3.03.2009

A&M Leadership Controversy!

A brouhaha has erupted on campus and in the campus media this week. To distill the main events, an alternative A&M publication that has produced two issues, the Anthem (site currently down, more here), reported that Texas A&M President Elsa Murano made the choice to go through with her controversial hire of a new VP for student affairs before conducting any kind of communication with students. She later did take feedback and conduct focus groups, but if the report is correct, this was merely a dog-and-pony show meant to appease students without giving them even minimal input. Here's a timeline:
  • June 27, 2008 - VPSA Dean Bresciani "resigns." (He was fired).
  • July 1 - new VPSA, Gen. Joseph Weber, offered job (the revelation of this offer is the basis of the above story).
  • July 7 - focus groups with students held during this week.
  • July 17 & 19 - communication between student body president Mark Gold and Murano about importance of student input in VPSA hiring process.
  • July 21 - Murano's puts offer to her VPSA choice "on hold." (The Anthem did not mention, and apparently did not have, this letter, but questions its authenticity. The Batt provides authenticating material.)
  • July 31 - Date Weber was to be presented to Board of Regents
  • Aug 15 - Date Weber was presented to, and approved by, Regents.
The Anthem presented this news in a sensational manner, with the large, stark headline "Murano Lied." The next day, A&M's official student newspaper, the Battalion, responded in a way that I thought was reactionary, and also gave the appearance that the paper was a shill for Murano. It mimicked the Anthem's headline with one of its own, "Truth." It also ran an editorial decrying the Anthem's damage to the institution of journalism due to its failure to quote defenders of Murano (this coming from a newspaper that is not exactly a paragon of journalistic quality. Reporter, heal thyself). It seems like the Battalion is overly obsessed with the Anthem, when in reality it should not see the little publication as a threat. Was the Battalion mad it got scooped? In its haste to respond, it looks completely partial towards Murano, which I assume is not something its editors desire.

The basis of Murano's defense of her actions, referred to by the Battalion as "truth," was this:
The process began July 1, 2008, when Murano extended an offer to Weber for the position of VPSA. The offer did not hire Weber as the VPSA.

"It's a first step, and all of it is not binding until the president, me, moves forward and seek approval from the Board of Regents," Murano said, "So, presidents cannot hire a vice president just like that."
This is very weak, and strikes me as a distinction without a difference. The July 1 letter says, "I am pleased to extend to you the offer of VPSA at Texas A&M." That's pretty straightforward to me. This story does not refute the Anthem's charge that Murano made her decision before discussing it with students, and then gave lip service to student input having already made up her mind. Furthermore, this process was conducted in the summer, when few students were around. Even if you don't care what students think about the position, at least pretend, and do so before you make the hire. There's also the question of Weber's close ties to Gov. Rick Perry, who is said to have played a role in getting Murano hired (her selection was controversial, too). Quid pro quo?

Now, I don't really know who these Anthem people are. Maybe they like to cause trouble, and maybe their plan to get Murano charged with violating the Honor Code is over the top. And I'm not one to get up in arms over this. I'm not sure what university vice presidents do all day, and if it has any effect on me. I like, however, to see arrogant university adminstrators who treat students as subjects rather than customers get their comeuppance. And this issue is apparently quite serious (statement from SBP Gold here). So keep an eye on this, all you Aggies out there.

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