Texas A&M University announced on Friday that its president, M. Katherine Banks, will “retire immediately” amid controversy about the mishandling of a Black journalist’s hire.
According to an official university statement Friday, Banks submitted her letter late Thursday announcing she would retire immediately, saying the “negative press has become a distraction.”
The university said that Mark A. Welsh III, the dean of the university’s government and public service school, would serve as interim president until a national search is conducted for a successor.
Banks’ announcement comes days after the school’s faculty senate passed a resolution to launch a fact-finding committee to investigate how the hiring of Kathleen McElroy, a University of Texas professor and former New York Times journalist, was mishandled.
“The recent challenges regarding Dr. McElroy have made it clear to me that I must retire immediately,” Banks said in her announcement.
The university announced last month it hired McElroy, a Texas A&M graduate, to lead its journalism program. However, the hire drew backlash from conservatives across Texas, who criticized previous statements McElroy made about diversity, equity and inclusion, according to The Texas Tribune, who first reported the story.
Once McElroy’s offer was extended, it quickly fell apart once job details changed — as the position was originally tenure-eligible, but changed to a one-year professor of practice, according to the university.
McElroy ultimately turned down the offer for a one-year contract, the Tribune reported.
During a Texas A&M faculty senate meeting Wednesday, Banks denied knowledge of the changes in McElroy’s job offer. However, she took responsibility for the “flawed hiring process” following the backlash, which suggested McElroy was a victim of “anti-woke hysteria” and “outside interference” when it came to the hiring process, the university said.
McElroy did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment. She told the Tribune that she felt “damaged by this entire process” and that she believed she was being judged by race and maybe gender.
“And I don’t think other folks would face the same bars or challenges,” McElroy said.
The Rudder Association, an organization formed by current and former students, faculty and staff at Texas A&M dedicated to preserving campus values, said in a statement it did express concerns to campus administration. However, the group said it “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.”
“We remain hopeful that Texas A&M will continue to lead in this important arena, as it has done in many others throughout its history,” Matt Poling, president of The Rudder Association said.