Texas A&M University
The Texas A&M University system will pay $1 million to settle legal claims by Kathleen McElroy, the Black journalist whose botched hiring embarrassed the system’s flagship campus and led to its president’s retirement.
Thursday’s settlement announcement came the same day the system released findings that the now former president, M. Katherine Banks, was involved in changing the terms of McElroy’s job offer, which McElroy eventually rejected. Banks had previously pleaded ignorance.
The five-page report from the system’s Office of General Counsel also mentions allegations that members of the system’s Board of Regents had expressed concerns about McElroy’s hire. And it touches on conservative opposition to the hire regarding McElroy’s past diversity, equity and inclusion work and her previous work for The New York Times.
McElroy is a former Times editor and current University of Texas at Austin professor who had recently been director of that university’s journalism school. A joint statement from McElroy and A&M Thursday said she “will continue as a tenured professor at the University of Texas at Austin.”
The report references now former president Banks’s involvement as far back as May, when McElroy verbally accepted the position. It says Susan Ballabina, the university’s chief external affairs officer and senior vice president for academic and strategic collaborations, told Banks “that she expected the coverage to be overwhelmingly positive, but also mentioned there was a possibility for the announcement to attract attention based on previous McElroy writings related to DEI.”
Also in May, José Luis Bermúdez, interim dean of the A&M College of Arts and Sciences, told Hart Blanton, who heads the university’s Department of Communication and Journalism, that he had “spoken with Banks and that she preferred not to have any publicity on the McElroy appointment until after the legislative session ended,” the report says.
Bermúdez “explained his understanding of Banks’s motivations in a text: ‘Bottom line is the NYT connection is poor optics during this particular legislative session,’” the report says. (Neither Banks nor Bermúdez returned calls for comment Thursday evening.)
The session ended, and the university held an appointment letter–signing ceremony for McElroy on June 13. But, two days later, Texas Scorecard wrote an article on McElroy.
The article was subtitled, “State law will soon ban DEI offices in universities, but state universities can still continue hiring DEI proponents.” It reported she “has focused on race and its intersection with journalism in her Ph.D. program at UT Austin.”
The system report says that “article generated numerous calls and emails to the President’s Office … including from the Rudder Association [an alumni group] and other former students, raising questions about why a DEI proponent would be hired to serve as director of the new journalism program.”
After that article, the report says, “Banks said that she received calls from 6-7 members of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents asking questions and raising concerns about McElroy’s hiring. The regents had been briefed previously on the provisions of SB 17 relating to DEI … Regents questioned how McElroy’s advocacy for DEI could be reconciled with TAMU’s obligations under SB 17.”
SB 17 is Senate Bill 17, the sweeping ban on public college and university DEI programming taking effect across Texas in 2024.
The report says that, on June 16, “In apparent response to regent inquiries,” Banks told Bermúdez “that there was a potential problem with McElroy obtaining tenure.”
“From that conversation, the idea of shifting the position to a non-tenure track professor of practice position emerged. It’s unclear if Banks or Bermúdez first suggested it,” the report says.
“In text messages exchanged on June 19, Banks and Bermúdez discussed a change in McElroy’s appointment from a tenured position to a multi-year appointment as a professor of practice,” the report says. “Banks indicated approval of this change.”
“During the afternoon of July 6, after the Board [of Regents] meeting, Banks called Bermúdez,” the report says. “Bermúdez reports that Banks instructed him to call McElroy and advise her that she was coming into a difficult environment, and also instructed him to change the faculty appointment from a three-year appointment to a one-year appointment.”
On July 11, in a Texas Tribune article that revealed the controversy, McElroy said she turned down the proposal to direct A&M’s journalism program after A&M changed its offer of a tenured position to a one-year, at-will contract. National media attention followed.
On July 19, Banks told a special Faculty Senate meeting called to address the controversy that “I am embarrassed that we are in a situation where we have an offer [for employment] that was released without the proper approvals.”
N. K. Anand, vice president for faculty affairs, told the faculty senators that “usually, when an offer is made, it comes to our office for review. And, in this case, we did not get that for review … and when the second offer was made, we don’t have that, either.”
“It didn’t even go to the dean’s office, and it was executed at the department level,” Anand said. “And the second offer that was made … same thing happened, so by the time we got involved it was after the fact.”
But, the report says, on July 21, the system Office of General counsel “obtained documents confirming that Banks and Bermúdez had been in contact about the various changes to the terms of McElroy’s appointment.”
Banks retired that night with a short statement that said, “The recent challenges regarding Dr. McElroy have made it clear to me that I must retire immediately. The negative press is a distraction from the wonderful work being done here.”
Bermúdez had already announced his retirement from the dean position, effective July 31, though he will remain a professor.
The afternoon after Banks stepped down, Blanton, the journalism department head, issued a statement saying the “public has been misled” about the failed attempt to recruit McElroy. Blanton also said Banks “injected herself into the process atypically and early on.”
“This matter has been resolved,” McElroy said Thursday. “But I wish I could bottle the encouragement I received from organizations, government officials, friends and strangers and distribute that support to the rest of the world. I will remember every resolution, public statement, commentary and friendly email or text.
“However I know others deserve similar attention—from Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, still detained in Russia, to the everyday people who quietly bear the brunt of oppressive policies and practices. I’m moving forward. I’m excited about projects I have resumed at the University of Texas at Austin, including work in ethical leadership in media as well as supporting community journalism. My career continues, as does my commitment to journalism, higher education and trying to do the right thing.”