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Texas A&M reaches $1 million settlement with journalism professor over botched hiring

Aug. 4, 2023
Kathleen McElroy had agreed to lead the university's journalism program, but the hiring was derailed after conservative voices objected.

The Texas A&M University System reached a $1 million settlement with journalism professor Kathleen McElroy and has publicly admitted that the university’s president derailed McElroy’s hiring after alumni, including a conservative-leaning group called The Rudder Association, voiced concerns about the hiring.

The Houston Chronicle reports that the settlement was disclosed as the Texas A&M Office of General Counsel released a lengthy report about its investigation into the matter.

System Chancellor John Sharp apologized to McElroy in a statement and said that the report uncovered "some bad decision-making to which almost no one was privy at the time."

A memo with the McElroy investigation's findings concludes that several top administrators recognize significant mistakes were made because of a "failure to follow established policies and procedures that govern faculty hiring."

Interim A&M President Mark Welsh III has also directed the Office for Faculty Affairs to create a task force for recommendations on appropriate protections for faculty in matters of hiring and academic freedom, officials state in the report.

A&M President M. Katherine Banks and José Luis Bermúdez, then-interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, resigned last month in the wake of McElroy's bungled hiring.

The settlement likely closes the door on McElroy's case -- she never filed a lawsuit. She will remain at the University of Texas at Austin, where she is a tenured professor.

"Texas A&M University remains in my heart despite the events of the past month," McElroy said. "I will never forget that Aggies -- students, faculty members, former students and staff -- voiced support for me from many sectors. I hope the resolution of my matter will reinforce A&M's allegiance to excellence in higher education and its commitment to academic freedom and journalism."

Publicly, Texas A&M University had celebrated McElroy as its pick to restart the journalism program, which went defunct in 2004 after 55 years. Privately, some administrators reacted to alumni's concerns by watering down the terms of McElroy's contract from a tenured to non-tenured status, according to the university.

McElroy's experience includes 20 years at the New York Times, a Pulitzer Prizes juror position, and research surrounding the relationship between the news media and race -- including in newsroom practices, Pulitzers, obituaries and sports. She also served for four years as director of the UT-Austin School of Journalism and Media. 

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy has been writing about education for American School & University since 1999. He also has reported on schools and other topics for The Chicago Tribune, The Kansas City Star, The Kansas City Times and City News Bureau of Chicago. He is a graduate of Michigan State University.

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