Reprint with Note: Aggie Snake Pit Going Forward

“Aggie Snake Pit” From the Editorial Board of the Dallas Morning News (June 16, 2009)

Disarray in the administration of Texas A&M does not befit the great university that loyal Aggies typically rise to defend.

It’s impossible for many of them to defend A&M today.

President Elsa Murano’s resignation under duress drips with embarrassing irony. She was boosted into the job over three outsider candidates who, unlike her, made a search committee’s finalist list as sitting university presidents. Now, 17 months later, Murano has been squeezed out by the regime of chancellor and regents who handpicked her from her job as agriculture dean.

A&M’s board and Chancellor Mike McKinney apparently didn’t know what they were getting when they promoted her and didn’t know what to do with her afterward. This is not to indict Murano’s short tenure. This simply addresses the leadership breakdown that stewards of a legacy institution are expected to avoid.

One sub-theme is perceived string-pulling from Gov. Rick Perry, Texas’ most prominent A&M alum. Key administrators have strong ties to the governor, most notably McKinney, a former Perry chief of staff. Murano had complained of being surprised by developments within her purview. If true, that would represent meddling that no chief executive ought to tolerate.

Other moves by top administrators bordered on underhanded. McKinney mused to the Bryan-College Station Eagle recently that perhaps A&M didn’t need a president. Perhaps, he said, the job could be combined with his duties of overseeing a system of 11 universities.

The ostensible reason was saving money, though some on campus said they were unaware of a fiscal crisis that would call for such drastic action. The effect was to undermine the university president at a time she was smarting from emergence of her written job review. The Eagle obtained and published McKinney’s hand-written evaluation of Murano. It has the look of a paper that a professor graded on his way to class, with scribbles in the margins and crossed-out remarks.

Even if McKinney hit the mark with the low grades he gave her, the process deserved an effort respectful of the office.

As for Murano’s performance, her first months on the job merited her inclusion among finalists for the annual Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year feature for 2008. Accomplishments included a new program for tuition-free education to students with family income below a certain threshold.

Murano’s tenure was rocky at times, including charges of dishonestly during her clumsy hiring, unhiring and rehiring of a vice president – a former Perry classmate – whose candidacy had not been vetted by campus stakeholder groups.

But Murano’s bosses have taken personnel clumsiness to new heights, shortchanging the university mightily at a time it aims to measure up to its ambitious Vision 2020 plan. The job of A&M president must now look like a snake pit to top talent capable of leading a university of distinction.

Editor’s Note from the Texas Civil Rights Review: Sources have been quoted to the effect that a new President for Texas A&M at College Station will be named within six months’ time. But keeping that deadline is not the most important thing to the institution. What is more important is an autonomous and dignified international search that is clearly anchored from within the community at the College Station campus–a search that is spot free from even the appearance of willful shenanigans in high places.–gm

Archive: Murano Resignation and Reply

Essential documents for the Sunday resignation of the first Woman and the first Hispanic President of Texas A&M University at College Station.–gm

OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT

Statement from Texas A&M President Elsa A. Murano

“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, emails, 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!”

Screenshot of President's page on day of Murano's Resignation


Statement regarding resignation of Dr. Elsa A. Murano

June 14, 2009

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Dr. Elsa A. Murano today announced her resignation as president of Texas A&M University. Dr. Murano’s resignation and the plans for her transition back into the faculty will be addressed by the board at its meeting scheduled for tomorrow, June 15.

“Dr. Murano has served the university with distinction over the course of her career” said Morris E. Foster, chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. “I want to thank her for her service and commitment to the betterment of the university, its faculty and its students.”

Dr. Murano has served as president of Texas A&M University since January 2008. Plans for her succession will be taken up by the board in the near future.

“We look forward to having Dr. Murano rejoin our faculty and continue her nationally recognized work in food science,” said Michael D. McKinney, M.D., chancellor of the A&M System.

About the A&M System

The A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $3.04 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, seven state agencies and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System educates more than 109,000 students and makes more than 15 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. Externally funded research brings in almost $676 million every year and helps drive the state’s economy.


