This is what happens in academia when the donors are calling the shots. Heads roll, all right. Big-time. The dean of the faculty supervising arts and sciences went first. Then came the resignation letter from the president of the university. The system falls right apart.
Watch it happen in real time at Texas A&M. See them score points at the expense of the university.
Conservative politics took over the appointments process for the new director of the journalism school. Two weeks ago, they were celebrating. The choice of the faculty and the university was a distinguished alum and professor at the University of Texas who worked at The New York Times more than a decade ago: Kathleen McElroy.
At first, her appointment, and her reputation as a leader of diversity and inclusion, was widely praised. But then the political pushback began, among alumni and in a conservative publication.
She told the press: "I said, 'What's wrong?'" McElroy recalled of her conversation with the dean, Jose Luis Bermudez. "He said, 'You're a Black woman who was at The New York Times and, to these folks, that's like working for Pravda.'" Like working for Pravda, indeed.
The promise of a five-year contract turned into a one-year deal, which she ultimately declined. The faculty senate has commissioned a fact-finding report to determine what happened and how it was that the offers were suddenly changed.
The president reportedly expressed both confusion and embarrassment at how things were handled, but the bottom line is that political pressure was exerted, the appointment process was corrupted and the result was the integrity of the university has been badly damaged. It was bad enough that McElroy declined the offer and M. Katherine Banks, the university president, submitted a letter of retirement late on Thursday.
Who is going to want that job next? Here you had a phenomenal candidate — a dedicated and talented Texas A&M alumna, no less — who had run the program at Texas, ready to build a program, and you turn her away to score cheap political points because you don't like an opinion piece she wrote supporting diversity and inclusion or the fact that she worked at a newspaper that your graduates would love to work for. This should be disqualifying!
Does being on the Board of Regents give an ideological veto over tenure, as the background in this case suggests? How far does politics reach in limiting academic freedom of tenure-less faculty?
It appears that McElroy was advised that the best that she, a tenured professor at UT, could hope for at another state school would be a contract position because of politics, which is bad enough; a one-year position is simply absurd. That this is the way conservative politics is infecting education in Texas tells you just how much trouble education is in. And of course, it's not just Texas; it's not just journalism schools; it's whoever they choose to target next.
This was, relatively speaking, easy. A veritable surgical strike that did enormous harm to an important institution. At the expense of a better, more exciting, better connected — and more diverse and inclusive — journalism school than there will be next year.
The university, the college, and the journalism school are all left without leaders.
The students who would have been part of an exciting new program won't be.
All so some alumni fat cats can sit back and feel good about killing a diverse program that never existed and interrupting all kinds of ongoing work that was in the middle of being done.
If the Board of Regents left her no choice, then at least she should say so.
Susan Estrich is a politician, professor, lawyer and writer. Whether on the pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post or as a television commentator on countless news programs on CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, she has tackled legal matters, women's concerns, national politics and social issues. Read Susan Estrich's Reports — More Here.