Texas A&M University will be paying Kathleen McElroy $1 million as part of legal settlement over the university’s botched efforts at trying to hire her, and then trying to not hire her.
The New York Times reports: “Texas A&M University acknowledged on Thursday that top university officials, fearing criticism from conservatives, had made ‘significant mistakes'” in the process. See here and here for further details.
Among those “top university officials” was the then-interim dean of Texas A&M’s College of Arts and Sciences, philosopher José Luis Bermúdez. He has since stepped down from that position.
Bermúdez had been communicating with McElroy during the process, discussing with her the successively less attractive job offers the university extended to her and the “political pushback” over her hiring, owing to conservative political correctness. He appeared to be playing the role of ally to McElroy while serving as an agent of M. Katherine Banks, the university president at the time, who was trying to engineer ways for the university to back away from its offer to hire her.
In general, it isn’t unusual for university employees or officials to occupy this kind of dual role during a hiring: keeping the candidate happy while pursuing the interests of the employer. But the specifics of this case have led to criticisms of the former dean and former president.
The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday reported on the communications between Bermúdez and Banks, sharing the record of their text messages. Their exchanges are reposted below:
Obviously there is room for criticism here, but I think it is important to also note that this case illustrates, among other things, the difficult position public university administrators are put in when intense political pressures are brought to bear on their decisions, and when they must act under the heightened threat of interference from legislators and other political powers.
(Thanks to Joseph Shieber for the pointer to the CHE piece.)
UPDATE (8/5/23): A new article at The Chronicle details some of the external pressures referred to in the last paragraph of the original post, above. For example:
On June 16, Jay Graham, a member of the Board of Regents, texted Banks and John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M system.
He said he’d seen the news about McElroy’s hiring and hoped it wasn’t true. “But since it is not April Fools’ Day, I assume it is,” he wrote.
“I thought the purpose of us starting a journalism department was to get high-quality Aggie journalist [sic] with conservative values into the market,” he wrote. “This won’t happen with someone like this leading the department.”
Michael V. Hernandez, another regent, put it bluntly in an email to Banks and Sharp a few days later: “Granting tenure to somebody with this background is going to be a difficult sell for many on the BOR.” Hernandez wrote that he saw the selection of McElroy, who had built her career in New York City and Austin, Tex., as “exactly the opposite of what we had in mind for someone in that position.”…
As it turns out, McElroy wasn’t just a tough sell for the board. Two outside alumni groups — the Sul Ross Group and the Rudder Association, both of which have many conservative members — were “gunning for her” too, Bermúdez said in a July 8 text to Blanton.
“They have no power of course,” he wrote. “But people who do have power listen to them.”…