Sherry Sylvester

Is the Texas A&M J School Flap “DEI Hysteria?”

Shortly after the Texas passage of the strongest DEI bill in the nation, Senate Bill 17, Texas A&M decided to revive its long defunct journalism school by hiring Kathleen McElroy. McElroy is a former New York Times writer and head of the University of Texas Journalism School where she describes her primary skill set on her thumbnail profile as “Diversity & Inclusion and Diversity Training.”

Although news reports indicate there was lots of fanfare surrounding her initial appointment, it’s not clear at this point exactly who hired her. A&M’s Board of Regents doesn’t appear to have been involved.

Judging from the play-by-play report McElroy gave to the Texas Tribune, whoever it was has buyer’s remorse. Her tenured position offer was reduced to a non-tenured position, then to a one-year, at-will contract, which she just rejected. She has announced she will remain at the University of Texas where she is a tenured professor.

McElroy reports that she feels “damaged” by what is described as “DEI hysteria” that has overtaken Texas A&M.

It’s not clear why Texas A&M decided to revive its journalism program after getting along fine without it since 2004. Perhaps it was motivated by the fact that the latest Gallup Poll shows that only 7% of Americans have “a great deal of trust” in the media. That clearly sounds like a problem a bunch of smart Aggies should set about to fix.

Still, it’s hard to see how McElroy is the right person for the job. She likes the journalism most Americans have learned not to trust. She told NPR, “We can’t just give people a set of facts anymore. I think we know that and we have to tell our students that. This is not about getting two sides of a story or three sides of a story, if one side is illegitimate. I think now you cannot cover education, you cannot cover criminal justice, you can’t cover all of these institutions without recognizing how all these institutions were built.”

So guess who decides which side of the news story is “illegitimate?”

Her former employers, the New York Times, wrote a short news story about McElroy’s recent issues at A&M, where they decided to “just give people the facts.” They quote a dean who implied the change was motivated by racism, but they also quoted one of her conservative critics, so apparently they did not believe the views of a DEI opponent were “illegitimate.”

It’s also important to note that, although she bills herself as a journalism professor, her comments about “these institutions” closely reflect the stated mission of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education:

“Engaging in ongoing ways to incorporate alternative narratives in the curriculum and provide robust learning opportunities on the history of racism, colonization and conquest on how higher education and other sectors of society have been complicit in maintaining systems of privilege.”

As for the “DEI hysteria” at Texas A&M, when their Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs testified before the Texas House regarding Senate Bill 17, he said there were “pockets of DEI at the university” but the administration was unaware of it.

But A&M’s State of Diversity Report in 2020 insists that “racism, hate speech, safety and belonging issues are evidence of systemic cultural problems that are enduring trends at Texas A&M.”

Whether the “DEI hysterics” are the result of only a few isolated DEI programs or “systemic cultural problems,” it will be hard for anyone to know because McElroy would make sure that only the “legitimate” side of the argument will be reported. Those with “illegitimate” views will be ignored.

Importantly, not one DEI officer who testified against Senate Bill 17 made a case that DEI programs have led to successful academic outcomes for minority and marginalized students. In fact, the data show just the opposite. At Texas A&M, 82% of African Americans reported they felt like they belonged in 2015. By 2020, that percentage had dropped to 55%.

Perhaps that’s because A&M’s multicultural service programs have created racially segregated programs that divide students by identity group, which, among other things, has resulted in racially segregated graduation ceremonies for Asian, African American, Latinx and LGBTQ students.

The journalists who make up the Texas media haven’t reported problems with DEI on any Texas campus, likely because the concerns of critics are viewed as “illegitimate.” Indeed, when McElroy chose to go to the Texas Tribune with her story, she picked a reporter who has described DEI opponents pejoratively as “conservative Texans—from locally elected public school trustees to top state officials—[who] have labeled several books and schools of thought that center the perspectives of people of color as ‘woke’ ideologies that make white children feel guilty for the country’s history of racism.” She didn’t quote any of the critics.

At the same time, without any evidence such as increased minority enrollment, improved grades, graduation rates or job placement, the same reporter writes that: “DEI offices have become a mainstay on college and university campuses across the country for years as schools try to boost faculty diversity and help students from all backgrounds succeed.”

Of course, efforts to help students from all backgrounds succeed on Texas campuses will continue, unimpeded by Senate Bill 17.

Texas A&M may want to reconsider if it really needs a journalism school. Unless it can find someone who believes in reporting all sides of the news, it may want to chalk up the McElroy experience as a bullet dodged and take a pass.