The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted unanimously Sunday evening to make acting President Mark A. Welsh III the interim-president of its flagship university, 10 days after former Texas A&M University President M. Katherine Banks resigned.
Banks, who had served as president for two years, resigned amid fallout from the bungled hiring of Kathleen McElroy, a Black journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, to revive A&M's journalism program.
After Banks resigned on July 20, Chancellor John Sharp appointed Welsh, dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, as acting president until regents could pick an interim. The board plans to conduct a national search for a new president.
"I cannot think of a better person than Mark Welsh to lead Texas A&M right now," Sharp said in a press release. "He has experience running a large organization, but he also is widely respected and universally well-liked in the Aggie community. General Welsh has earned a reputation as a smart, thoughtful and collaborative leader. We are lucky to have him in the president's office."
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The board also authorized the university lawyers to negotiate a potential settlement with McElroy over the failed hiring and directed the system office of the general counsel to conduct a "complete and thorough investigation" into what happened, pledging to release the results of the investigation to the public.
McElroy has not filed a lawsuit against the university.
Regents met for more than three hours in executive session, which is closed to the public, before voting without public discussion of either agenda item. Regent Mike Hernandez was absent.
Texas A&M celebrated the hiring of McElroy in June, organizing a signing ceremony on campus to celebrate a new chapter for the school's journalism department. McElroy, flanked by maroon and white balloons, signed an offer letter for a tenured faculty position.
But in the weeks after the signing ceremony, administrators started to renegotiate amid conservative backlash to her hiring. University officials presented her with multiple new offers that provided less job security. In early July, McElroy was offered a one-year contract teaching position and a three-year appointment as the director of the journalism program, though it noted that she could be fired at any time, she said.
The dean involved in hiring her told her that her appointment had been caught up in "hysteria" over diversity initiatives in Texas. Conservative groups questioned McElroy’s previous employment at The New York Times and her support for diversity in newsrooms after her hiring was announced. The Rudder Association, which touts itself as a group of Aggies defending the core values of A&M, said it complained to university administration about the hire. The website Texas Scorecard, whose publisher is hardline conservative activist Michael Quinn Sullivan, wrote an article calling her a “diversity’ advocate.”
McElroy ultimately turned down the watered down offer and will remain at UT-Austin.
The revelation of how Texas A&M handled McElroy's hiring behind the scenes sparked outcry from faculty who were surprised and angry by the allegations of outside influence in university hiring. That concern grew last week when the Tribune published another story detailing a second instance in which school officials made employment decisions in apparent response to political pressure. University officials suspended and investigated a professor who was accused of criticizing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in a lecture. She was cleared of wrongdoing.
In the days after news broke that McElroy was not moving to College Station, Banks told members of the Faculty Senate that she did not approve changes to an offer letter that led a prospective journalism professor to walk away from negotiations amid conservative backlash to her hiring.
But after the Faculty Senate meeting, Hart Blanton, the head of the university's department of communications and journalism, released a statement alleging that Banks misled faculty members about her involvement in the decision to change McElroy's job offer. Banks repeatedly told professors that she did not approve any changes to McElroy's offer letter.
"To the contrary, President Banks injected herself into the process atypically and early on," Blanton said.
He also said he was "shocked" to see his signature was used in the revised versions of McElroy's job offer without his consent. He said he shared materials related to the incident with the university's legal staff on Thursday.
That evening, Banks sent a resignation letter to Sharp, effective immediately.
"The negative press is a distraction from the wonderful work being done here," she said.
On Wednesday, Welsh sent out a letter to the Aggie community, acknowledging that the university had been in the news, "and not for the reasons we would like."
But he said these events should not define Texas A&M as an institution.
"They should, however, remind us that living up to our core values is an ongoing commitment, as even esteemed institutions like ours must consistently confront and resolve challenges to uphold our status as a great university," he said.
Meredith Seaver contributed to this story.
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/07/30/texas-a-m-interim-president-welsh/.
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