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Chancellor Addresses A&M Turmoil in Open Letter

By: Joe Brown Email
By: Joe Brown Email

Setting the record straight. It's what Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney is hoping to do in an open letter released Monday to students, faculty, former students and friends of Texas A&M.

The letter touches on some of the main points of contention leading up to the resignation of president Elsa Murano.

In it, McKinney states," Dr. Murano received positive feedback for some of her performance during the year. She also received comments from me encouraging more collaboration and cautioning her to be careful in taking counsel from others who had previously had their own difficulties."

After receiving criticism over the evaluation document itself, McKinney explains, "What some have termed as an 'unprofessional evaluation' consisted of my notes."

He describes a meeting with Murano during which they,"...shook hands, hugged and agreed to a 'do over,' putting aside past differences, knowing Texas A&M is bigger and more important than any one individual."

The chancellor also addresses, what he calls, the "gubernatorial conspiracy," stating Governor Rick Perry has,"...never once mentioned even a thought about being president or chancellor of A&M. He likes serving as governor of Texas, and he fully intends to be elected for another term."

MCKINNEY LETTER (6/22):

Dear Students, Faculty, Former Students and Friends of Texas A&M University:

I love Texas A&M and our students. It is this love that drives my motivation for serving as chancellor.

While some have impugned my motives and reputation related to the recent events at our flagship university, they have done so in many cases without even knowing me, and certainly not knowing my heart. They have based their assertions on half-truths, innuendo and grand conspiracies. While I have mostly remained silent about these critiques, I believe for them to go unanswered any longer is damaging to the university.

I not only support shared governance, I also practice it. I have a very active and vocal Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board. I have a team of independent thinkers who work at the System Offices, and I encourage new ideas and frank discussions. I interact with and listen to faculty and students at every campus visit around the state. More exactly, I strive for “integral leadership,” the next iteration of shared governance, which is further defined as “collaborative but decisive leadership.”

My annual reviews of all who report directly to me are for the purpose of identifying needs and setting goals. Everyone that works for the A&M System and all the CEOs, including university presidents, know this. My cover letter to each of the CEOs requesting his/her self evaluation clearly states, “I see this process as a collaborative opportunity to review past achievements, evaluate the challenges that you face, set new goals and objectives, and develop new ideas on how we can continue progress toward excellence in education, research, and service for the state of Texas.” I do face-to-face verbal evaluations annually. I make notes before the face-to-face meeting so I remember to mention some positive things and some things requiring attention. What some have termed as an “unprofessional evaluation” consisted of my notes.

All of my executive staff and all of the CEOs have heard me say that the annual review is not the only time to evaluate and provide feedback. I meet with all the presidents many times during a year. I always provide feedback on issues including an assessment of his/her needs and issues that need addressing. Dr. Murano received positive feedback for some of her performance during the year. She also received comments from me encouraging more collaboration and cautioning her to be careful in taking counsel from others who had previously had their own difficulties. Dr. Murano also received feedback from a number of the regents encouraging her and evaluating her performance as president.

Scripture says in Matthew 18:15 if you have a problem with a brother or sister you must go to them and attempt to fix it, just the two of you. Earlier this year, I went to Dr. Murano’s office. We had a frank discussion, shook hands, hugged and agreed to a “do over,” putting aside past differences, knowing Texas A&M is bigger and more important than any one individual. We both still believe that today.

Now some are laying claim to a gubernatorial conspiracy. To be clear, Gov. Rick Perry is a devoted Aggie and my friend. But any idea that he is involved in the day-to-day operations of Texas A&M is flat wrong. In the 25 years that I have known Rick Perry, he has never once mentioned even a thought about being president or chancellor of A&M. He likes serving as governor of Texas, and he fully intends to be elected for another term. Neither Gov. Perry nor I have a desire to run Texas A&M University. I do have a desire and a commitment to provide the kind of oversight a chancellor and a university system are supposed to offer as envisioned by the legislature.

My motive is simply what is best for Texas A&M, and that holds whether we are talking about serving our students, attracting top research and teaching talent, reducing the cost of administrative services, or recruiting the leadership of any of the 11 campuses in our A&M System. I love Texas A&M, and the success and well-being of our students remains near and dear to my heart.

