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Rift Brews Between Texas A&M Chancellor, President


Texas A&M President Elsa Murano’s job could be on the line in the coming week when the A&M System’s Board of Regents meets.

The university system’s governing board, according to an agenda item for a meeting scheduled for Monday in College Station, will discuss “Appointment, Employment, Evaluation, Reassignment, Duties, Discipline or Dismissal of Executive Level Officers and/or Employees of The Texas A&M University System.”

The meeting comes less than two weeks after release of a highly critical performance review of Murano, who received low marks for leadership and management, including the lowest marks possible for decisiveness and for not being a team player in her first full year on the job.

The five-page review of the first female and first Hispanic president in the school’s 132-year history was done by Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney. He has told The Eagle of Bryan-College Station he’s considering consolidating his post with Murano’s as a cost-cutting measure.

Murano, in a 10-page typed response, described the review as “ludicrous,” “besmirches my character” and is “not based on facts.”

System spokesman Rod Davis has denied any merger plans are in the works.

The Austin American-Statesman reported Saturday that working behind the scenes in the rift is the influence of Gov. Rick Perry. Perry is a Texas A&M alumnus who appointed all nine regents who supervise nine A&M System universities, including the flagship College Station campus, a health science center and seven state agencies.

The newspaper pointed out McKinney is a former Perry chief of staff, that the governor is close with Guy Diedrich, vice chancellor for federal relations and commercialization, and that Mark Ellison, associate vice chancellor for economic development, is a former director of the state’s Emerging Technology Fund, a pet project of Perry’s.

In addition, the Statesman said Perry influenced the recruiting of Brett Giroir, a former official of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, for the position of vice chancellor for research. Retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Weber, the vice president for student affairs, has been friends with Perry since they were classmates at A&M, the Statesman said.

“The governor appoints the Board of Regents to do what is best for the system, the universities, the students and the taxpayers,” Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle said. “The governor continues to encourage our universities in their ongoing efforts to commercialize research.”

Murano has complained system officials sometimes have bypassed her in working out agreements with faculty members or private companies to commercialize scientific advances, while some faculty say the governor’s influence has led to an emphasis on commercially viable research at the expense of basic research.

In an open letter Friday from the executive committee of the A&M Faculty Senate, Senate Speaker Robert Bednarz wrote that the school’s status as one of the nation’s 60 top-tier universities was being threatened.

“Recent events have diminished the office of the President of Texas A&M University and are likely to destabilize the University and erode its ability to hire the most qualified administrators and faculty,” Bednarz wrote.

“What talented administrator or faculty member would move to an institution where decisions are made unilaterally, disagreement is viewed as disloyalty, and transparency is not valued?”

Murano, 49, in January 2008 succeeded Robert Gates, who was tapped by then President George W. Bush to become defense secretary, a post he retained in the Obama administration.

The Cuban-born Murano fled the island nation in the early 1960s, first joined the A&M faculty in 1995 and rose to become dean of the A&M agricultural school. She also has worked as undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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