Committee Chair "No Longer Confident" in A&M Presidential Search

By  | 

Texas A&M's athletic department conducted a "nationwide search" for a new football coach according to Director of Athletics Bill Byrne, and came up with replacement in three days.

On the flip side, the search for the president of Texas A&M University is coming up on 11 months, and members of the school's faculty are upset with the length of the search and the way it is being conducted.

In a meeting of the faculty senate where all faculty members were invited, the chairman of the search advisory committee, Professor Doug Slack, expressed concern with the way things are going.

"As chairman of this search process, I am no longer confident in the selection process," Slack told the gathering Monday. "The current delay, I believe, will send a strong, negative signal to the academic community."

Slack and his search advisory committee -- appointed by System Chancellor Michael McKinney -- spent the better part of eight months going through 143 candidates for the post left by Robert Gates in December. That list was eventually narrowed to an unranked top three, who were presented to the System Board of Regents in late August.

However, those three soon became one, as Slack says one of the three dropped out of the running just days after their name was submitted. Of the remaining two, Slack says he was told by regents that one was far superior to the other.

In the board's opinion and for whatever reasons, the advisory committee was only able to provide one candidate. Slack says he was told that the regents would seek other candidates as a result.

McKinney has said regents have a final four candidates, which includes the lone advisory committee recommendation deemed of top quality by the board. McKinney has also said Interim President Eddie Davis is being considered.

Slack says he offered advisory committee help to Regents Chairman Bill Jones in the board's renewed search for a lone finalist. However, Slack says Jones would only allow the option of four or five committee members assisting in interviews and evaluations. It's an offer Slack called "cherry picking" of advisory committee members, something he couldn't accept.

As early as Monday, Slack and Jones discussed further involvement of the advisory committee. Slack says Jones told him the committee's previous work was enough, and that additional work by them tacked on to what the regents were doing would take up too much time.

"We now reach out to the system and request that, together, we find ways to incorporate the precepts of Vision 2020 regarding shared governance into the decision-making process of Texas A&M University," Slack told the faculty group.

For their parts, both Slack and Jones say they will be meeting during the Board of Regents' December 6 and 7 meeting in College Station to see what common ground can be found in moving forward with a search.

McKinney was on hand at the faculty meeting and spoke briefly, joking that he could easily be "shot" in the front and in the back on this issue. Having formed the advisory committee, he says he has to take heat on their work if there is any.

McKinney also says he will work to mediate between to two sides, but that in the end, the university would be pleased with the finalist, whoever of the four is chosen.

"It's still an evolving process," he said. "That was my message. As long as we both have the same, best interests of Texas A&M at heart, we can figure this out, and we will."

Speaking from Austin Monday, Jones said he was thankful for the advisory committee's work, but that it would ultimately be the board's responsibility to find the new president.

"The lack of involvement is by no means a slight," Jones said. "It is simply the fact that the board felt that it had very limited choices from which to choose, and has sought to exercise its fiduciary duty to the state of Texas and to every student that attends Texas A&M and to every parent that pays for their child to attend Texas A&M, that we expand our consideration to more candidates so that we can obtain the best possible person for the presidency of Texas A&M.

"We literally turned the car keys over to the search committee to drive around and tour as they please across the country and across this state for individuals to lead this institution," Jones added. "They have brought the car back and given us the keys back, and now we're driving."

Jones says he hopes a finalist can be named by the end of this year.