a conflict over the school’s shifting offers to a candidate who appeared set to lead its journalism school but ultimately declined the position after facing pushback over her work promoting diversity.
The president, M. Katherine Banks, submitted a letter of retirement late on Thursday, in which she said that the negative attention over the journalism director, Kathleen McElroy, was a distraction for Texas A&M, one of the largest universities in the country.
Dr. Banks’s resignation came days after the resignation of the dean overseeing the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and followed a tense meeting between Dr. Banks and the university’s faculty senate on Wednesday.
During that meeting, Dr. Banks, who had been president for just over two years, said she was sorry that Dr. McElroy would not be joining the university and said she was embarrassed by how the situation had been handled. But she also suggested that she knew little about the details of what had led to the shifting offers made to Dr. McElroy, a former New York Times editor and professor of journalism at the University of Texas.
That version of events was challenged on Friday by Hart Blanton, a professor who leads the university’s communication and journalism department. He said Dr. Banks had actually “injected herself into the process atypically and early on” and that she had misled the faculty senate about her role.
Dr. Blanton said it appeared more scrutiny had been given to Dr. McElroy’s hire because she is Black, and also said someone had altered a draft of a job offer letter — changing the offer of a multiyear term to one year — and sent it to Dr. McElroy without his knowledge, even though it still included his signature. He said he had shared materials related to the failed hiring with university lawyers on Thursday and was pleased to see that Dr. Banks had resigned.
The debacle over Dr. McElroy’s appointment is the latest clash at the intersection of higher education, diversity and politics. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, signed a bill this year that will ban offices and programs at publicly funded colleges whose purpose is to promote “diversity, equity and inclusion.”
In the Texas A&M case, Dr. McElroy said that the university had promised her a five-year contract but that she was ultimately offered a one-year agreement after complaints from an alumni group and a conservative publication over her work promoting diversity, including an opinion column she wrote in which she said it was important to hire more nonwhite faculty members.
The school is known for the fervent loyalty of its graduates. And even by Texas standards, it is defined by a celebration of the state and big-time sports, especially Aggie football. Black students make up a disproportionately small percentage of both Texas A&M (2 percent) and the University of Texas at Austin (5 percent), when compared with the state as a whole (13.4 percent) or the cities where the universities are located.
What remained a mystery even after Dr. Banks’s resignation was exactly why the university had altered its offer to Dr. McElroy. One conservative alumni group, the Rudder Association, had emailed A&M leadership after her appointment was announced and said in a statement that A&M should avoid “the divisive ideology of identity politics.” On Friday, the group’s president, Matt Poling, said he appreciated Dr. Banks’s service to the university.
At the faculty senate meeting on Wednesday, professors had sharply criticized the university’s bungling of Dr. McElroy’s appointment, with some saying that criticism over Dr. McElroy’s work to promote diversity should not have factored into her hiring.