Hart Brunton, dean of communications and journalism at A&M, said Texas A&M president M. Katherine Banks, who submitted her resignation late Thursday, misled faculty about the circumstances surrounding Kathleen McElroy’s failed hiring.
Brunton’s statement, issued Friday afternoon to The Eagle through Blanton’s legal representative David Schleicher, said an early draft of the offer letter to McElroy was altered and sent to Blanton without prior knowledge. Brunton also retained his electronic signature, which he said was reduced to one year from the multi-year term previously discussed.
Brunton said Banks’ misleading remarks came at an academic Senate meeting on Wednesday, which was held to clarify that he sought to hire McElroy as A&M’s new director of journalism, saying “the decision that led to the crisis was made at the departmental level.”
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At Wednesday’s undergraduate Senate meeting, Banks said multiple times that McElroy’s original offer for a tenure management role as director of journalism was still valid and that offer was never changed. However, two formal offer letters from A&M to McElroy were shared with Eagle by McElroy last week. The first was about tenure of management, which she signed. A&M officials then sent McElroy a modified offer, lowering her contract to one year, though A&M officials later said the offer also included a three-year management offer. McElroy told The Eagle that university leaders brought back verbal multi-year contracts to become a practicing professor, but the offer was never put into writing, she said.
Brunton shared relevant materials with the university’s legal staff on Thursday, saying he was “delighted” at Banks’ resignation. In his statement, Brunton said he would request a full and independent investigation to ensure the incident does not repeat itself. He also objected to the consideration of race in the treatment of the black woman McElroy.
“A government official acknowledged that the unusual level of scrutiny given to Dr. McElroy’s employment was based, at least in part, on race,” Brunton said in a statement. “I understand that whatever the source of such pressure, it is unlawful for employers, especially public universities, to subject job applicants to more scrutiny because of their race or color.”
A&M Treasurer John Sharp announced on Friday morning that Banks had resigned immediately from the position he had held since June 2021.
In a resignation letter sent late Thursday night by A&M, Banks said: Negative press gets in the way of the great work being done here. ”
Mark A. Welsh III, dean of A&M’s Bush School of Government and Public Service, will serve as A&M’s acting president until a nationwide search finds a successor.
In A&M’s announcement of Banks’ resignation, Banks said, “Although he denied knowledge of the change in job postings, he took responsibility for flawed recruitment processes following national reports that McElroy, who conducts research on diversity and inclusion, was the victim of ‘anti-arousal’ hysteria and external intervention in the faculty recruitment process.”
McElroy, a 1981 A&M alumnus, told The Eagle last week that shortly after the hiring was announced on June 13, he thought A&M management was forced to listen behind the scenes to outside influences with “major concerns” about diversity, equity and inclusion.
Houston-based attorney Benjamin L. Hall, who currently represents McElroy, told The Eagle on Friday that McElroy’s representatives are trying to continue negotiations with A&M officials.
After Banks met with teachers on Wednesday, the teachers’ Senate’s original resolution to appoint a fact-finding commission to investigate the circumstances surrounding McElroy’s failed appointment was revised, adding that the teachers’ Senate remained skeptical and lacked confidence in the answers provided by the administration. The resolution was approved later that same day.
Teachers said they felt lied to after Mr. Banks’ comments made in the public stream. On Thursday afternoon, Sharpe sent a letter obtained by the Eagle to the undergraduate senate, saying he agreed with concerns about outside influence on faculty recruitment and promotion. Sharp also said he supports the role of faculty in shared governance and appreciates faculty advice on these issues. He also said the only academic recruitment he was involved with was the president and vice president of agriculture and engineering.
“Outside influence is never welcomed or invited,” Sharpe wrote. “It’s also frustrating when an outside group tries to take credit for some actions, creating suspicion and discord within the Aggie family.”
Blanton began hiring McElroy last year because of her “excellence” as a journalist, researcher and educator, according to a statement from Blanton. Blanton said it was a “bonus” that McElroy was an A&M graduate, she noted. McElroy volunteered to be her professor and director of journalism, Blanton said, and standard administrative procedures were followed during her search.
“Dr. McElroy’s hiring failure was a huge loss for A&M and definitely caused her a lot of unnecessary pain,” Brunton said.
Under Banks’ leadership, A&M was rife with change and controversy.
Six months into his tenure, Banks published 41 recommendations for organizational change he called “The Path Forward,” which met with backlash from A&M faculty. This recommendation is based on his 130-page consultant report compiled by MGT Consulting and Martin + Crumption Group. A four-month review began shortly after Mr. Banks began his term.
In August 2022, the A&M University Undergraduate Senate passed a resolution stating that “shared governance no longer works the way Texas A&M University faculty envision it.” The resolution added that Banks did not seek full faculty input for “The Path Forward.” A teacher said at the time that this could lead to a no-confidence vote.
“There have been a lot of changes very quickly with The Path Forward,” said A&M Senate President Tracy Hammond. “I think a lot of the changes in The Path Forward were for the better. [a university this size could] mediate. “
One of the key changes under the Banks administration was the creation of the College of Arts and Sciences, a move that caused frustration among A&M faculty.
A December 2022 letter from chemistry professor Karen Woolley to Banks, obtained by The Eagle, listed three major problems with her efforts, including failed leadership, a lack of adherence to promises and adequate support for research projects.
Woolley said in the letter that when Banks took over as president of A&M, while she had a strong track record as a visionary, executor and leader at A&M Institute of Technology, no group of students, staff or faculty seemed inspired or excited by her leadership and commitment.
“You were expected to have a perspective, respond to and act on questions, criticisms, advice and recommendations gleaned from meetings held with various stakeholders over the past few months,” Woolley wrote. “However, as outlined in the MGT report published more than a year ago, little seems to have changed from the original intent. Disturbingly, discussions with stakeholder groups have actually increased morale issues and reduced confidence that TAMU is on the right track.”
Ultimately, McElroy’s hiring failure fell under the jurisdiction of the University of Arts and Sciences, and led to the resignation of the university’s interim president, José Bermudez.
In February 2022, Banks got bogged down when he instructed A&M’s student newspaper, The Battalion, to immediately cease regular print publication and become a digital-only news outlet. After meeting with battalion staff, Mr. Banks revised the decision and said the battalion can print on schedule through the spring semester. The battalion continued to print weekly during the spring and fall terms.
Banks is the second woman to serve as president of A&M, following Elsa Murano, who held the position from January 2008 to June 2009. Her tenure as Banks’ president was the second shortest in A&M history after Murano. Banks served nine years as vice president of engineering and her dean of A&M engineering prior to her presidency.
When A&M’s board approved Banks’ hiring in March 2021, she said: This is my home and I think it will be for many years to come. ”
With Banks gone and A&M continuing to search for a new president, Hammond said he finds it difficult to find a new person to lead the university until it finds a way forward.
“I hope that whoever is appointed to the role of president really cares about shared governance and recognizes the importance of shared governance and the importance of creating an effective and successful university,” Hammond said.
“…We have some work to do to get through this situation.”