Evaluation documents posted at KBTX-TV website [pdf format]


Profile of Darryl Kent Carter, Attorney for Murano


The Board of Regents of The Texas A&M University System: Morris E. Foster, Chairman; James P. Wilson, Vice Chairman;
Phil Adams, Richard A. Box, Lupe Fraga, Bill Jones, Jim Schwertner, Gene Stallings, Ida Clement Steen; Hunter Bollman, Student Regent.

Discussions Regarding Concept of Merging Certain Functions of the Flagship Institution into the A&M System Offices

Dr. Elsa A. Murano
President, Texas A&M University

May 27, 2009

To Texas A&M Faculty, Staff and Students:

I have been contacted by numerous faculty, staff and administrators, former students and friends of Texas A&M University throughout the day regarding the concept of merging certain functions of the flagship institution into the A&M System Offices as one approach in realizing cost efficiencies. While we are all concerned about the pressures of the current economic situation, I know that we are simultaneously mindful not to sacrifice academic quality, or our national reputation.

Since yesterday, I have continued to receive a diversity of perspectives from the campus community on this concept. I plan to provide these to the Regents and the Chancellor very soon. On issues of this magnitude, we all agree that an open dialogue is critical. Please know that I value your input greatly, and I appreciate all that you do to make Texas A&M one of the premier public universities in the country.

Sincerely,

Dr. Elsa A. Murano

President


President Murano’s Biography

Dr. Elsa A. Murano is the 23rd President of Texas A&M University. Taking
office on Jan. 3, 2008, at age 49, she is the first woman and first
Hispanic-American to lead the oldest public institution of higher
learning in Texas—now one of the largest teaching and research
universities in the nation.

Dr. Murano worked her way up the academic ranks-teaching and
research-and into administration from an unconventional beginning. At
the age of 2, her family departed from Havana, Cuba, when Fidel Castro
came into power. After living in several Latin American countries, she
and her family settled in Miami when she was 14 years old. At that time,
she only knew Spanish, a language in which she is still fluent, but
quickly mastered English and launched an educational career that carried
her through the doctoral ranks.


In 2002, Hispanic Business Magazine recognized Dr. Murano as one of the
nation’s “100 Most Influential Hispanics.”

“Someday in the future, if I write a book, it will be called Only in
America
, because this great country has provided me so many
opportunities, including the great honor of serving as President of
Texas A&M University,” she is often quoted as saying.

Her association with the university dates back to 1995, when she joined
the Texas A&M faculty as an Associate Professor in the Department of
Animal Science and Associate Director of the Center for Food Safety
within the Institute for Food Science and Engineering. Dr. Murano was
named Director of the Center in 1997 and served in that position until
2001. Also, she rose to the rank of Professor and was named holder of
the Sadie Hatfield Professorship in Agriculture.

Dr. Murano interrupted her Texas A&M service in 2001 when President
George W. Bush asked her to serve as Under Secretary for Food Safety for
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, making her the highest-ranking food
safety official in the U.S. government. In leading the USDA Food Safety
and Inspection Service, she was responsible for an agency with a budget
of approximately $1 billion and about 10,000 employees, with the mission
of working to improve public health through the application of science
in policy decisions.


As undersecretary for food safety at the Department of Agriculture, Dr. Murano presided over the
first case of mad cow disease in the United States.

She returned to Aggieland in January 2005 as Vice Chancellor and Dean of
Agriculture and Life Sciences, joint positions in which she served until
being appointed President of Texas A&M. As Vice C
hancellor and former
Director of Texas AgriLife Research (formerly the Texas Agricultural
Experiment Station), she led a transformation of agricultural programs
and four state agencies within The Texas A&M University System to the
benefit of students, peers and the agricultural community represented in
254 counties across Texas.

While serving as Dean, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
experienced significant growth in enrollment and enhancement of its
teaching, research and service endeavors. In conjunction with her
deanship, Dr. Murano chaired a blue-ribbon task force to study ways for
enhancing the undergraduate experience at the University, which has
ultimately become known as “The Murano Report.”

A noted expert on food safety, Dr. Murano was principal investigator or
co-principal investigator in research projects totaling more than $8.7
million during her professorial career, initially at Iowa State
University and continuing at Texas A&M. She has been widely published,
as author or co-author of seven books, book chapters or monographs, and
scores of scholarly papers, abstracts and related materials.


