Texas A&M President Resigns After Botched Recruitment of Black Journalism Professor

Amid conservative backlash, the university board slowly chipped away at Kathleen McElroy's offer—but president Katherine Banks claimed she was not involved.

Texas A&M President Resigns After Botched Recruitment of Black Journalism Professor
Former Texas A&M President Katherine Banks and professor Kathleen McElroy Screenshot:YouTube/KAGSTV (Fair Use)

The president of Texas A&M University said on Friday that she would resign, after efforts to recruit a Black journalism professor fell apart over conservative backlash to the professor’s diversity and inclusion work. It’s the second high-profile resignation this week: On Monday, the interim dean of the school’s College of Arts and Sciences announced that he would step down.

Last month, Texas A&M celebrated the hiring of Kathleen McElroy to revive its journalism department. McElroy was the director of the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Journalism between 2018 and 2022 and a tenured professor at the school; previously, she had worked at the New York Times for 20 years. McElroy had accepted A&M’s offer to run the program and teach as a tenured professor, pending approval from the Board of Regents. And then everything came undone.

Within days of the announcement, the Texas Scorecard, a conservative website affiliated with the Tea Party, labeled McElroy a “DEI proponent.” The school defended her in a statement, saying she is a “superb professor, veteran journalist and proven leader.” A conservative alumni group known as The Rudder Association also opposed her hiring.

Soon thereafter, McElroy said that interim arts and sciences dean José Luis Bermúdez told her she had a target on her back; he worried about her getting through the tenure process. A few days later, Bermúdez told her there was still “noise in the [university] system” about her. When she asked him for more details about the backlash, she said he told her, “You’re a Black woman who worked at The New York Times.” (Bermúdez resigned as interim dean, but will remain a professor.)

McElroy told the Texas Tribune that, as this was happening, the school amended her offer letter several times. On July 11, the news site wrote:

Behind the scenes, 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. On Sunday, 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 has rejected the offer and shared all of the offer letters with the Tribune.

McElroy told the Tribune she declined the third offer because “in no shape, form or fashion would I give up a tenured position at UT for a one-year contract that emphasizes that you can be let go at any point.” McElroy added: “I feel damaged by this entire process. I’m being judged by race, maybe gender. And I don’t think other folks would face the same bars or challenges.”

Banks told the university’s faculty senate on Wednesday that she didn’t approve the changes to the offer letters, but took responsibility for the flawed hiring process. She said in her resignation letter to the A&M system chancellor: “The recent challenges regarding Dr. McElroy have made it clear to me that I must retire immediately. The negative press is a distraction from the wonderful work being done here.”

The faculty senate passed a resolution to create a fact-finding committee to look into the how the school botched McElroy’s hiring.

Banks also came under fire during her two-year tenure for the school’s decisions to end print publication of the student newspaper and to cut funding and sponsorship of an annual campus drag show.

The sad saga comes as Texas is restricting DEI efforts. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed a bill last month that bans public universities from having offices, programs, or training that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; it takes effect in January.

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