Michael D. McKinney, M.D.
Chancellor

MCKINNEY ADDRESS TO FACULTY SENATE (6/22)

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make a few comments to you this afternoon. I spent a lot of time thinking about this meeting, and working on my thoughts, because I have great respect for the role faculty play in advancing the academic, research and service goals of Texas A&M, and I have a sincere desire to see our relationship move beyond the adversity of the recent past.

To the extent that I read from prepared remarks today, just know that I poured my heart and soul into every word on this piece of paper. If students are the heart and soul of this university, faculty are the mind and conscience. You have an extraordinary role to play, not only in developing research and young minds, but in attracting additional talent to this university and helping to select appropriate leadership.

Much has been made of shared governance. I say let’s look at the record.

I have a very active and vocal Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board. I have a team of independent thinkers who work at the System Offices and I encourage new ideas and frank discussions. I interact with, and listen to, faculty and students at every campus visit around the state. I meet with system CEOs, (including University Presidents) on a regular basis.

To be precise, I strive for “integral leadership,” the next iteration of shared governance, which has been further defined as “collaborative but decisive leadership.” Because at the end of the day those accountable for decisions must take action.

I would also encourage you to allow the committee charged with defining shared governance to complete its deliberations before presuming that no one is supportive. I am supportive and in fact, it was I who suggested to Dr. Murano that she expand the committee to include the A&M System and the Board of Regents. She added Dr. Frank Ashley, Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs to the committee.

Some of you may recall that I appointed the last presidential search committee. It was as diverse as any search committee in recent memory, and the Faculty Senate Speaker served as chair. That committee worked extremely hard.

There seem to be some discrepancies about what happened as that process drew to a close that have contributed to false claims about my commitment-–and the regents’ commitment–to shared governance.

It is an oft-repeated assertion that the board discarded three viable candidates recommended by the search committee. This is simply not so.

The chairman of that search committee knows that the one candidate who did not come for a Board of Regents interview withdrew long before any “weather event.” I called the candidate and convinced him to go forward. We sent committee members of the Search Advisory Committee to talk with him in his home state. He again withdrew. Chairman Jones talked with him and again convinced him to re-enter the process. He again withdrew and declined to set another appointment after the “weather event” passed.

Another candidate simply did not meet expectations for the president of Texas A&M, meaning the board in essence was given one candidate from which to choose. Dr. Slack knows that I supported the one clearly qualified candidate and that she was identified as a viable candidate by the board.

The Board of Regents felt they needed more than one candidate. The chairman was able to secure interviews for the Regents with a number of qualified candidates who were on the preliminary list of the advisory committee but had declined the request of the committee to further participate in the search.

I make no presumptions as to why they declined Dr. Slack’s invitation but accepted the Board’s invitation. I merely state this as fact.

After interviewing several candidates, the Board of Regents chose Dr. Murano as the sole finalist.

Now, the tenure of Dr. Murano did not meet the hopes and expectations of those who appointed her and as you know she resigned.

As chancellor, I simply cannot and will not discuss the details of personnel matters.

My annual reviews of all people who report to me directly are for the purpose of identifying needs and setting goals. Everyone that works for the System Offices and all the CEOs, including university presidents, know this. My reviews are not for the purpose of salary or employment.

My cover letter to each of the CEOs requesting his or her self-evaluation clearly states, “I see this process as a collaborative opportunity to review past achievements, evaluate the challenges that you face, set new goals and objectives, and develop new ideas on how we can continue progress toward excellence in education, research, and service for the state of Texas.”

I do face-to-face verbal evaluations annually. I make notes before the face-to-face meeting so I remember to mention some positive things and some things requiring attention. What has been termed in the media as an “unprofessional evaluation” was simply my notes.

All of my executive staff and all of the CEOs have heard me say that the annual review is not the only time to evaluate and provide feedback. I meet with all the presidents many times during a year. I always have feedback on issues, including an assessment of needs and issues that need addressing.

Dr. Murano received positive feedback for some of her performance during the year. She also received comments from me encouraging more collaboration and cautioning her to be careful in taking counsel from others who had previously had their own difficulties.

Scripture says in Matthew 18:15 if you have a problem with a brother or sister you must go to them and attempt to fix it, just the two of you. Earlier this year, I went to Dr. Murano’s office. We had a frank discussion, shook hands, hugged and agreed to a “do over,” putting aside past differences, knowing Texas A&M is bigger and more important than any one individual. We both still believe that today.

