The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has unanimously approved Gen. Mark Welsh III as the 27th president of Texas A&M University, a little more than four months after he was named interim president of the flagship university following the former president’s resignation over a hiring scandal.
The board met for nearly two hours in executive session Tuesday morning before giving Chancellor John Sharp permission to negotiate a contract with Welsh, who will have a starting annual salary of $1.1 million, according to the system.
Board Chair Bill Mahomes said regents feel strongly that Welsh will make a “Texas-sized impact” as president.
“His remarkable career embodies Aggie core values,” he said in a press release. “Now his mission is to raise Texas A&M’s national stature in research, education and student experience.”
After the board vote, Welsh thanked the regents for their confidence in his ability to lead the university of more than 77,000 students.
“I just promise I will do everything in my power not to let you down,” he said. “More importantly, not to let down this remarkable university that I’ve loved for a long time. It’s a big deal for me.”
The board named Welsh the sole finalist for the job on Nov. 17 after Sharp recommended the system make him permanent president.
“In his first few weeks as Interim President, General Welsh has moved quickly and decisively to reach out to all the stakeholders who hold Texas A&M University dear and near to their hearts,” Sharp said in a press release. “We are lucky to have such an experienced leader in our midst who supports our Aggie core values.”
Welsh, who previously was dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service, has served as university president in an interim role since July. Former President M. Katherine Banks resigned that month after The Texas Tribune reported that the school had watered down its job offer to journalism professor Kathleen McElroy, a Black journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, after some board members raised concerns about her perceived liberal leanings. McElroy ultimately turned down the job, saying she felt judged because of her race and gender, and settled with the system for $1 million after the hiring fiasco.
An internal investigation found Banks was heavily involved in discussions about making changes to McElroy’s offer, contradicting her earlier claims that she was unaware of them.
Around that time, the Tribune also reported that the school placed a pharmacology professor on paid leave hours after she was accused by a politically connected student of criticizing Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick during a lecture, sparking concerns of political interference in university operations and threats to faculty’s academic freedom.
Sharp said in July that Welsh would serve as interim president until the system could conduct a national search for Banks’ replacement.
Over the past four months, Welsh has been on a nonstop tour to rebuild trust in university leadership, which had eroded over the past few years under Banks.
He immediately assembled a group of administrators to review one of the major sticking points of the Banks administration: The Path Forward, a set of 41 changes Banks initiated across the university that reorganized administrative offices, merged certain colleges, centralized services and added new academic programs.
Faculty and staff largely criticized the changes as poorly conceived and hastily executed, causing confusion among students and employees, and negatively affecting morale.
Welsh gathered the feedback from more than 100 listening sessions on campus and spent one morning in October taking questions from hundreds of employees and students, explaining why he was keeping some of Banks’ plans and changing others.
While some faculty wanted regents to commit to a national search and guarantee more room for faculty feedback in the hiring process, many professors and students agreed with the decision to appoint Welsh as permanent president.
“We’re in a very unique place right now in terms of the university,” Faculty Senate President Tracy Hammond told the Tribune last month. “There are a lot of things the university needs to be doing to make it more sustainable, provide us [with] more structure. And we’re in a very unique time. So, I understand the need for having a permanent president sooner rather than later.”
Welsh, who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1976, had a more than four-decade career in the Air Force before retiring from military service in 2016.
Welsh served as a command pilot, then in various roles like training commander and adviser to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency on military issues. He served as commander of NATO’s Air Command and was the 34th Commander of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe before heading to Washington, D.C., where President Barack Obama appointed him Chief of Staff of the Air Force and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 2012. He moved to College Station to serve as the dean of the Bush School the same year he retired.
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