Texas A&M University president resigns over controversy over failed hiring of journalism professor
Texas A&M University President Katherine Banks resigned Thursday amid controversy over the school’s failed attempt to hire a new professor to lead its journalism program.
Banks’ decision came after the Faculty Senate announced its own plans to investigate why the school announced the hiring of journalist and professor Kathleen McElroy, to dramatically change the terms of her proposed job.
“Recent challenges with Dr. McElroy have made it clear to me that I must retire immediately,” Banks said in a letter to the Chancellor of the Texas A&M University System. “The negative press is a distraction from the wonderful work being done here.”
The university announced its decision to hire McElroy to much fanfare last month. A school press release said McElroy – who taught at the University of Texas at Austin after a journalism career that included 20 years at the New York Times – said, “A priority for McElroy is to build a curriculum that incorporates innovative ways to deliver information to an underserved audience across Texas and beyond.”
But McElroy told the Texas Tribune earlier this month that his permanent job offer quickly fell apart after he was told there was a backlash to his hiring due to his work on diversity, equity and inclusion programs.
“I’m judged by race, maybe gender,” McElroy – who is black – said in an interview with the Tribune.
Next year, a state law will take effect in Texas banning diversity, equity and inclusion offices at public universities, including Texas A&M, CNN previously reported.
McElroy told the Tribune that she had accepted a new offer of a non-permanent five-year position, only to see the school revise it again to a one-year contract, which could be terminated at any time.
The head of the school’s communications and journalism department acknowledged the change in the job posting, saying it happened without his consent.
“I was shocked to learn that an early draft of an employment offer letter for Dr. McElroy had been altered and sent to him without my knowledge,” Hart Blanton said in a written statement released by his personal attorney. He called for “a full and independent investigation”.
In a statement to CNN on Saturday, Texas A&M officials said they were launching an investigation into the failed lease.
“University and system officials have read, heard and understood the concerns of our Aggie community stemming from the attempted hiring of Dr. Kathleen McElroy to lead the university’s journalism program,” said Laylan Copelin, vice chancellor, marketing and communications, Texas A&M University System.
“We are determined to get to the bottom of what happened and why, learn from the mistakes and do better in the future,” the statement continued.
The school’s Faculty Senate also passed a resolution on Wednesday announcing “a committee to investigate hiring mismanagement,” according to Friday’s statement announcing Banks’ departure.
McElroy, who now intends to remain a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, declined an interview request from CNN on Saturday, but provided his own written statement, saying, “I am deeply grateful for the outpouring of support I have received, especially from Aggies of all majors, and from my past and present students.
“There’s a lot more I could and will say about what happened,” McElroy added in his message to CNN. “But for now, I will reserve those statements for a later date.”