In a meeting with student leaders in February 2022, the president of Texas A&M University described an ambitious plan to face the school’s biggest challenges and make it a world-class institution.

“We have problems we’ve never faced before,” the president, M. Katherine Banks, told the student senate. “We have opportunities that we never had before. This is a unique time in our history to position us to become one of the best universities in the nation.”

Less than a year and a half later, Dr. Banks resigned her position and the university faces a crisis following the revelation that the college made varying offers in an unsuccessful effort to hire Kathleen McElroy, a journalism professor, following a backlash over the Black professor’s views on race and diversity. Now some Aggies are questioning the direction of the university — one of the largest in the world, with nearly 75,000 students — and wondering how Texas A&M can recover from an episode that threatens to damage its reputation.

The fallout shook students and professors at the sprawling public university in College Station and sent ripples through its proud alumni network. The university, rooted in its founding traditions as a military school, is known for being more rural and more conservative than other large colleges, such as its in-state rival, the University of Texas at Austin.

Erica Davis Rouse, the incoming president of Texas A&M’s Black Former Student Network, said she was saddened when she learned of Dr. McElroy about receiving a series of watered-down offers from the university, which she turned down, after conservative Aggies criticized her for her views on “diversity, equity and inclusion,” or DEI.

“She would have made a difference,” Ms. Davis Rouse, who graduated in 1995 with a degree in journalism, said of Dr. McElroy, who is also an alumna. “That was taken away from the students because of DEI hysteria and overcorrection.”

Zoe May, the incoming editor of the Texas A&M student newspaper, The Battalion, said she was in tears after she and the paper’s staff met with Dr. McElroy following the announcement of her hiring. Mrs. May, who is biracial, said she was troubled by the university’s lack of transparency over the offers it made to Dr. McElroy and disappointed to lose out on the hiring of a journalism leader who is black.

“A lot of people think that representation is only important when you’re young, and you’re growing up, on TV and in films, but I think it’s also hugely important on university campuses,” Mrs May said.

But some other alumni were disturbed by the initial choice of Dr. McElroy, a former New York Times editor and longtime journalist and now a professor at the University of Texas, to lead her alma mater’s revived journalism program. Some conservative alumni and students criticized her for her research on race in the media and recent writings in which she described the benefits of having a diverse. faculty or newsroom.

Valerie Muñoz, a journalism student at Texas A&M, last month wrote an article for Texas Scorecard, a conservative news site, under the headline “Aggies Hire NY Times ‘Diversity’ Advocate To Head Journalism Program.” Ms. Muñoz emphasized 2021 interview by WBUR’s Dr. McElroy in Boston in which she said that journalism that was perceived as objective often favored a white, male perspective and that journalism was “not about getting two sides of a story or three sides of a story if one side is illegitimate.”

Preston Phillips, the president of the university’s Young Americans for Freedom chapter, a conservative student group, said critics were wrong to say the backlash to her nomination was because of her race. He and other conservatives on campus, he said, were concerned about what her writings on diversity and race indicated about her political leanings.

“There is concern among many conservative students and faculty that Dr. McElroy’s particular beliefs and her associations with The New York Times are steps too far,” said Mr. Phillips, who will graduate next spring with an engineering degree.

Dr. McElroy said advocating for diversity was a small part of her career in journalism, which also included interests in sports media and dining.

On Friday, the head of Texas A&M’s communications department, Hart Blanton, said university administrators acknowledged “stricter scrutiny” of the hiring because Dr. McElroy is Black. Dr. Blanton also accused Dr. Banks of misleading the faculty at a meeting this week when she claimed she had little involvement in the pursuit of Dr. McElroy.

Opposition to diversity initiatives has become more of a hot-button issue in recent months in Texas and other states, with universities often serving as battlegrounds. Republican governors in several states, including Texas, recently signed laws banning DEI efforts at public universities and limiting mandatory diversity training.

At Texas A&M, where Black students make up 2 percent of students — a much smaller proportion than in College Station or the state as a whole — there is debate over whether or how much to invest in diversity initiatives.

A 2021 report commissioned by the Texas A&M University System found, after surveying students, alumni and faculty, that “large portions” of the community were “conflicted about the university’s culture” and DEI efforts. Some people, the report said, questioned whether money should be spent on efforts to make the community more diverse rather than on “education-focused efforts for the entire population.”

The report, by a consulting firm, identified several “threats” to the university, which included its lack of faculty diversity. The report added that Texas A&M “has historically been conservative and slow to change on diversity issues.”

Jack Begg contributed research.

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