Her car is a 2004 Ford Thunderbird—maroon, of course!

Dr. Murano began her professorial career in 1990 as an Assistant
Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Preventative
Medicine at Iowa State, the position she held prior to joining the Texas
A&M faculty. She received a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences
from Florida International University, and earned both a master’s degree
in anaerobic microbiology and a doctorate in food science and technology
from Virginia Tech.

She is married to Dr. Peter S. Murano, Associate Professor of Nutrition
and Food Science and Director of Texas A&M’s Institute for Obesity
Research and Program Development.


Office of the President

Vice Presidents & Executive Staff

Dr. Jeffrey S. Vitter

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academics

Dr. H. Russell Cross

Executive Vice President for Operations

Ambassador Eric Bost (Ret.)

Vice President for Global Initiatives

Mr. Bill Byrne

Director of Athletics

Dr. Pierce E. Cantrell, Jr.

Vice President and Associate Provost for Information Technology

Mr. Jason D. Cook

Vice President for Marketing & Communications

Dr. R. Bowen Loftin

Vice President and CEO, Texas A&M at Galveston (TAMUG)

Dr. Theresa Maldonado

Interim Vice President for Research

Mr. Michael G. O’Quinn

Vice President for Institutional and Federal Affairs

Mr. Terry A. Pankratz

Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer

Mr. Chuck Sippial

Vice President for Facilities

Mr. R. C. Slocum

Special Advisor to the President

Ms. Courtney K. Trolinger

Vice President for Governmental Affairs

Dr. Robert Walker

Senior Executive for Development

Dr. Karan Watson

Interim Vice President and Associate Provost for Diversity

LtGen Joseph F. Weber, (USMC) Ret.

Vice President for Student Affairs

Mr. Chad E. Wootton

Vice President for University Advancement

Ms. Mary Pletzer

Executive Personal Assistant to the President

Texas Education ''Reform'' Measure, HB 3 – SB 3, Criticized by Valley Pastor

By Nick Braune

There is much discussion of an education bill in the Texas legislature, HB 3 – SB 3, which has some good aspects and some bad ones. I recently interviewed Rev. Bob Clark, a peace and justice advocate in the Valley who is a Methodist pastor serving the economically hard-hit San Juan/Pharr area.

Braune: Rev. Clark, you told me about a bill you are tracking. It apparently has a lot of supporters and some who have worries about it. It would allow, if I understand it right, two types of high school diplomas in the state. What is the issue and how are you looking at it?

Clark: For the last twenty-five years the state of Texas has been dealing with education accountability, bringing us successively the TAAS and TAKS tests; this new bill (HB 3 – SB 3) is the latest installment in the state’s ongoing crusade to fix students and rate our schools.

While the new bill is a slight improvement (doing away with mandatory retention) there are some glaring problems. Of these, one that is of special concern is this: if passed in its present form, the bill would create a two-track system in our schools. One group of children would be aimed at university and the other at tech-school or a job. There would actually be two different diplomas issued depending on which track the student completed.

Braune: How do you answer those who simply respond that everyone is not ready for college?

Clark: While it is true that not everyone will go to college, and on the surface, it seems good to identify those students who will not be “college ready”, such a plan is ripe for abuse. Here in the Rio Grande Valley, we are painfully aware of the negative effects of tracking. For years Hispanic students were automatically tracked toward “job readiness” while Anglo students were all tracked toward University. (As we know, abuses like that are what created the famous Edcouch/Elsa High School Walkout in 1968.) And tracking assumes that through testing one can determine the future potential of a student, even as early as in eighth grade. Imagine the loss to the world had Albert Einstein, who could not pass high school algebra, been tracked toward a career as a Wal-Mart greeter.

Braune: Is it going to pass?

Clark: There will be a fight. Backers of the current bill include champions of industry and commerce, the business community. Why? In a word, profit. A two diploma system creates an underclass marked as workers and a higher valued class destined to become professionals. Those with a “Texas Diploma” will automatically be considered of higher value than those with the inferior diploma. An inferior diploma translates into lower wages for workers and by extension higher profits for big business. In the same way that a person with a B.A. can be hired for a lower wage than a person with an M.A., a person without a “Texas Diploma” can be hired for less.

