Texas A&M University acknowledged on Thursday that top university officials, fearing criticism from conservatives, had made “significant mistakes” in their failed effort to hire a prominent Black professor to run the university’s journalism program. It said it had reached a $1 million settlement with the professor, Kathleen McElroy.
The university released a report by its general counsel that casts an unfavorable light on the behind-the-scenes discussions over Dr. McElroy’s hiring, revealing that university officials had pushed for a delay in Dr. McElroy’s hiring until after the state legislative session adjourned, fearing a possible backlash from conservative lawmakers. Then, following complaints about her hiring from university regents, they changed the terms of her contract.
What had started as an offer of a full faculty position with tenure was reduced to a one-year appointment with no tenure, the university’s report says.
Dr. McElroy, who had run the journalism program at the University of Texas and was formerly an editor at The New York Times, announced in July that she would not take the job, less than a month after Texas A&M had held a public signing ceremony to welcome her, complete with balloons.
The terms of her job had been diminished following political pushback, Dr. McElroy said in a recent interview, and she was told that conservatives in the state had qualms about her hiring.
“You’re a Black woman who was at The New York Times, and to these folks, that’s like working for Pravda,” Dr. McElroy said she had been told.
Dr. McElroy’s public complaints about the handling of her hiring, as well as her decision to return to the University of Texas, created a cascade of recriminations at Texas A&M, leading to the resignation of the university’s president, M. Katherine Banks, as well as the decision by José Luis Bermúdez, the interim dean presiding over liberal arts, to step down from that post.
The case highlighted the fractious clash between conservative politicians and academics over issues involving race. And it mirrored the controversy two years ago at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill over a plan to hire Nikole Hannah-Jones, a writer for The New York Times Magazine and the author of the 1619 Project, a history of the origins of slavery in America.
Among those in the Texas A&M community who complained about Dr. McElroy’s hiring was the Rudder Association, a group of conservative alums, which cited statewide plans in Texas to discontinue university programs designed to promote racial equity.
Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, signed a bill this year banning programs at publicly funded universities that promote “diversity, equity, and inclusion,” or D.E.I.
The Rudder Association’s complaints followed an article in a publication called Texas Scorecard emphasizing Dr. McElroy’s involvement in D.E.I. activities and research.
Dr. McElroy has said that D.E.I. has been a small part of her work.
“After the Texas Scorecard article, Banks said that she received calls from 6-7 members of the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents asking questions and raising concerns about McElroy’s hiring,” the report says. “Regents questioned how McElroy’s advocacy for DEI could be reconciled with TAMU’s obligations” under the new law.
“In apparent response to regent inquiries, on June 16, Banks informed Bermúdez in a telephone call that there was a potential problem with McElroy obtaining tenure at TAMU,” the report says, leading to the decision to change the terms of Dr. McElroy’s employment offer.
The report says that university officials “have acknowledged that significant mistakes were made in this hiring process, primarily due to a failure to follow established policies and procedures that govern faculty hiring.”
The university said it would create a task force to provide recommendations for improving the process.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Mark Welsh, the interim president of Texas A&M, offered an apology to Dr. McElroy, a 1981 graduate of the university.
“Dr. McElroy is, by all accounts, an incredibly accomplished scholar,” Mr. Welsh said. “She’s an accomplished journalist. And she’s a great Aggie, from what I hear. I would hope she understands that we’re sorry for what happened.”
The $1 million settlement with Dr. McElroy was announced by the university on Thursday, but officials did not disclose details of exactly where the money would come from.
In a statement, Dr. McElroy expressed devotion to her alma mater, despite the recent controversy.
“I will never forget that Aggies — students, faculty members, former students and staff — voiced support for me from many sectors,” she said, adding, “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.”