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Texas A&M University president resigns after political pushback over Black journalist’s hiring

President Katherine Banks said in a resignation letter that she is retiring immediately. She says ‘negative press has become a distraction’ at the nearly 70,000-student campus in College Station

Texas A&M University fans cheer.
Texas A&M University fans cheer.Scott Wachter (Reuters)

Texas A&M University announced Friday that its president has resigned after a Black journalist’s celebrated hiring at one of the nation’s largest campuses unraveled following pushback over her diversity and inclusion work. President Katherine Banks said in a resignation letter that she would retire immediately, because “negative press has become a distraction” at the nearly 70,000-student campus in College Station.

Her exit comes as Republican lawmakers across the U.S. are targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs on college campus. That includes Texas, where Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill in June that dismantles program offices at public colleges.

The A&M System said in a statement that Banks told faculty leaders this week that she took responsibility for the “flawed hiring process” of Kathleen McElroy, a former New York Times editor who had been selected to revive the school’s journalism department. The statement said “a wave of national publicity” suggested McElroy “was a victim of ‘anti-woke’ hysteria and outside interference in the faculty hiring process.”

Banks has told The Texas Tribune this month that pushback had surfaced over her hiring at A&M because of her work on race and diversity in newsrooms.

McElroy’s 20-year career at The New York Times included research into the relationship between news media and race, notably in newsroom practices, Pulitzers, obituaries and sports.

McElroy did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday, but she told the Tribune that she felt, “damaged by this entire process” and that she believed she was “being judged by race, maybe gender. And I don’t think other folks would face the same bars or challenges.”

The Rudder Association, which describes itself as a collection of Texas A&M students, former students, faculty and staff who are “dedicated Aggies committed to preserving and perpetuating the core values and unique spirit of Texas A&M,” has acknowledged complaining about McElroy’s hiring to the school administrators.

“TRA believes that a 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.

McEloy’s original job offer to revive Texas A&M’s journalism program, which was celebrated on campus with a “signing party,” was later changed from a tenure-track position, to a five-year role, then to a one-year job from which she could be fired at any time.

McElroy, a 1981 Texas A&M graduate, declined the changes and the job offer, deciding instead to stay on as a professor at the University of Texas.

At a meeting with university faculty on Wednesday, Banks said she was not involved in the contract offer changes. The faculty then voted to set up a panel to investigate the matter.

On Monday, José Luis Bermúdez, interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Arts and Sciences, also announced he would leave his position and return to his job on the faculty. McElroy said Bemudez had warned her about mounting “hysteria” about diversity, equity and inclusion at Texas A&M and advised her to stay on at Texas.

Banks is the second major university president to resign this week amid turmoil. Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Wednesday he would resign Aug. 31, citing an independent review that cleared him of research misconduct but found “serious flaws” in five scientific papers on subjects such as brain development in which he was the principal author.

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