"Most important crisis at A&M since Earl Rudder"
Mon June 15, 2009 12:45 am

I received an e-mail from a friend at Texas A&M that consists of an op-ed piece written by Jon Hagler, whose service to A&M includes board chairman of the Texas A&M Foundation and co-chairman of Vision 2020, a long-term project to enhance Texas A&M's national prominence. He was named a Distinguished Alumnus in 1999. I do not know when or in what publication the piece will be published. However, I am authorized to publish it at this time.

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Today’s governance crisis at Texas A&M is extremely serious. It may be the most important crisis the university has faced since A&M President Earl Rudder’s challenge to the status quo fifty years ago.

Today’s crisis really isn’t about Dr. Elsa Murano, who has announced her intention to resign as President, or for that matter, Chancellor Mike McKinney. It is about whether an academic institution of almost 50,000 students and 250,000 former students – a member of the Association of American Universities – deserves the freedom to aspire to better things and to manage itself as an institution of higher education. We are presented with a stark alternative: an all powerful “system”, run by political appointees, without legislative oversight, who wish to unilaterally politicize and “corporatize” decision making structure and staffing to their own, and to their political friends, advantage.

Texas A&M University (TAMU) is the “flagship” university of the The Texas A&M System. It is the oldest educational institution in the state. It has almost half of the undergraduate students, as well as virtually all the graduate programs and graduate students, and is responsible for most of the research, in the System. It is the only Tier 1 comprehensive research university in the system and one of only three in the state. Yet, today we find the university being taken over by the system TAMU spawned in 1948.

Nothing could be clearer than the chancellor’s words in a recently released evaluation of President Murano: Murano “built her administrative team to do her instructions. Not team supportive of Ideals of BOR [Board of Regents] (or ideas of BOR).” McKinney rated Murano 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst.

President Murano was President of the flagship. The chancellor’s job has always been to worry about the System, not about TAMU. The chancellor’s job has always been a staff job, essentially an extension of the Board of Regents – necessary staff support given the scale and scope of the System and physically and contextually remote from the System institutions themselves. There are presidents – “chief executives” – of every institution in the System: all eleven universities, seven state agencies, and a health science center. The President of Texas A&M has always been a line job, the biggest job in the System.

And yet, the system’s organizational chart puts, incredibly, the Governor in the top spot for the system, the Board of Regents next, the Chancellor next, and the President of Texas A&M at the same level as the Chancellor’s chief of staff, the vice chancellor of agriculture, budgets and accounting, and the presidents of campuses at Texarkana, Commerce, Corpus Christi, and Kingsville.

And, they mean it. The Governor/Chancellor tandem, with the approval of the regents, is appointing and firing executives at Texas A&M, without consultation with its faculty. Indeed, it selected, without any consultation with anyone but themselves, Dr. Murano. It is intervening in faculty compensation. And, it tolerates no dissent.

Want proof? Listen to the Chancellor’s own words on his concept of enlightened and shared governance: “There’s nine people who can tell me what to do. I’ll make my arguments to them. They argue, they listen and then they make a decision and I carry it out. You want shared governance? That’s shared governance.”

Or to those of Regent Gene Stallings: “A lot of that depends on Dr. Murano (on whether she can continue to work with the chancellor). She works for the chancellor. The chancellor doesn’t work for her. Rank and file has its privilege. A colonel can’t tell a general what to do…A chancellor’s job is to run the system. A president’s job is to please the chancellor.”

So, today we have a System empowered by its regents – all nine of whom are appointed by our current governor – to make all critical decisions for the flagship university, as well – presumably – as for all of the other System universities. And, the regents have delegated that responsibility completely to one person, a non-educator, a politician who was not selected through a national or even regional search. One person agreed with himself that Chancellor McKinney was the choice: his former boss, Governor Perry, for whom he had served a stint as chief of staff.

No, this crisis is about whether the faculty, staff, students, former students and the broad and diverse community that make up Texas A&M University will allow a handful of politically motivated persons who do not understand their fiduciary duty either to the institution or to the citizens of the state to take over this wonderful, heavy-duty public university – this sacred public trust. If they are successful, Texas and its citizens can kiss a unique American institution goodbye. It will have no chance of ever achieving its vast potential.

Jon Hagler
Class of 1958

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Mr. Hagler does not exaggerate. The management structure of Texas A&M is of the politicians, by the politicians, for the politicians. The governor's reach into the A&M system is the sort of thing that can make it impossible for A&M to recruit top faculty and administrators. No one is going to relocate to a university that is rife with political interference.

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