Texas A&M University, a college steeped in tradition like the Aggie ring, currently finds itself embroiled in a diversity, equity and inclusion controversy surrounding the botched attempted hiring of a Black journalism professor.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has become a hot button topic for many from the political right.

States have banned DEI offices and efforts at state colleges.

But now, even working on DEI efforts and working for certain news outlets might disqualify some very qualified candidates for jobs, even at their alma mater, which has caused controversy for Texas A&M University.

Samantha Ketterer of the Houston Chronicle reported, “The Texas A&M University System has launched an investigation into the botched hiring of Kathleen McElroy, a Black journalist who backed out of negotiations to lead the flagship’s new journalism department because of changes that watered down her contract.

“Two administrators, including Texas A&M University’s president, resigned in the fallout. McElroy’s original offer regressed when school officials bowed to ‘outside’ concerns about her research and past work in diversity and inclusion, as well as her former employment at the New York Times, she first told the Texas Tribune.”

The office of general counsel at the College Station, Texas campus has just begun probing the attempted hire of McElroy, saying that they are in the “early stages” and would conduct a “review of all events, communications and related documentation as well as interviews” with past school President Katherine Banks, Hart Blanton, the department of communications director and others.

Laylan Copelin, who serves as vice chancellor of marketing and communication for the Texas A&M System, said, “University and System officials have read, heard and understood the concerns of our Aggie community stemming from the attempt to hire Dr. Kathleen McElroy to lead the university’s journalism program. We are determined to get to the bottom of what happened and why, learn from the mistakes and do better in the future.”

Initially, Texas A&M offered the current tenured professor at University of Texas a tenured position.

Then after a groundswell of criticism from opponents of diversity and equity, the school gave McElroy a second offer for a five-year non-tenured position.

Then, McElroy received a third offer from Texas A&M for a one-year, non-tenured professor job with a three-year appointment to work as an at-will director of the university’s journalism school.

McElroy told a news station in Bryan, Texas, “I think even if a White male were running the program, that that person would consider the importance of elements of DEI within the boundaries set up by the Texas Legislature. The issue that I seem to be having is that I am judged as ‘DEI’ solely because of what I look like.”

McElroy has previously served as the director of University of Texas’ journalism school in Austin, Texas.

The process led to criticism from many in the Black press like Texas A&M University alum Roland Martin of Black Star Network.

Martin urged high school athletes considering Texas A&M to not choose his alma mater for college.

In response to the support that she has received from the Black community and many in the Aggie community, McElroy said, “I’m deeply grateful for the groundswell of support I’ve received, especially from Aggies of all majors, and my former and current students. There’s much more I could say and will say about what has unfolded. But for now, I’ll reserve those statements for a future date.”

However, Texas A&M journalism graduate and writer for the Texas Monthly Loren Staffy has stated the botched attempted hiring of McElroy has its roots in A&M’s conformist culture.

Staffy wrote,” This shameful mess has ballooned into a full-blown fiasco. Department head Hart Blanton revealed last week that the offer documents to McElroy that bore his signature were changed without his consent. A&M president Katherine Banks resigned the next day, though she had told the faculty senate she did not make those changes. [Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Jose Luiz] Bermudez has also stepped down, as has Shannon Van Zandt, an executive associate dean in A&M’s School of Architecture—a college far removed from the McElroy fallout. She explained to the Texas Tribune that she could no longer assure job applicants from diverse backgrounds that they would get a fair shot at employment.

“A&M’s regents, all appointees of Governor Greg Abbott—who recently signed a law banning DEI programs at state universities—have been conspicuous in their silence in the face of turmoil. Chancellor John Sharp also hasn’t said anything publicly, beyond a written statement from his spokesman that an investigation is underway.”

Staffy reported that several right-wing organizations and conservatives began labeling McElroy a DEI proponent.

One of the groups that expressed concern over the hire was the Rudder Association, a group of former and current students and faculty at Texas A&M and “friends” of the institution “wanting to put the Aggie back in Aggieland.”

One day after McElroy’s hire, Rudder president Matt Poling told Texas A&M chief external affairs officer Susan Ballabina via email that Rudder had concerns surrounding “a possible misalignment between the hire and the recently expressed will of the citizens of the state of Texas through their legislators that universities instead should be moving away from such ideologies [as DEI].”

Staffy added the students, faculty and alumni often raise questions about pending hires.

He said that reality is not peculiar.

However, Staffy said it was peculiar that the university did not allow McElroy a chance to defend herself.

Staffy added that he is embarrassed about the entire ordeal.

Furthermore, he said that it hurts the university’s journalism program, which he said the university had ignored in the past.

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