MURANO WILL RESIGN A&M POST
Sun June 14, 2009 7:56 pm

The following is A&M president Elsa Murano's statement, as released by a media firm on behalf of Murano and her attorneys, Glickman, Carter & Bachynsky, LLP:

“The events of recent weeks have been very taxing for the entire Aggie family. The faculty, students and staff have demonstrated incredible loyalty to this institution, upholding our Aggie values during these exceedingly trying times. I am truly grateful for the countless expressions of support that I have received from our faculty, staff, current and former students, and friends of Texas A&M. I cannot adequately express how much I have appreciated your many letters, phone calls, e-mails, and especially your prayers. They have been truly uplifting and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

“My husband Peter and I fell in love with Texas A&M the moment we set foot in Aggieland back in 1995. This deep and abiding passion for what the university represents, and for the people of the Aggie family, reinforces my duty to do what is best for Texas A&M. For this reason, I will be resigning as President of our beloved university, effective tomorrow, June 15, 2009, to return to the faculty, subject to approval by the Board of Regents.

“Our university is strong and I know that we will weather this storm. I sincerely hope and pray that we will intensify our efforts to protect and enhance Texas A&M’s reputation. I trust that the important issues raised in recent weeks will be addressed in the Aggie way – with integrity, selfless service and indomitable spirit. God bless you all, and gig ‘em!”

* * * *

This was inevitable. A public feud between the president and the chancellor (Mike McKinney) could not be allowed to continue.

This is a terrible development for Texas A&M. The turmoil on campus has received frequent coverage in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a newspaper that is widely read by university faculty and administrators. It surely will have an adverse effect on A&M's national reputation and ability to attract faculty, because the whiff of political interference has now become a stench. A&M has now had an unsettled situation at the top since Bob Gates resigned to become Secretary of Defense in the fall of 2006. For that matter, Gates won the presidency only after a bitter fight on the A&M board of regents, as Rick Perry was lobbying for Phil Gramm (that would have been a disaster!) and the Bush family was backing Gates. Gates won by a 5-4 margin.

Murano never had much of a chance to succeed. She came into a situation that was already a mess. A faculty-led search committee had interviewed eight candidates, including Murano, and had forwarded the names of three sitting university presidents to the regents. The regents rejected all three names, spiked the committee, and took off on its own search. The choice came down to Murano, who had been Gates's choice to be dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and interim president Eddie Joe Davis, who was on leave as president of the Texas A&M Foundation. Murano won, a choice that was presumed to have been directed by Perry.

Murano did not have a smooth ride as president. She immediately dismissed or reassigned some of the top administrators whom Gates had installed and surrounded herself with friendlies whom she brought over from Ag. This left her isolated from the big academic colleges of engineering, business, and liberal arts. She could not shake the perception that she was a yes-woman for Perry. It got worse when she fired Dean (that's his name, not his position) Bresciani, the popular vice-president for student affairs, and replaced him with retired Marine Corps general Joe Weber, a former buddy of Perry's in their Corps of Cadets days. As was the case with Murano's appointment, the perception was that Perry was calling the shots. The beginning of the end for Murano was McKinney's statement on May 27 that he was considering combining the offices of chancellor and president to save money. Sure. He wasn't going to eliminate his office. (See "Report: A&M may combine chancellor, president; Murano's future in doubt," posted May 27.)

The Eagle, the local paper for Bryan-College Station, has reported extensively on the Murano controversy. A June 6 story quoted from Murano's letter to the regents. The story incorporates material obtained through an open records request. One of the sources of friction between the president and the chancellor has been A&M's efforts to engage in research projects that can result in marketable products. Perry is a firm believer in profit-oriented research, the most recent evidence of which was his controversial $50 million grant from the Emerging Technology Fund to the university. Murano objected strongly to being out of the loop on such agreements. She complained in a letter to the regents, "When it comes to research, for example, there have been instances in which agreements have been made between the System and university faculty with regards to intellectual property, without communication with proper university officials, leaving those who have direct supervisory, fiduciary, and academic responsibilities out of the conversation." Another such instance: "University administration learned of learned of an agreement between a biopharmaceutical company and the Texas A&M University System through media accounts, its officials having been excluded from discussions regarding whether this partnership would be beneficial to its faculty, who conduct most of the research within the System."

I wonder whether it was Murano's prying into these political deals that sealed her fate. As long as she followed orders, she seemed to be on solid ground. But when she got into things that had political ramifications, she was in over her head.

Now A&M is back to square one, without a president, and likely to be in the national spotlight over political interference. The usual way of filling such vacancies, through a representative search committee led by faculty, will probably not be used. The regents have already adopted a policy that enables them to choose a president who has not been through a vetting process by a search committee.

* * * *

This is likely to touch off speculation, or perhaps I should say more speculation, that the removal of Murano is part of a Plan B strategy for Perry. Plan A is to continue running for governor against Hutchison. But if it looks as if that is not going well -- that Perry might lose the primary or even a general election, if the Democrats can field a serious candidate -- then Plan B would be for McKinney to do what he said he was contemplating: combine the offices of president and chancellor in the short term and keep a place warm for Perry. One scenario is that Perry could cut a deal with Hutchison: He won't run in the primary and she will not mess with him at A&M. I'm not sure that either party trusts the other enough to make that deal. Anyway, this is not such a great deal for Hutchison, because if Perry resigns to become, say, chancellor of A&M, Dewhurst becomes governor and she has to run against him, and his money, in the primary. The one thing Perry doesn't want to do is run and lose, which would render meaningless his status as the state's longest serving governor and diminish his marketability as a leader for Texas A&M.

What is the time frame here? I don't think A&M can sit around and wait until November 2010 for its leadership to be settled. We will know a lot more about the state of the primary race on July 15, when the fundraising totals for Perry and Hutchison will become public. By that time, too, or at least by the end of the special session, we will begin to get major endorsements for the two Republican rivals. If things are going well for Perry, he sticks with Plan A. If they aren't, watch for Plan B. The consolation prize for Perry will be a much larger paycheck and a nifty increase in his retirement pay.

While we're on the subject of the 2010 races: When Dewhurst runs for a full term as governor in 2010 (Perry having moved on), the Senate must select a lieutenant governor from its own ranks. Abbott would have to file for lieutenant governor. And that would open up the AG's office for more candidates. The dynamics for light gov are pretty simple: If the Democrats can stick together, you will get a coalition of D's and moderate R's. I think Averitt would be acceptable to the D's, and the other possible votes would be Carona, Eltife, Harris, Seliger, Wentworth. That's 18.

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