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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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A program’s future at stake: University leaders seek approval of A&M journalism degree

Bolton+Hall
Austin Patterson

Bolton Hall

On Thursday, July 27, Texas A&M College of Arts and Sciences leaders will present to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, or THECB, in hopes of gaining approval for its journalism degree program.

The THECB’s quarterly board meeting is open to the public and will be held in Austin at the Barbara Jordan Building in Room 2.035 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The outgoing College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean José Luis Bermúdez, Ph.D, and Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Alan Sams, Ph.D, will present to the THECB on behalf of A&M.

In 2004, A&M discontinued its then-55-year-old journalism major. The journalism major was replaced with a minor, then later offered as a University Studies degree as a concentration. After university President M. Katherine Banks expanded on her plans to reestablish the program in 2022, the Texas A&M System Board of Regents granted approval for the reinstatement of the journalism major in February.

In Banks’ 2022 State of the University address, Banks said the reestablished journalism program will emphasize “high-impact learning experiences with industry professionals.”

After Kathleen McElroy, Ph.D, University of Texas at Austin professor, former UT journalism director and A&M Class of 1981, was announced as the new A&M journalism director on June 13, students and faculty celebrated and welcomed her addition to the program. McElroy held a multitude of writing and editorial positions, garnering nearly 30 years of experience while working for various publications — most notably, The New York Times. McElroy’s expertise also includes race and news media, sports, newsroom ethics and obituaries.

After diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, institutions were banned from Texas public colleges, McElroy’s interest in race and media led to her being labeled a “DEI proponent.”

“I don’t study DEI,” McElroy said. “I am not considered a DEI researcher. I’m not a DEI administrator. That’s one thing I really want to make clear. I’ve been labeled ‘DEI’ because I’m a Black woman.”

On June 13, McElroy publicly signed her contract for director, but soon after, the terms of the position began changing as college leadership was concerned that she would not be approved for tenure by the A&M Board of Regents due to her areas of expertise.

Following weeks of controversy after the failed hiring and contract negotiation of McElroy, A&M and its leadership have received public backlash from faculty, staff, students and alumni. On July 17, Bermúdez announced he would be stepping down from his position as interim dean after July 31 in light of the situation.

Although the journalism program has yet to secure a director, Bermúdez said the College of Arts and Sciences remains fully committed to the journalism degree and program.

“We will continue the national search for an outstanding practitioner and educator to lead the program,” Bermúdez said in a July 12 email to The Battalion. “Courses are taught by faculty we already have, so the students will be able to learn from those courses and faculty, even before a program director is named.”

Although the search for another suitable candidate continues, Bermúdez said the program can still be implemented without a director but will be administered by the Department of Communication and Journalism.

If the program is approved, Bermúdez said students will be able to declare journalism as their major by the fall 2023 semester. If students satisfy university and program transfer requirements, they can also request to change their major.

Although the journalism degree has yet to be approved, the future of the program has garnered national interest and media attention, leaving many concerned about “outside influences” that may have impacted McElroy’s hiring and negotiation process.

On July 17, Shannon Van Zandt, the executive associate dean of the School of Architecture, announced to students and faculty that she plans to step down after Aug. 31 after learning about the unfolding of McElroy’s contract.

“I no longer feel that I can assure faculty going through the tenure and promotion process that the process will be done fairly and without interference from political forces,” Van Zandt wrote in the letter. “I can no longer confidently communicate to faculty candidates our commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity, nor the integrity of our hiring, tenure, promotion and retention efforts. Further, although generally an optimist, I have lost faith in the ideal of shared governance as it is practiced on this campus. As a planner, I have taught and practiced the ideals of transparency and inclusivity to the best of my ability. I see no commitment to those ideals in the current administration of the university or system.”

On July 14, Speaker of the Faculty Senate, Tracy Hammond, Ph.D, wrote a letter to Banks and A&M System Chancellor John Sharp, publicly denouncing any outside influence in the hiring and promotion of faculty. Hammond said recent opposition to McElroy’s hiring was “the tip of the iceberg,” imploring Banks and Sharp to prevent such future actions.

The Rudder Association, or TRA, a group of A&M former students and community members, has faced past allegations of involvement in influencing the decisions of top A&M administrators.

Recently, TRA has received national attention due to concerns over its level of influence after it expressed concerns to A&M administration about McElroy’s selection.

“[The Rudder Association] respectfully disagrees with the characterization of taxpayers, tuition payers and donors as ‘outside influence,’” TRA wrote in a July 15 press release.

Additionally, TRA said it believes regents and elected officials should not be viewed as an outside influence either as they ensure that “the strategic decisions of our state institutions align with the expectations and future needs of all Texans.”

TRA acknowledged statements from A&M faculty senators, but it believes that all university stakeholders, including Texas citizens, share a common goal for the program: “to produce journalists who uphold the highest standards of integrity, thereby restoring public trust in the profession for the benefit of society.”

“We all have a stake in the success of this initiative,” Dr. Matthew Poling, MD, TRA president, said. “Our collective aim should be to foster a journalism department that prepares its students to uphold the principles of journalistic integrity and contribute positively to their profession and our society.”

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About the Contributor
Ana Renfroe
Ana Renfroe, Head News Editor
Ana Renfroe, Class of 2025, is a journalism junior with a minor in professional writing from Bryan, Texas. Ana has served as The Battalion's head news editor from May 2023 to May 2024. Previously, she was the assistant news editor for the spring 2023 semester. Ana has covered breaking news, politics, and more. She typically covered the Texas A&M System and university administration, Texas and Bryan-College Station politics, student government and more. Ana previously hosted and produced episodes of The Batt Signal, The Battalion's news podcast. Additionally, she was a copyeditor and feature writer for Maroon Life magazine, and helped contribute to the Aggieland Yearbook.
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