Texas A&M University announced Friday that its president has resigned following pressure on its diversity and inclusion work after the hiring of a black journalist at the nation’s largest campus.
President Kathryn Banks said in a resignation letter that she would retire immediately, because “negative press has become a distraction” on the College Station campus of about 70,000 students.
His release comes as Republican lawmakers across the U.S. are targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campuses. That includes Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in June that would eliminate program offices at public colleges.
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The A&M system said in a statement that Banks told faculty leaders this week that he accepted responsibility for the “flawed hiring process” of Kathleen McElroy, the former New York Times editor who was chosen to revive the school’s journalism department. A “wave of national publicity” suggested that McElroy was the victim of “anti-vaccine” hysteria and outside interference in the faculty hiring process, the statement said.
Banks told The Texas Tribune this month that his work on race and diversity in newsrooms led to pushback over his hiring at A&M.
McElroy’s 20-year career at The New York Times included research on the relationship between news media and race, particularly in newsroom practices, Pulitzers, pearls, and sports.
McElroy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, but she told the Tribune that she felt “hurt by this whole process” and that she believed they were being “judged by race, maybe gender.”
The Rudder Association, which describes itself as a collection of Texas A&M students, alumni, faculty and staff who are “Aggies committed to protecting and maintaining the core values and unique spirit of Texas A&M,” has acknowledged complaints from school administrators about McElroy’s hiring.
“TRA believes the 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 group wrote last week.
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McEloy’s original job offer to revive Texas A&M’s journalism program, celebrated with an on-campus “signing party,” was later changed from a tenure-track role to a five-year role, then a one-year job that could be fired at any time.
McElroy, a 1981 graduate of Texas A&M, turned down transfers and job offers, deciding instead to remain a professor at the University of Texas.
In a meeting with university faculty Wednesday, Banks said she was not involved in the changes to the contract offer. The faculty then voted to establish a panel to investigate the matter.
On Monday, Jose Luis Bermudez, interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Arts and Sciences, also announced he would step down and return to his job on the faculty. McElroy said Bemudez warned him about the growing “hysteria” about diversity, equity and inclusion at Texas A&M and advised him to stay at Texas.
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Banks is the second major university president to resign this week amid the turmoil. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Wednesday that he will resign on Aug. 31, citing an independent review that cleared him of research misconduct but found “serious flaws” in five scientific papers on topics such as brain development in which he was the lead author.