Kathleen McElroy, who recently served as the director of the University of Texas School of Journalism, was thrilled to begin a new assignment: running a similar program at her alma mater, Texas A&M University.
The school celebrated his appointment last month with a signing ceremony, decorated with balloons.
Quickly, however, things began to unravel. Dr. McElroy, who once worked as an editor at The New York Times, said she was notified by the university’s interim dean of liberal arts, José Luis Bermúdez, of political pushback over her appointment.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong?'” Dr. McElroy recalled in an interview. “He said, ‘You’re a black woman who was at The New York Times and, for these people, that’s like working for Pravda.'” Dr. McElroy left The Times in 2011.
Within weeks, she said, the terms of her employment were revised to offer her a one-year contract. She chose to return to her tenured position at the University of Texas. The Texas Tribune first reported the controversy
In a statement, Texas A&M said that by mutual agreement, Dr. McElroy and the university determined that a non-permanent position was more appropriate and that she received a one-year offer letter of a professorship, as well as a separate three-year administrative one. an offer
The university said it regretted any “misunderstanding,” and “wished Dr. McElroy well,” adding that the university “continues to work on building a great journalism program.”
The controversy is an example of how politics has increasingly influenced university decisions about faculty hiring, once the exclusive domain of academics.
In 2021, Nikole Hannah-Jones, a writer for The New York Times Magazine, was denied a tenured position at the University of North Carolina after the university’s board refused to approve her appointment. Conservatives took issue with her involvement in The Times’ 1619 Project, which reexamined slavery in the United States.
In Dr. McElroy’s case, the exact source of the pressure was unclear, and Dr. Bermúdez declined to be interviewed. But at least one conservative Texas A&M alumni group — the Rudder Association — said it had filed a complaint against Dr. McElroy.
Matthew Poling, the president of the group, said that members did not approve of the work of Dr. McElroy promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. Her advocacy was the focus of an an article in a conservative publication, Texas Scorecard, shortly after her appointment.
Around the time of the employment of Dr. McElroy, Governor Greg Abbott of Texas signed law banning diversity, equity and inclusion offices at the state’s public universities.
“We felt she was not a good fit for that,” Dr. Poling said, confirming that his organization emailed A&M leadership shortly after her appointment was announced. “I think identity politics has done a lot of damage to our country, and the manifestation of that on campus, the DEI ideology, has damaged our culture at A&M.”
Dr. McElroy, a 1981 graduate of Texas A&M, was brought in after a yearlong search, under the initiative of its president, M. Katherine Banks, who wanted to revive journalism as a degree-granting program.
In addition to having a Ph.D. and decades of journalistic experience, Dr. McElroy was a devoted alumnus, helping start a fund to support The Battalion, the campus newspaper. Diversity, equity and inclusion efforts have been a small part of her journalism and academic career, she said.
Dr. McElroy described a series of events in the weeks after she signed an indefinite appointment agreement naming her as a professor. Under the Texas A&M system, tenure was virtually assured, but required the approval of the Board of Regents.
Dr. McElroy said that within days of her signing the agreement, Dr. Bermúdez advised her that, “I should go into this process with my eyes wide open. And he said it’s like an abortion, guns , and you have a big target on your back.”
She said he advised her to give up tenure to avoid the Board of Governors. Dr McElroy said she agreed and was promised a five-year contract.
By the end of June, Dr. McElroy said, Dr. Bermúdez and another university administrator asked her to prepare for a meeting with the Regents, who had seen the Texas Scorecard article.
She was excited. “I thought this was an opportunity to really showcase what A&M journalism could be.”
But in a subsequent phone call, she said Dr. Bermúdez told her her appointment had “stirred up a hornet’s nest,” and warned her not to resign from her position at the University of Texas.
On July 9, before the meeting with the Regents, Dr. McElroy received his new contract. Instead of a five-year deal, as she said she was promised, it was a one-year contract that stipulated she could be fired “at will,” she said. “It’s heartwarming,” said Dr. McElroy, who has made plans to buy a home in College Station. She has already changed her address and canceled her electricity in Austin, where she is now returning to her old job as a professor.