Eventually, open records requests were filed, and in compliance with the law, my notes were released.

I am a big boy. I can take criticism. But I encourage you to apply the principles of good research:

• Check your facts
• Use multiple sources
• Seek a primary source (not a blog)

The Shared Services teams, as requested by the Board of Regents, have been formed. Team leaders and members have been named, and work has already begun. A news release, which will include the committees’ memberships, will be distributed within a day or two.

The charge to the team leaders is to reduce administrative expenses by at least $20 million by increasing efficiency without sacrificing quality. This will be a completely transparent process. A website is being developed to report the progress of the teams.

You will notice that faculty will be members of some of the teams and input will certainly be solicited from faculty on any of the areas in which they are stakeholders.

We have been working on shared services for at least three years. This is a renewed emphasis and it will be transparent. There is no attempt to “take over” anything or to get anybody’s money.

In fact, Dr. Loftin’s request for a financial analysis of the provost and VPR offices will help everyone clearly see which college generates the money (tuition and formula) and where the money is spent.

The same information will be clarified for research and research indirect costs recoveries. No one is suggesting any changes. Dr. Loftin is simply insisting on easily understood transparency.
Please wait for the results before assigning motives to the quest for information. Faculty will be involved by Dr. Loftin, Dr. Watson and Dr. Vitter throughout the process.

Gov. Rick Perry is a devoted Aggie and my friend. Any idea that he is involved in the day-to-day operations of Texas A&M is flat wrong. In the 25 years that I have known Rick Perry, he has never once mentioned even a thought about being president or chancellor of A&M. He likes serving as governor of Texas and intends to continue doing so. The conspiracy theories of some secret plan are simply illogical.

I also do not have a desire to be the president of Texas A&M University, nor am I interested in managing the day-to-day affairs of Texas A&M. I do have a desire and a commitment to fulfill my oversight responsibilities as chancellor for all of the system universities and agencies as envisioned by the legislature.

There is a natural tension between the system and the flagship university. Ask previous presidents and chancellors.

There are times when I will make recommendations to a president regarding personnel or a program. But, I also let presidents know they are welcome to disagree with me, and ultimately the decision is theirs.

At times I can be very passionate about the potential in a particular area, but I do not try to impose a solution when others have specific responsibility and accountability for the decision.

As some of you know, I am a passionate ally in attempts to recruit members of the National Academy of Science and the National Academy of Engineering, as well as other stars. I have also asserted whatever influence I might have to keep some of our current stars from leaving for greener pastures.

Similarly, regents will hear input in a spirit of shared governance, but stakeholders–me included–cannot expect to impose our will on the governing authority. We work through persuasion.

Some believe the recent disagreement over the leadership of Texas A&M University will imperil future efforts to attract talent. I believe in my heart that is not the case, but to some extent that is up to you.

The more we drag out disagreements of the past, then the more likely that there will exist a perception that Texas A&M is in turmoil. I can tell you it is not my desire to reignite past disagreements. I hope that you join me in that sentiment.

Shakespeare said, “The past is prologue.” I believe the past can be the past if we agree to work together for the sake of the future.

One of the main responsibilities of a university is to teach the totality of the wisdom of the past to develop the hopes and dreams of the future.
And what the future is about is those 48,000 students who will show up here this fall. That is why I am here, and I would suggest they are why you got into teaching in the first place. I want these students to partake in the best educational environment in the country–a place that stretches their potential, and that leads them to pathways of opportunity.

As faculty, you have a voice. You can choose to use that voice to open wounds, or to heal them. I’m a physician. I like healing wounds.

And I can’t think of a better person to help us begin that healing process than an outstanding leader with impeccable academic credentials who is the interim president of Texas A&M University, Dr. Bowen Loftin. Dr. Loftin, thank you for taking the helm of leadership at this very important time.

I asked the speaker for written questions that he felt needed answering. He told me “the EC has no set of prepared questions that we intend to pose.” I want all faculty (including Senators) to know that I am willing and anxious to engage in face-to-face dialogue concerning the future path of this great University and The Texas A&M University System. Simply call my office to arrange a meeting. I have always maintained an open door policy.

Thank you all. I appreciate your commitment to Texas A&M University.


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