Texas A&M faculty leaders say President Kathy Banks is leaving them out of major decisions

ByKate Mcgee, The Texas Tribune
Thursday, August 11, 2022
Texas A&M engineering dean sole finalist for president
If officially approved, Margaret Katherine Banks will become the second woman president of the flagship university in College Station.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Faculty leaders at Texas A&M University in College Station are calling on President Kathy Banks to better collaborate and be more transparent with professors about changes to the university.

The video above is from a 2021 report when Banks became the second woman president of the flagship university in College Station.

Just weeks before the start of the new academic year, the Faculty Senate approved a resolution this week that said, "shared governance is no longer functioning as envisioned by faculty at Texas A&M University." The faculty group said it wants to reset the relationship with administrators to be more inclusive of faculty.

"This is a matter of sentiment," Kathryn Falvo, a senator and history professor from Texas A&M Galveston, said at a Monday meeting. "I'm hearing from a great deal of faculty and a great deal of students that there is a lack of trust in the administration."

The vote, which is largely symbolic, signaled an escalation in tension among faculty members who are frustrated with Banks' leadership of the 73,000-student university. The faculty has expressed openness to taking additional measures if the relationship doesn't change. Meanwhile, the university argues it has included faculty in many changes made throughout Banks' first year.

Banks was dean of Texas A&M's engineering school before she became president of the flagship university in June 2021. She immediately hired MGT Consulting to review A&M's organizational structure and provide recommendations for change. In December, she announced 41 recommendations that she had accepted and would put into place during the next year.

The resolution argues that Banks did not seek enough faculty input before approving those changes, which has created distrust among faculty in the administration's decision-making process.

"(S)ustainable and lasting change at a major university comes not via presidential decree, but rather by developing collective buy-in for new ideas from its constituent groups," the resolution states. It also calls for Banks to recommit to the academic principle of shared governance.

Shared governance is the longstanding academic principle held at universities across the country that a university's internal operations are run through collaboration of the governing board, administration, and faculty. It is a principle adopted by multiple national organizations that guide universities across the country, including the Association of American Universities and the American Association of University Professors.

The resolution was approved by 80% of the 77 faculty senators who were present at the Zoom meeting and who voted on the measure, according to Dale Rice, faculty senate president.

While faculty had expressed concerns with various changes discussed throughout the spring semester, the resolution signals that they could become a more collectively outspoken group in opposition to Banks' leadership moving forward.

At least one faculty senator said at the meeting that if the status quo continues, it could lead to a vote of no confidence.

"I want President Banks to succeed, but if things keep going the way they're going, things could go that way," said Adam Kolasinski, a finance professor, and senator. "I see this resolution as a way to try to avoid that outcome."

The recommendations Banks has started to put in place include combining A&M's College of Liberal Arts, College of Science, and College of Geosciences into one College of Arts and Sciences. It is also launching a new School of Performance, Visualization & Fine Arts to house performance studies, dance, and visualization programs under one roof. These changes, among others, will go into effect Sept. 1, according to a university press release.

In a statement, the university pushed back on the notion that faculty have not been involved in changes under Banks' tenure.

"It's disappointing that this resolution doesn't recognize the extensive faculty input that has been listened to on every major issue and change that has occurred in the last year," said N.K. Anand, vice president for faculty affairs. "There have been multiple opportunities for faculty opinion to influence decisions. There simply is not a single example given of when both the spirit and the letter of the policy was not followed."

But Rice, president of the Faculty Senate, said there is a difference between alerting faculty of upcoming changes and having "meaningful" shared governance.

"You have to invite faculty into the process early on, and that has not happened in many situations," he said. "And you also either need to take into account faculty concerns or give a full explanation of why decisions are being made that don't take those concerns into account. You can argue all day long that we have followed the rules to the letter, but that doesn't mean that meaningful shared governance occurred."

Other changes include a restructuring of the university's libraries so they no longer house tenured faculty. Tenured librarians will be able to keep their tenure, but new hires will not be eligible for tenure moving forward, according to university spokesperson Kelly Brown.

Banks also approved a restructuring of the Qatar campus, a branch of Texas A&M in the Middle East that offers engineering undergraduate and graduate degrees.

According to a July 14 memo sent to the Qatar community, as of Sept. 1, faculty who work in areas beyond engineering will no longer be able to conduct research. Faculty who teach in areas that can grant degrees will shift from rolling contracts to fixed-term contracts for up to five years, and faculty who teach in non-degree granting areas will be on annual contracts, which critics argue will create more job insecurity. Finally, Banks consolidated school leadership under one dean.

Critics have argued that changing the faculty contract process will make it more difficult to recruit quality professors, and many will leave Qatar.

Beyond the 41 reorganization recommendations, Banks has made other changes over the past year that have received pushback from faculty and students.

In February, Banks announced the student newspaper, The Battalion, would immediately end its print version of the paper and shift to online only. The move sparked a swift outcry from students and alumni. But Banks reversed gears and allowed the paper to keep the print edition through the end of the spring semester.

Joe Ramirez, vice president of student affairs, issued an apology for the way the changes were announced. The school ultimately added Battalion representatives to the working group that is discussing ideas for how to implement another one of Banks' recommendations: reviving a journalism school at Texas A&M.

Banks and administrators also faced criticism for pulling funding and support for an annual drag show on campus called Dragglieland. Students told the Houston Chronicle that they felt previous protests of the event by conservative students and alumni had led to the university's decision to no longer be affiliated with the event. The show was performed last year after LGBTQ groups on campus raised funding to support the event.

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