AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tension over a new president at Texas A&M University escalated Friday, shifting an ongoing clash over higher education from the state's other flagship campus back to Gov. Rick Perry's alma mater.
Since 2011 two of the nation's largest universities — Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin — have been a battleground between change-minded politicians and academics who fear accountability and cost-cutting measures are being prioritized over scholarship.
Faculty leaders at Texas A&M say they're now bracing for what they consider a major affront: the possible appointment of a nonacademic as interim president of the 53,000-student campus, and at a time when A&M is enjoying record enrollment and a resurgent football program.
Perry, an A&M graduate, has thrown his support behind Guy Diedrich, the A&M system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives. Diedrich comes not from the classroom but the private sector, and is the former president of the consulting firm Austin Technology Ventures.
That has rankled top A&M faculty, who say the university's credibility is at stake.
"We're going to be a joke run by political hacks," said B. Don Russell, chairman of distinguished professors at A&M who is leading the faculty opposition.
A&M regents could name an interim president as early as Saturday. Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said the decision is up to A&M Chancellor John Sharp and regents.
"The governor believes Guy Diedrich is a qualified candidate with a vision for the future of Texas A&M," Nashed said.
A&M regents might settle on a new leader just days after their counterparts at the University of Texas decided to keep theirs.
UT-Austin president Bill Powers has clashed in recent years with some regents and Perry's higher education agenda. But with his job on the line Thursday, Powers received a cautious endorsement from his frustrated chancellor and regents decided not to move against him. It lets Powers keep the job he's held since 2006, though UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa acknowledged their relationship remains "strained."
Powers is popular on his 50,000-student campus and was named chairman of the prestigious Association of American Universities in October. But he's taken critical views of higher education changes backed by Perry, who has extolled $10,000 degrees at other campuses while pushing for larger ones like UT-Austin to run more efficiently and help students to graduate in less time.
Russell said the A&M faculty's choice for interim president is Mark Hussey, another A&M vice chancellor who is dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. Russell sent a letter to A&M professors that read, in part, "when political forces take over our educational system, it erodes one of the great strengths and freedoms of America."
Two years ago, faculty emotions at A&M ran high as professors asked regents to distance themselves from changes being pushed by Perry and a conservative think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
A&M Chancellor John Sharp did not immediately return a phone message Friday.
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