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Academic chosen as Texas A&M's interim president

  • Associated Press
  • December 14, 2013 - 2:35 PM

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Regents on Saturday picked Mark Hussey, a Texas A&M University System vice chancellor and dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, to be the school's interim president, disappointing a powerful alum, Gov. Rick Perry, who had wanted someone from outside of academia to fill the post.

The Board of Regents' unanimous selection of Hussey to lead the 53,000-student school came as a relief to faculty leaders who had been bracing for what many would have considered a major affront: having the post go to a non-academic at a time when A&M is enjoying record enrollment and a resurgent football program.

Regent Jim Schwertner said he heard from many people in the academic and agricultural communities who had high praise for Hussey.

"I don't know that we can find a better individual to serve as interim president of this great university at this time," Schwertner said before the vote.

Perry, whose weighing in on the selection process by backing someone from the private sector miffed professors at the school, had a muted response to Hussey's selection. "This was a decision for the regents and the chancellor," he said in a statement after the vote.

Since 2011, Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin have been at the center of a struggle between change-minded politicians and academics who fear accountability and cost-cutting measures are being prioritized over scholarship.

Hussey, who will replace outgoing President R. Bowen Loftin, begins his new job Jan. 14. His annual salary will be $425,000.

System Chancellor John Sharp said Hussey won't seek the post permanently, and that a national search will be conducted to find a permanent replacement.

Perry had backed Guy Diedrich for the role. Diedrich, a non-academic, is the A&M system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and former president of the consulting firm Austin Technology Ventures.

That rankled top A&M faculty, who said the university's credibility was at stake. They gained support from public interest groups, distinguished professors and the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education.

Gerry Griffin, a founding member of the coalition, said he was delighted with Hussey's appointment.

"I don't know Dr. Hussey, but I know his qualifications and he sounds like an excellent choice," Griffin told The Associated Press. "I really think the board, and Chancellor Sharp too, deserve a lot of credit for just doing the right thing for A&M."

Regent Anthony G. Buzbee said Hussey's appointment dispels the public image of a divided board that had been building in the run-up to Saturday's vote.

"It sets the table and sends a message," Buzbee said of Hussey's appointment.

B. Don Russell, chairman of the distinguished professors at A&M, said he pleased the regents didn't let political forces outside the university "coerce" their decision.

"This action is an action of integrity," he told the AP. "The most important thing in all of this is that the freedom of the university to make decisions in an apolitical manner without political pressure or coercion is the primary issue," he said.

Perry had little to say about Hussey's selection. He said in a statement issued by his spokeswoman, "This was a decision for the regents and the chancellor."

The decision to appoint Hussey came two days after regents at the University of Texas and UT-Austin president Bill Powers faced off about his job because 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."

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