Aerial view of TAMU

Remarks to the Texas A&M University Student Senate

M. Katherine Banks

February 22, 2022

Texas A&M University students,

I was honored to speak to the Student Senate last night. There were many thoughtful and insightful questions posed. One senator asked if I would share my thoughts with the wider student body, and I am pleased to do so. My statement to the Student Senate is below.

There were several questions from the Student Senate related to communications between students and the administration. Both Vice President of Student Affairs Joe Ramirez and I have heard our students clearly: We need to do better.

We will focus on increasing communication and cooperation with students and look forward to taking the next steps with student leaders to achieve that goal.

Remarks to Texas A&M Student Senate:

Howdy! Thank you for inviting me to speak with you. I would like to begin with a statement and will answer questions afterward.

First, I want to commend you on your dedication to serving your university through Student Senate. This organization serves a critically important student advocacy role for our campus.

Many emotions come to mind when I reflect over the events of the last 10 days. You may be surprised to hear that one of those is pride.

I am proud to be leading a university where the student body cares about issues of free speech, democracy and individual rights.

I am proud that our former students support the current students in their quest for autonomy and justice.

And I am proud that our university administrative processes allow for open dialogue, discussion and debate.

Now, I would like to speak briefly about The Battalion.

Given national media trends, there was an opportunity to move away from a weekly print issue and enhance daily digital content while still having students experience print media through special magazine issues.

Although communication about this idea occurred within Student Affairs in mid-January, the critically important communication with the students did not happen as it should have.

This breakdown in communication happened under my leadership and I take responsibility.

If the communication had occurred, the conversation would have been very different and the events of the past week could have been avoided.

I am also disappointed that the message about my commitment to journalism and a free press has been overlooked.  

Last fall, I announced that we would bring back a journalism department to our campus. That action does not align with someone who does not support a free press.

Our thoughts regarding The Battalion in print were based only on undeniable trends in the industry, not any particular Battalion article, advertisement or opinion. At no point were there any plans approved for a reduction in Battalion funding or loss of MSC space. Again, my commitment to free speech remains strong. I would never attempt to influence or control the content of the student newspaper. It is and must remain an independent voice of our students.

After the strong response, it was clear that more input was needed. I asked for these issues to be considered by the Journalism Working Group.

When I learned only one student was on the Working Group, I asked that the current editor, another Battalion staffer and their advisor be added to the group.

The working group also includes industry experts, working journalists and four former Battalion editors. 

Let me be clear: I truly believe that the students are the heart of this university and our primary mission is your education. 

We are a united community — including faculty, some of whom have been Aggie teachers for decades; staff who support all aspects of our operations; former students who dedicate their time and support to ensure that we have the resources necessary to succeed; and of course, you, our current students.

We collectively are the Aggie Family and we all stand together at the forefront with the responsibility to ensure that we complete our educational mission successfully.

Regarding student input, I learn a great deal from my regularly scheduled group meeting with elected representatives from the Student Government Association. 

I also benefit from regular one-on-one meetings with the Student Body President, Speaker of the Student Senate, and President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government.

Student leader input is an important component of campus decisions.

That’s why I included the Student Body President on the Path Forward Strategic Implementation Committee and ensured there are student leaders on other working groups where there is impact directly on students.

As Vice President Ramirez wrote to the student body this morning, we are working together to correct any communication problems and we are both committed to connecting with students for input and feedback more often.

Now, I understand you may be interested in the Path Forward progress so I would like to provide a brief status report.

As you all know, we are embarking on a large, ambitious administrative reorganization of the university. An independent consultancy, MGT, performed an analysis of the university’s administrative structure, organization, and operations.

This review did not include assessment of curriculum, courses, degree programs or promotion and tenure policies.  

Administrative bloat and isolated college silos are common in universities. Universities can be incredibly bureaucratic.

It’s imperative that we streamline operations to ensure every dollar is directed toward education of our students.

I met with faculty, staff, students and student leadership and former students, about developing a plan.

MGT conducted a six-month review, over which time MGT conducted interviews, surveys, and an in-depth operational review. They produced a report in October, which was shared with the entire Aggie community.

I asked Aggies for feedback. I read every submitted comment — 1,200 pages of them — and considered them carefully. I also met with a variety of organizations’ leadership teams to discuss the response from their groups.

On Dec. 14, I released the Path Forward for Texas A&M’s administrative reorganization.

That document included decisions about the recommendations. Some were accepted and others were rejected.

I asked for nominations, including self-nominations, to serve on the working implementation groups.

There are 41 working groups with over 550 participants. Working groups were identified by group leaders based on group balance and background.

All working groups are now meeting and providing reports to Vice President Greg Hartman, who is the chair of the Strategic Implementation Committee. Again, your Student Body President represents students on that committee, along with the Faculty Senate Chair and Staff Advisory Council Chair.

Some working groups are moving forward rapidly. Others will take more time. The goal for the working groups is to complete their charge by Sept. 1, when the actual implementation will begin.

Remember, these groups are responsible for planning for implementation, not the actual implementation. New operations will require an additional year for implementation to be truly functional.

Again, there are no changes to existing degree programs or degree requirements. You will continue to attend classes as usual, complete the same curriculum and receive the same degree. 

Some have expressed concern about the number of changes and how quickly they are being implemented. However, this process began last June and by September the process will have taken 15 months to complete.

We have problems we’ve never faced before. We have opportunities we’ve never had before. This is a unique time in our history to position us to become one of the top universities in the nation.  I have an obligation to take the steps necessary to achieve that goal.

Before we move to questions, I want to briefly explain my consistent motivation as president of this great university. For many reasons, I am passionate about higher education.

Higher education gave me the opportunity, a person from a small coal-mining town in Kentucky, the chance to make a difference — a life-changing opportunity. And I want that for each of you, too. For higher education to make a difference, it must be relevant now and in the future. I want your education to be meaningful.

And as Aggies, I want you to influence the world.

All of my actions are driven by this passion. To provide our students opportunity, relevance and influence.

I’m here tonight to listen to your feedback and ideas and chart a way forward for us to keep the spirit and drive for excellence alive and well in Aggieland.

I would be happy to answer your questions.