Additional note: After learning about this issue from Rev. Clark, I spoke to State Representative Armando Martinez about it. Already alert to the problems in HB-3, he and some other legislators are hoping to x-out that sort of “two-track” talk from the bill. I also spoke with Terry Brown of Valley Interfaith. Her organization does considerable lobbying and is worried about the bill, and she told me about a conversation she had with a Valley school superintendant who is dead-set against the two-track approach. There is growing opposition.

[The interview with Rev. Clark previously appeared in the Mid-Valley Town Crier.]

Statement on Murano Transition

Email from the office of attorney Darryl Carter, of Glickman, Carter & Bachynsky, LLP, in Houston:

In response to requests for comments on Dr. Murano’s Transition Agreement with the University, which was approved today by the A&M Board of Regents, we are providing the statement below from Mr. Carter:

“Dr. Murano was committed to a quick and constructive resolution of this matter. The transition agreement reflects our recognition of the intentions of the Chancellor and the Board of Regents. The agreement also recognizes Dr. Murano’s exemplary service and continuing commitment to Texas A&M. She remains grateful for the expressions of support and loyalty that she has received from faculty, staff, current and former students, and friends of the University.”

Editor’s Note: The AP reports that “Murano will return to the faculty under an agreement reached with the university. She will take a year off while collecting her salary of $425,000, and will be paid an additional $295,000.

“After accepting Murano’s resignation, regents approved A&M administrator Bowen Loftin as interim president. Loftin is the vice president and chief executive officer at A&M’s campus in Galveston, which was battered by Hurricane Ike last year.”

After Elite Education in Texas

By Greg Moses

When Art Laffer and the Dallas Fed converge on message, who can doubt that Texas elites are listening to what they most want to hear? In a 2008 review of Texas taxes, Reagan-era supply-side guru Laffer co-authored a report that ranked Texas seventh in the nation on an “Education Freedom Index” that tested for “vouchers, tuition credits, and corporate tax-deductible scholarship programs.” Yet, seventh place is no reason for celebration argued the “Laffer Report”:

“The U.S. rankings are clustered so closely together that a high score, on a curve, still means the state is a long way from potential levels of education freedom. If other states implement choice systems, Texas’ relative rank would fall precipitously. Texas should not see its high rank as a reason to celebrate; rather as evidence that Texas is making important first steps in a crucial and lengthy reform process.” (p. 24: pdf format)

On Friday the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas agreed that 2009 will be no year for higher education complacency:

“The Texas higher education system faces many challenges in enrolling students from low- and moderate-income households. The state has a low overall graduation rate and, compared with other states, one of the smallest percentages of college-age population enrolled in college. A recent study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Higher Education suggests that the state’s public university system may be promoting a growing elitist society where only those students from families with considerable assets have access to the state’s top universities. In the U.S. as a whole, about 35 percent of American undergraduates receive federal Pell Grants, need-based grants to low-income students. Texas’ top-ranked universities (ranked by U.S. News & World Report), and those that receive the most state resources, have a significantly smaller percentage of students receiving Pell Grants.”

The Dallas Fed posts a graph of the “top Texas universities” and their lack of educational freedom as measured on a Pell Grant scale.

Of course, the ideological packaging for Laffer and the Dallas Fed precludes any outright call for more government spending. The “Laffer Report” favors an environment of low wages, low taxes, and less government. The Dallas Fed is touting “asset building” for low income families. If public money is spent, it would be used to “match” higher education savings accounts for qualified low-income families (see Smart Savings Accounts). Banks would get the money first.

Between the two publications we get a call for improved bootstraps, the better for the poor to lift themselves higher. And so far as that goes, who could oppose them? But neither report tells us that the hurdles in this race for educational freedom are getting higher by the year as elite incomes move further and further ahead of low- and middle-income Texans, and as tuition increases cater to the elites who don’t need to bring Pell Grants with them.

When the history of the 21st Century is written, it will record early years when Texas enjoyed an infusion of young talent from the South. What Texas did with that bounty of youthful labor and talent is what the next chapter will tell.