A&M president resigns before meeting

June 14, 2009 3:15:28 PM PDT
Texas A&M President Elsa Murano announced her resignation Sunday, one day before the A&M System's Board of Regents was scheduled to discuss the university's leadership in what had every appearance of a decision on Murano's future. Earlier this month, the university system released a scathing performance review of Murano's first full year on the job, giving her low marks for leadership and management, including the lowest scores possible for decisiveness and for not being a team player.

Murano, the first female and first Hispanic president in the school's 132-year history, issued a statement through her lawyer Sunday saying that she was doing what she believed was best for the university and hoped to return to the faculty.

In her statement, Murano said recent weeks had been "taxing" for the university and thanked those who offered messages of support.

"Our university is strong and I know that we will weather this storm," Murano said. "I sincerely hope and pray that we will intensify our efforts to protect and enhance Texas A&M's reputation. I trust that the important issues raised in recent weeks will be addressed in the Aggie way with integrity, selfless service and indomitable spirit."

Murano's attorney, Darryl Carter, declined to elaborate on the statement.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney conducted Murano's review, which was dated Feb. 9.

McKinney previously told the Bryan-College Station Eagle that regents were considering merging the positions of chancellor and president to save money. Such a move could have pushed Murano from her post. But a university system spokesman said at the time that no merger plans were in place.

Murano, 49, disputed McKinney's review in a 10-page typed response sent March 10 to the chancellor and the regents.

"Given the complete disconnection between Dr. McKinney's perception of my performance as president and all the evidence to the contrary, I can conclude that this review was not based on facts," Murano wrote.

Rod Davis, spokesman for the A&M University System, confirmed receipt of Murano's resignation statement Sunday.

"Dr. Murano's resignation and the plans for her transition back into the faculty will be addressed by the board at its meeting scheduled for tomorrow, June 15," Davis wrote in an e-mail.

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.

On Sunday, Bednarz called Murano's sudden resignation "unfortunate."

"It will almost certainly introduce instability at the University just as it was emerging from a two-year period during which almost every senior administrator at Texas A&M was replaced," Bednarz said in an e-mail. "In addition, the short tenure of the President and the manner in which her presidency began and ended will make it more difficult to attract the most highly qualified individuals to apply for the position."

"We hope that the resignation brings to an end a time during which the Board did not seek faculty advice and the Chancellor defined 'shared' governance as a process that excluded input by the faculty and other University stakeholders," Bednarz wrote.

Murano was a celebrated internal choice for the presidency in January 2008 when she succeeded Robert Gates, who left to become U.S. secretary of defense. She was a historic selection at a school that was founded as an all-male military institution and didn't admit women on an equal basis until 1971.

Born in Cuba before fleeing with her family in the early 1960s, Murano first joined the A&M faculty in 1995 and rose to become dean of the university's agricultural school. She was also appointed to serve as undersecretary for food safety at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Statement of Dr. Elsa A. Murano, President of Texas A&M University:

"The events of recent weeks have been very taxing for the entire Aggie family. The faculty, students and staff have demonstrated incredible loyalty to this institution, upholding our Aggie values during these exceedingly trying times. I am truly grateful for the countless expressions of support that I have received from our faculty, staff, current and former students, and friends of Texas A&M. I cannot adequately express how much I have appreciated your many letters, phone calls, e-mails, and especially your prayers. They have been truly uplifting and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

"My husband Peter and I fell in love with Texas A&M the moment we set foot in Aggieland back in 1995. This deep and abiding passion for what the university represents, and for the people of the Aggie family, reinforces my duty to do what is best for Texas A&M. For this reason, I will be resigning as President of our beloved university, effective tomorrow, June 15, 2009, to return to the faculty, subject to approval by the Board of Regents.

"Our university is strong and I know that we will weather this storm. I sincerely hope and pray that we will intensify our efforts to protect and enhance Texas A&M's reputation. I trust that the important issues raised in recent weeks will be addressed in the Aggie way ? with integrity, selfless service and indomitable spirit. God bless you all, and gig 'em!"

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