COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) – Less than a month ago Texas A&M announced a new leader to spearhead and revitalize the university’s journalism program.
Kathleen McElroy, a seasoned journalist with more than 40 years of experience and part of the class of ‘81, was hailed as the “perfect person for the position,” according to José Luis Bermúdez, the interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Unusually, the university held a signing ceremony in the Academic Plaza and invited media to cover the celebration, in a break from the university’s normal hiring practices. The New York Times veteran and University of Texas journalism professor officially accepted the position to run the A&M program and teach as a tenured professor, pending approval from the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents.
But now, McElroy says she won’t be joining her alma mater after the conditions of her contract kept changing and A&M System officials expressed issues with her work on race and diversity and her time at the New York Times.
“From what I understand my main problem is being a Black woman who’d been at the New York Times,” McElroy told KBTX. “Which I’d like to go on the record and say I never hid.”
McElroy obtained her Ph.D. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2014, following a nearly 30-year career as a professional journalist.
At The New York Times, she held several management roles, including associate managing editor. She also worked for The Bryan-College Station Eagle, The National, an all-sports daily, and Newsday on Long Island as well as the Austin American-Statesman and The Huntsville Item.
Prior to that, McElroy served as an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University, teaching news reporting and sports media. She obtained a Master of Arts degree from New York University, specializing in race and media, and holds a Bachelor of Arts in broadcast journalism from Texas A&M.
She has rescinded her resignation at UT, but says while her research does focus on race and diversity it is only part of what she studies.
“My work is a lot of things. It looks at rural journalism, it looks at obituaries, it looks at a lot of stuff,” said McElroy. “And yes, I have looked at race and gender in America. I think even if a white male were running this program, that person would consider the importance of elements of DEI within the boundaries set up by the Texas Legislature. The issue that I seem to be having is that I am judged as ‘DEI’ solely because of what I look like.”
In this legislative session, Texas banned diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) offices in higher education. This new state law will go into effect in January. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are policies that support groups that have been historically underrepresented or discriminated against.
Addressing the A&M System, she expressed her disappointment in not being able to lead students.
“I’d say I am so sorry I missed out on the opportunity to give your students the best chance to be the best journalist they could be. I would have really enjoyed that. I would have felt blessed,” McElroy said.
After agreeing to run the new program and teach as a tenured professor, A&M came back with a five-year contract position without tenure, and then a third offer that was a one-year at-will contract, according to an article published by the Texas Tribune.
So far, A&M seems to be unaware that McElroy is walking away.
“Texas A&M’s policy does not permit us to comment on personnel deliberations. However, we can confirm that Dr. McElroy has an offer in hand and that we have not been notified her plans have changed– we hope that’s not the case. We certainly regret any misunderstanding that may have taken place,” a statement from Bermudez said.
While she wishes the program well, she knows that she won’t be moving forward with the university.
“I hope A&M does continue its efforts to build a stellar journalism program that only benefits the students, the state, that is important. I’m going to continue my career, but it won’t be at A&M. They’ve made it so that I can’t be at A&M,” she said.
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