Texas A&M University said on Friday that its president was resigning “immediately” following a conflict over the school’s shifting offers to a candidate who appeared set to lead its journalism school but ultimately declined the position after facing pushback over her work promoting diversity.
The president, M. Katherine Banks, submitted a letter of retirement late on Thursday, in which she said that the negative attention over the journalism director, Kathleen McElroy, was a distraction for Texas A&M, one of the largest universities in the country.
Ms. Banks’s resignation came days after the resignation of the dean overseeing the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and also followed a tense meeting between Ms. Banks and the university’s faculty senate on Wednesday. During that meeting, Ms. Banks said she was sorry that Ms. McElroy would not be joining the university and said she was embarrassed by how the situation had been handled. But she also suggested that she knew little about the details of what had led to the shifting offers made to Ms. McElroy, a former New York Times editor and professor of journalism at the University of Texas.
Ms. McElroy had said that Texas A&M had promised her a five-year contract but that she was ultimately given a one-year deal after complaints from an alumni group and a conservative publication over her work promoting diversity, including an opinion column she wrote in which Ms. McElroy, who is Black, said it was important to hire more nonwhite faculty members.
Ms. McElroy ultimately turned down the one-year contract, she said, and the episode became a full-blown crisis for Texas A&M after The Texas Tribune first reported on the conflict. Ms. McElroy described a series of conversations in which the Arts and Sciences dean told her that there was political pushback to her appointment.
“I said, ‘What’s wrong?’” Ms. McElroy recalled of her conversation with the dean, José Luis Bermúdez. “He said, ‘You’re a Black woman who was at The New York Times and, to these folks, that’s like working for Pravda.’” Ms. McElroy, who left The Times in 2011, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday.
At the faculty senate meeting on Wednesday, Ms. Banks described a breakdown of communication in the process of trying to hire Ms. McElroy but said the university had stood by the offers it had made to her.
“Based on what I understood, at all points in this process, she was coming here,” Ms. Banks said, adding that the offer was still open.
But Ms. Banks faced tough questions from faculty members, who criticized what they said was political meddling in the university’s hiring process and an embarrassing sequence of events.
“Apparently, no one knows who made the offer, no one knows how many offers were made, nobody knows who signed which offer, and nobody knows who read or wrote those offers,” said Raymundo Arróyave, an engineering professor. “Frankly, we look incompetent.”
The faculty senate passed a resolution to create a fact-finding committee to look into how Ms. McElroy’s hiring was handled.
In a statement on Friday, Chancellor John Sharp said that Mark A. Welsh III, dean of the university’s government and public service school, would take over as president on an interim basis.
Stephanie Saul contributed reporting.