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Texas A&M announces interim president, potential settlement with professor after failed hiring

In a post-Roe world, students at Texas A&M on both sides of the debate have been offering services and information on reproductive health to other students.
May-Ying Lam for NPR
In a post-Roe world, students at Texas A&M on both sides of the debate have been offering services and information on reproductive health to other students.

Texas A&M University has named a new interim president and announced a possible settlement of claims with a professor whose appointment as interim dean of the school's journalism program fell through after failed contract negotiations.

Texas A&M's Board of Regents approved Mark A. Welsh III's appointment as interim president in a special-called meeting Sunday, according to a statement.

"As interim president, my primary focus is to ensure our faculty and staff have the resources and support they need to continue their critically important work," Welsh’s statement read. "I’m deeply committed to Texas A&M, our core values and traditions, and to an environment that values the voice of every member of our faculty, staff and student body."

Welsh had been serving as acting president of the university since July 21 to replace former President M. Katherine Banks. She resigned after the failed hiring of former New York Times journalist and University of Texas at Austin professor Kathleen McElroy.

The Texas Tribune reported McElroy was the university's pick to lead and revive the school's journalism program. But McElroy, who is Black, told the Tribune she rejected the offer after she said the length of her contract was repeatedly cut down. Members of the university system also apparently took issue with her previous work on race and diversity.

In a letter to Chancellor John Sharp, Banks wrote, "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."

That news was followed by another Texas Tribune report that revealed the university placed professor Joy Alonzo on administrative leave in March after she allegedly made critical comments about Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a lecture at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Students told The Texas Tribune it may have been due to Alonzo's criticism of Patrick and the state's response to the opioid crisis, which Texas A&M has not confirmed. The university did confirm the complaint came from Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham. The Tribune reported Buckingham's daughter attended the lecture.

"The University of Texas Medical Branch issued a public statement ‘censuring’ one of our faculty members," a university spokesperson wrote in a statement to KERA. "It would have been irresponsible for us not to have looked into it. You can’t ignore an allegation from another university."

Alonzo returned to her job after she explained her comments were taken out of context, according to the statement.

But Texas A&M faculty leaders say she shouldn't have been placed on leave in the first place and are now calling for more scrutiny of the university's administrative leave policies.

Tracy Hammond, the school's faculty senate speaker, told KERA in an interview last week the university may have acted too hastily.

She also wrote in a statement Monday that the faculty senate has set up a special subcommittee to investigate the two recent controversies.

"We need to work together to figure out a plan to help the nation regain trust in Texas A&M," Hammond said. "So, some of that may be emphasizing current policies and how we do things, and some of that might be developing new policies together through shared governance, with the faculty and the administration working side by side."

Got a tip? Email Toluwani Osibamowo at tosibamowo@kera.org. You can follow Toluwani on Twitter @tosibamowo.

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Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Toluwani Osibamowo