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A&M faculty leaders decry “appearance of outside influence” in botched hiring of journalism professor

By Stephen Simpson, The Texas Tribune

A&M faculty leaders decry “appearance of outside influence” in botched hiring of journalism professor” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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An association of Texas A&M faculty on Friday condemned the university’s administration for its role in failed contract negotiations with renowned journalist, Kathleen O. McElroy, who walked away from an offer to reboot its journalism department.

In a letter obtained by The Texas Tribune, Tracy Hammond, speaker for the Texas A&M Faculty Senate, said the group’s executive committee “decries the appearance of outside influence in the hiring and promotion of faculty.”

The letter comes three days after the Tribune reported that McElroy ended contract negotiations with the university, which had previously celebrated her intention to leave a tenured position at the University of Texas at Austin to revive the A&M journalism department.

Negotiations between McElroy and A&M became fraught in recent weeks, McElroy told the Tribune. And A&M employees suggested a vocal network of constituents within the university system expressed issues with her having worked at The New York Times and her support for diversity in newsrooms.

Hammond, in the letter addressed to both the university’s president, M. Katherine Banks, and chancellor, John Sharp, said faculty members were worried about the precedent this event sets.

[Texas A&M recruited a UT professor to revive its journalism program, then backtracked after “DEI hysteria”]

“We believe we share the common goal of preserving Texas A&M University as a premier institution with an outstanding reputation,” Hammond said. “But for that to happen, there must be an acknowledgement that outside influence is detrimental to that goal and efforts must be taken to preclude that from recurring.”

A spokesperson for the university said officials received the letter and would respond next week. And a spokesperson for the Texas A&M University System said in a statement that its leaders agree there is a common goal with the faculty.

“Chancellor John Sharp has great confidence and faith in the faculty and is committed to keeping Texas A&M University a premier institution of higher education,” said Laylan Copelin, spokesperson for the A&M System.

McElroy’s decision to end contract negotiations is a dramatic reversal to the celebrated welcome she received after A&M first publicly announced she was leaving her position at UT-Austin to revive the A&M journalism program.

However, McElroy said that after the fanfare, A&M spent weeks altering the terms of her job. After hearing about the concerns, McElroy agreed to a five-year contract position without tenure, which would have avoided a review by regents. Last weekend, she received a third offer, this time with a one-year contract and emphasizing that the appointment was at will and that she could be terminated at any time.

She then turned the offer down.

Kathleen McElroy, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism and a graduate of Texas A&M, outside her apartment in Austin on July 11, 2023.
Kathleen McElroy, a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism and a graduate of Texas A&M, outside her apartment in Austin on July 11, 2023. Credit: Joe Timmerman/The Texas Tribune

McElroy’s hiring came under public scrutiny after the conservative website Texas Scorecard wrote a piece on McElroy’s work at UT-Austin regarding diversity, equity and inclusion and her research on race, labeling her a “DEI proponent.”

That website is the reporting arm of Empower Texans, a Tea Party-aligned group formed with millions in oil money. The organization holds huge sway over Texas Republican leaders.

And at least one known alumni association publicly acknowledged its concern over McElroy’s potential hiring.

The Rudder Association, an alumni network at Texas A&M, released a letter Friday that clarified the concerns it had with the potential hiring of McElroy.

“Upon learning of Dr. McElroy’s selection, TRA did express concerns to the administration, as did many others,” the letter stated. “TRA believes that a department head should embrace the egalitarian and merit-based traditions that characterize Texas A&M’s values rather than the divisive ideology of identity politics.”

The failed contract negotiations come at a time in Texas when public universities are under the microscope as a new state law that will go into effect in January bans offices, programs and training that promote diversity, equity and inclusion. Recently, the Texas A&M System started a systemwide audit of all DEI offices in response to the new law.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M University System, The New York Times and the University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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