Day One of Regents Meetings Include Presidential, Pandemic Talk

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Two days of meetings for the Texas A&M System Board of Regents got underway Thursday.

Following an audit committee meeting and a closed executive session, Regents Chairman Bill Jones directed the majority of his opening remarks towards the search for four school presidents, including at the College Station campus.

Since the December departure of now-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Texas A&M has been without a permanent president.

"We're being diligent," described Jones. "We're perhaps not being as expedient as some would like, but we are being diligent."

Chancellor Michael McKinney has previously said Interim A&M President Eddie Davis is strongly being considered for the fulltime job, but the job he's done, McKinney says, has certainly helped.

"Eddie Davis serving as the interim president...[has] given us enough time to be diligent and to be deliberate in the search," McKinney said.

Previously, McKinney said the regents are considering a top ten list of candidates as determined by a search advisory committee which met throughout this year, along with other candidates the regents themselves have brought to the table.

Later in the meeting, Davis and Assistant Vice President for Environmental and Health Safety Chris Meyer laid out A&M's pandemic response plan to the regents. It's believed to be the first in the system specifically designed to address an outbreak of something like bird flu, which has made the biggest headlines when it comes to possible pandemics.

Bird flu has only been seen in limited, but deadly cases in Europe and Asia, though A&M officials pointed out things like migratory patterns and frequent human travel from continent to continent could potentially bring the disease to the United States.

Meyer told the board he and his colleagues have been working to create a strong plan for what Meyer says is an all but inevitable arrival of a pandemic. The plan includes four levels of readiness. Among the details on those levels:

Level 1 -- Monitor outbreak, communicate plans, prepare
Level 2 -- Consider suspending classes
Level 3 -- Recommend suspending classes, use resources to reduce disease spread
Level 4 -- Only essential services in operation

"There's lots to be considered when we're talking about what's essential and what can we keep going during a pandemic," Meyer said.

It's a plan the university is continuing to refine, including finding the best way to bring everything back to normal once an outbreak ends. A&M officials say they are consulting with the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to best implement their plan.

When it comes to that potential pandemic flu situation, the last place officials say students, faculty and staff should be is the campus of Texas A&M, they should go home.

Final authority on any decisions concerning a pandemic outbreak would lie with the university president.

Also Thursday, Regents approved a resolution honoring the Kruse family, who operate Blue Bell Creameries in Brenham. The business is celebrating 100 years of making ice cream.

The regents wrap up their meeting Friday.