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The Battalion

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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Kathleen+McElroy%2C+Ph.D%2C+signs+her+first+offer+letter+in+front+of+students%2C+professors+and+faculty+outside+the+academic+building+on+Tuesday%2C+June+13%2C+2023.
Photo by Cameron Johnson
Kathleen McElroy, Ph.D, signs her first offer letter in front of students, professors and faculty outside the academic building on Tuesday, June 13, 2023.

Kathleen McElroy, Ph.D., was set to lead Texas A&M’s journalism program into the future, reviving the major after a 19-year hiatus. Yet just weeks after signing onto the position, she returned to the University of Texas at Austin with a $1 million settlement, and multiple A&M administrators have resigned — including former-President M. Katherine Banks.

Now, the A&M University System has published an internal review and its investigative findings alongside over 500 pages of emails, texts and documents. This, along with Public Information Act requests by The Battalion, shows what transpired behind the scenes.

A journalism director — the perfect match?

McElroy was first suggested as the journalism program’s director by the communication department’s head, Hart Blanton, Ph.D., in a July 17, 2022 memo to José Luis Bermúdez, the former Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. There, he praised her “30 years of experience working at the highest level in the journalism industry.”

“If we follow these recommendations, I believe we can achieve the goal of recruiting Dr. McElroy to become the interim director of journalism at TAMU and possibly our first permanent director,” Blanton wrote.

Bermúdez and the Vice President of Faculty Affairs N.K. Anand agreed with the memo, and on April 6, 2023, McElroy submitted an official application for the position after being invited.

Over the next month, faculty worked to solidify the journalism degree plan, and on May 11, Bermúdez emailed Blanton, giving the go-ahead for him to recruit McElroy.

But there were worries. Just hours later, Bermúdez texted Blanton, saying he and Banks would “rather not have any publicity on [McElroy] until after the [legislative] session is over.”
“Reporters shouldn’t know anything,” Bermúdez wrote. “Just don’t leak.”

During that legislative session, a debate raged over Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or DEI, in public universities, and Bermúdez was worried McElroy’s previous experiences with DEI and The New York Times would impede the hiring.

They told McElroy the process would take another month due to “administrative requirements and the need to process paperwork.”

The session ended on June 1, and Bermúdez was authorized to move the hiring process forward five days later.

The hiring was officially revealed in a public ceremony on June 13, where she signed a contract to become the director of journalism, with tenure contingent on approval from the A&M Board of Regents.

Trouble all around  

Two days later, Texas Scoreboard published an article titled “Aggies Hire NY Times ‘Diversity’ Advocate to Head Journalism Program.” It highlighted her work at The New York Times, a portion of it involving race and DEI.

According to the internal findings, the article “generated numerous calls and emails to the [President’s Office], including from the Rudder Association and other former students, raising questions about why a DEI proponent would be hired to serve as director of the new journalism program.”

The report also found that six to seven members of the Board of Regents contacted Banks soon after, raising concerns about McElroy’s hiring. The group, all appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, oversees policies and administration for all 11 campuses under the A&M system.

While the investigation proposes the regents had issues purely with McElroy’s experience in DEI, revealed text messages tell a different story, with one regent, Jay Graham, making his opinion known in a group chat with Regent David Baggat and another unknown individual.

“In regards to the info on journalism hire, I sent this to [Chancellor Sharp] and [Banks],” Graham wrote. “Please tell me this isn’t true … I thought the purpose of us starting a journalism department was to get high-quality Aggie journalism with conservative values into the market. This won’t happen with someone like this leading the department.”

Baggat agreed in the following message, and Graham continued with his thoughts.

“[Banks] told us multiple times the reason we were going to combine arts and sciences together was to control the liberal nature that those professors brought to campus,” Graham wrote. “We were going to start a journalism department to get high-quality conservative Aggie students into the journalism world to help direct our message.”

On June 19, Regent Michael “Mike” Hernandez III emailed Banks and Sharp to express his disapproval of the hiring, as he worried she would be influenced “by the time she has spent in New York and Austin.”

“A letter offer of employment is not binding, but it does present a PR predicament,” Hernandez wrote. “Granting tenure to somebody with this background is going to be a difficult sell for many on the [Board of Regents]. My sincere hope is that you both will figure out a way to completely put the brakes on this, so we all can discuss this further.”

Bermúdez called McElroy that same day, where she stated she’d be open to being non-tenured. Bermúdez and Banks agreed on a professor of practice position, a three-year appointment that required a new contract.

Bermúdez then asked Banks how much support they would get from the top of the university.

“Absolutely nothing,” Banks texted. “Nothing, nothing. She is going to have a very rough road here.”

The beginning of the end 

Over the next few weeks, new offer letters were made and reviewed, but nothing would be sent out until after a July 6 Board of Regents meeting due to a hold put by Regents Chairman Bill Mahomes. According to the internal review, the Board “did not direct Banks to modify the terms of the [three-year appointment] offer” during the meeting.

Yet later that same day, Bermúdez recounted that Banks instructed him to change the terms to a one-year appointment and to call McElroy to tell her she was coming into a “difficult environment.”

Bermúdez called McElroy the following day, warning her that A&M might be “sufficiently unwelcoming” and that she should see if there is a way to retain tenure at the University of Texas at Austin if the hiring falls apart.

On July 8, Bermúdez texted Blanton to expand on his worries.

“The Sul Ross Association and Rudder Association are gunning for her,” Bermúdez wrote. “They have no power, of course. But people who do have power listen to them.”

Both groups consist of conservative-leaning A&M alumni intent on influencing university values and policies.

Bermúdez sent multiple appointment letters to McElroy over the next few days, and in a July 10 call, McElroy “expressed displeasure that the faculty appointment letter provided only a one-year appointment.”

Bermúdez texted Banks the same day, stating he believed McElroy “has pulled out.”

“Ok,” Banks responded. “I assume all [of our] texts were deleted.”

Then, on July 11, The Texas Tribune published an article detailing the multiple offer letters amid “DEI hysteria.” At this point, McElroy had not yet denied the offers.

The day the article went live, Bermúdez apologized to Banks.

“Don’t worry about it,” Banks texted. “I think we dodged a bullet. She is an awful person to go to the press before us.”

The story spread nationwide, and on July 17, Bermúdez resigned as interim dean.

On July 20, Banks met with the A&M Faculty Senate, where she denied any knowledge of contract changes. However, Banks had discussed the changes over a month before, most prominently on June 27, when Bermúdez sent her three contract changes to review over text.

Banks resigned a day later on July 21.

The Board of Regents then held a meeting on July 30 to discuss the failed hiring and a potential settlement with McElroy, and on Aug. 3, a $1 million settlement was reached between the two parties.

A message from Sharp accompanied the findings from the internal review.

“We surely learned of some bad decision-making to which almost no one was privy at the time,” Sharp wrote. “To begin with, I want to apologize publicly to Dr. McElroy and fervently hope we can eventually heal with our mutual love for [A&M].”

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About the Contributor
Nicholas Gutteridge
Nicholas Gutteridge, Managing Editor
Nicholas Gutteridge joined The Battalion in January 2023 as a news reporter before being promoted to news editor in August 2023. He interned at The Pentagon in Washington D.C. from January to May 2024 with the U.S. Air Force Office of Public Affairs before rejoining the newspaper. He will be the managing editor for the 2024-25 academic year.
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