Elsa Murano's assent to the top of Texas A&M was an historic one, and her first months as president -- ones now under scrutiny with the release of a less-than-stellar first annual assessment by Chancellor Mike McKinney -- have been noteworthy.
Murano was selected as the lone finalist by regents in December 2007, tapped to replace now-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
The first female, first Hispanic-American and youngest president in A&M's history, Murano had been serving as the dean of the College of Agriculture and the vice chancellor for the System when she was chosen.
Her selection was met with some controversy, as she was not on the short list compiled by a search committee tasked by the Board of Regents, a move that dismayed many faculty members.
"She's my dean, and she works really hard, and she's got a complex job," said Doug Slack, a wildlife sciences professor, former Faculty Senate president and the head of the search committee following Murano's selection. "I wish her the best, but she's got a really difficult job because faculty members have felt disenfranchised from this process at this stage."
Murano would meet with faculty in the days and weeks following her selection in an attempt to smooth over any hard feelings and to move the university forward.
Many praised Murano's selection, including her predecessor.
"I believe Dr. Murano has a strong appreciation for the critical role of the faculty and of shared governance in a great university," Gates said in a statement released at the time. "She also understands the importance of student involvement and leadership at Texas A&M."
McKinney also sang Murano's praises a year-and-a-half ago.
"I view this as having a teammate," he said. "She's got the enthusiasm. She understands the Aggie Spirit, and she'll pick up some of the things Dr. Gates started."
Murano was approved as the lone finalist and, in a vote just weeks later, as the choice for the post. Each time, the vote was 8-1, with Regent Gene Stallings voting against Murano, saying he thought there was a better choice, though not elaborating as to who that might be.
"Be assured that I'm going to support her in every way that I possibly can, but I serve on this board to say what I think, and that's what I did," Stallings said in December 2007. "Now, was that a popular deal? No. I understand that."
Almost immediately, Murano began house-cleaning at the top of the administration, shifting personnel and creating new posts. Within a month, regents approved eight personnel changes.
Another notable change came with the resignation of Dean Bresciani, the university's vice president for student affairs. An internal e-mail obtained by News 3 indicated Bresciani had been asked to resign in June 2008.
The hiring of Bresciani's replacement, retired Marine General Joseph Weber, created controversy among some students, who in March 2009, claimed Murano had deceived them during the search process.
Students posted a letter dated July 1, 2008, one in which Murano is purportedly shown to have offered the job to Weber. They also showed an e-mail purportedly from Murano to Student Body President Mark Gold later that month.
"Mark, please know that I will not hire anyone without you guys at least meeting with them and getting your input, which I value greatly," Murano is shown to have written.
Murano responded to the allegations of dishonesty, stating she had retracted her offer to Gen. Weber after students brought concerns about the selection process.
"One needs only to ask the General, a decorated military veteran, to confirm the fact that on the week of July 21, 2008, I gave him a document rescinding the initial offer letter, which informed him that I had stopped all actions, including seeking approval by the Board of Regents to appoint him at the July 31-August 1, 2008, meeting," Murano wrote. "I promptly made arrangements for the General to meet with the student leaders, and then I met with them to get their impressions on his character and abilities."
Weber was eventually hired as the vice president.
The website for the office of A&M's president touts moves towards the "Vision 2020" goals first laid out by former university president Ray Bowen and continued by Gates.
Among the items: adding nearly 450 faculty since 2003, hirings Murano calls "unprecedented in American higher education"; increasing diversity of students, faculty and staff; and initiating $580 million in new construction
Vision 2020 seeks to earn A&M a top 10 ranking among public institutions by 2020.
Also during her first year, Murano announced the Aggie Assurance plan, deciding that A&M would foot the bill for incoming freshmen who were Texas residents with gross family incomes of $60,000 or less, a plan that when fully implemented, was estimated by A&M to cost the university $3 million a year.
“It encourages Texans to pursue higher education at a flagship research institution, and is designed to reassure students from low-and middle-income families in Texas that a college education is possible,” she said in September 2008.
Born in Havana, Cuba, Murano's family fled the island nation when she was two, according to her online bio. After living in Latin American countries, her family arrived in the US when she was 14. She holds degrees from Florida International and Virginia Tech.
After teaching at Iowa State, Murano's first stint at A&M came in 1995 when she worked at the Center for Food Safety within the Institute for Food Science and Engineering. She left that post when she was named Under Secretary for Food Safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture by President George W. Bush.
In 2005, she returned to A&M as Vice Chancellor and Dean of Agriculture and Life Sciences, now known as AgriLife.
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