Spouse's Work Prompts Conflict of Interest Finding for A&M Provost

July 20, 2017

The departing provost and executive vice president at Texas A&M University has been removed following an internal audit that found conflict of interest issues related to her spouse's business relationship with the university, according to The Eagle.

Karan Watson, who was named the university's first female provost and executive vice president in 2011 after holding the position on an interim basis since 2009, had already announced her retirement. But she had planned to remain until the arrival of a replacement.

Since Karan Watson took over as provost about seven years ago, Nancy Watson has been paid $438,733 by the university for training services, according to documents obtained by The Eagle. She was paid $9,838 from the provost's office and $105,767 from the Office for Diversity, an office reporting to the provost.

Nancy Watson owns a conflict-resolution company. The business arrangement violated the A&M system's ethics policy, auditors found. But they did not find any cases in which Karan Watson pressed for her wife to be hired. Employees interviewed said they selected Nancy Watson's business based on past experience or recommendations.

Nancy Watson is also a part-time staff member in the Office of Diversity and was named a clinical associate professor earlier this year. Auditors called her serving as a vendor and employee in the same subject area “ill advised” and said it creates a conflict of interest.

Karan Watson will remain as a faculty member. She is a professor in the departments of electrical and computer engineering, and computer science and engineering.

A 2015 Texas law already prevents state agencies from contracting with businesses owned by an institution's CEO or their family members. Auditors said they expect to see a policy presented to A&M regents expanding that ban to senior administrators.

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