Texas A&M Interim President Mark Welsh will get nod to keep permanent position

Mark A. Welsh III, interim president of Texas A&M University, speaks at a press conference in the Flag Room of the Memorial Student Center on the Texas A&M campus in College Station, on Aug. 2, 2023. (Courtesy Of Meredith Seaver/The Eagle, Courtesy Of Meredith Seaver/The Eagle)

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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp will recommend that the Board of Regents name Mark Welsh III, interim President at Texas A&M University, as the sole finalist for the position, according to two people familiar with the discussions.

Sharp and Board Chair Bill Mahomes met with the executive committee of the Faculty Senate on Monday during lunch, where Sharp shared the news. The Board of Regents will hold a special meeting Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss whether to officially name him the sole finalist, kicking off a required 21-day waiting period between the time a sole finalist is selected and officially appointed.

In a statement released after the Texas Tribune first reported the news, Sharp said that there is an urgency to move quickly and bring further stability to the university's administration, but encouraged the Faculty Senate to still gather feedback about Welsh.

“Like many of you, I am pleased with the direction of Texas A&M under General Welsh's leadership,” Sharp said. “He is moving decisively to advance the university's mission, and he is doing it while ensuring that faculty, staff, and others are properly informed and included."

In the statement, Chair Mahomes said faculty can still submit feedback during the 21-day period before the board considers whether to officially name Welsh the permanent president.

Faculty held a 90 minute discussion during a scheduled faculty senate meeting Monday, including how they should collect feedback from faculty and if they should ask the board to still conduct a national search for a president, or if they should ask Welsh to share his vision for the university during his scheduled state of the university speech on Nov. 29. Multiple motions to approve next steps failed and the faculty senate lost a quorum before it could decide how it should move forward, ending the conversation for the evening.

Sharp named Welsh the acting president in late July after former president Kathy Banks, who had served as president for two years, resigned amid fallout from the bungled hiring of Kathleen McElroy, a Black journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Welsh, then-dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, was asked to serve as acting president until regents could pick an interim. Sharp later said Welsh would serve as the interim president while the university conducted a national search for a permanent replacement.

The news about McElroy, who was hired to revive A&M’s journalism program, received national attention after The Texas Tribune reported that A&M had watered down McElroy's job offer after conservative board members raised concerns with her credentials. McElroy decided to stay at the University of Texas, settling with A&M for $1 million after her hiring fell through.

Days later, the Tribune also revealed that, earlier this year, university leaders swiftly suspended a pharmacology professor with pay after she was accused by a politically connected student of criticizing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a lecture. She was eventually reinstated, but professors and other critics said the rushed response to the complaint creates a chilling effect on faculty who speak openly about their areas of expertise.

Faculty Senate President Tracy Hammond said Monday that both instances had brought “shame on our university as a whole.”

At Monday's faculty senate meeting, Hammond said there is a “strong push” for a permanent president, but that the system's policies had slowly eroded faculty involvement. The university currently has multiple dean positions open, and multiple faculty said the university is struggling to attract good candidates from outside the school because they don't want to accept a position without knowing who will be their next boss.

Hammond told faculty members Monday that Welsh has said if he is named the permanent president, he might only wants to serve for a few years before retiring, though Welsh has not said that publicly. Faculty also shared concerns that the university might not be able to attract top external talents given recent national media attention.

Throughout her tenure as president, Banks was largely criticized by faculty and staff for not involving them in some decisions and failing to communicate why certain changes were made.

Since becoming interim president, Welsh has set a new tone on campus, hosting dozens of listening sessions with faculty, students and staff. He tapped staff to reassess Banks’ overhaul of the university, walking back some changes while staying the course on others.

In recent weeks, faculty have asked Sharp to allow them to assess Welsh before regents considered naming him permanent president.

“We also greatly respect Interim President Welsh and his work to date leading the university. However, we also believe that an open search or a vetting process led by the faculty senate for a permanent president would enhance the reputation of the Board of Regents and System officials, and it would validate the appointment of the new president,” said Hammond in a letter to Sharp last month. “Giving the university — faculty, staff, and students — the opportunity to weigh in on the person who may be appointed to take our institution forward is critical at this juncture in time.”

Sharp agreed to let the Faculty Senate conduct an assessment of Welsh, who was one of the four finalists considered for president when Banks was hired in 2021. Hammond also said Sharp told the executive committee Monday that he is committed to creating a task force that would examine how to include more faculty input in future presidential searches.

The Texas Tribune partners with Open Campus on higher education coverage.

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