Never before has higher education appeared to be in such crisis at Texas A&M as it is tonight. Currently trending items on Facebook, on Dec. 18, 2015, 9 p.m. CST, note a most interesting series of the top three, appearing in everyone’s Facebook feed each time you visit the site’s home page.
The second top trending item on the world’s largest social network belongs to Texas A&M and reads: “Kevin Sumlin: Texas A&M Chancellor Reportedly Looking Into Terminating Football Coach’s Contract.” Given all reports that note that Coach Sumlin has a $20,000,000 buyout when his six-year extension was signed, that’s a pricey rumor to be floating around the internet, and highly likely is more possibly just stirring the pot to see what floats up the rumor mill. But it’s also one of the hottest topics on Facebook that’s the real issue at hand. There are other things that have also impacted the academic aspects of Texas A&M in the news this week, but suddenly, no one appears to be musing over those.
Following the breaking news link to the first item listed, notes “Chancellor John Sharp is reportedly frustrated with Sumlin after the Aggies saw quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray transfer to other schools. Texas A&M finished the season at 8-4.”
The website SaturdayDownSouth.com next reports a secondary story with a nuance of difference, specifically the item, “Texas A&M chancellor mulling decision to fire Sumlin, AD Hyman.”
The second item is more relevant than the first, actually, as it appears that the Texas Aggie Head Athletic Director, Eric Hyman, is not the one making any statement on the Aggie football program at this time, just 12 days before the Music City Bowl Game, “BowlNanza,” in which the Aggies will face the Louisville Cardinals (7-5). The Aggies have a fabulous quarterback in Jake Hubenak, fresh from the same Blinn College top JUCO spot that NFL QB, Cam Newton, held before transferring to Auburn. Hubenak is tall, taller than the two who left, and he has a good arm, and virtually no presence on social media, to speak of. He says he’s proud to be an Aggie and gives Aggies total hope for the future, and Connor McQueen is a good backup quarterback; the duo just never got two minutes’ worth of time because of the programmatic hoopla over Kyle v. Kyler.
It is curious tonight’s news reports are not quoting stories regarding what Texas A&M’s athletic director is saying about the future of the head football coach, in light of the transfer of not one, but two, five-star, blue-chip high school football recruits from Arizona (Kyle Allen) and Texas (Kyler Murray). That would be expected due to ordinary protocol of the organization chart, as that’s what happened in November 13, 2014, when Athletic Director Eric Hyman wrote a termination notice to longtime beloved head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director, Karl Kapchinski, in a decision that caused many loyal Aggies to rally support for Kapchinski, a former student who was 30 years in his job.
A Nov. 19, 2013, story in the Bryan-College Station newspaper noted “’The decision is based on your unacceptable job performance,’ Hyman wrote in Kapchinski’s termination letter, which was approved by university President R. Bowen Loftin the morning of the firing.” That was one of the most blatant public humiliations that was so undeserved that Kapchinski endured. Yet, not one regent took a look at over 30 years of heralded service to even question the Athletic Director, via memo, initiating dialogue with the Chancellor–their designee–with copies to the President and the AD, following standard chain of command.
Failure to object to this injustice was quite the opposite tactics employed by the Regents some 20 years ago when, ever so ironically, Kyler’s dad, Kevin Murray, was the QB, Jackie Sherrill was the Head Football Coach, and a full heaping helping of trouble was being dished up by the Regents, who micromanaged with panache, with the excuse being because it was football! Aggie football remains top priority at Texas A&M University, still, yet, no matter how many Top 10 national polls A&M’s media relations contractors attempt to bring to the dance to pretend otherwise.
Human resources protocol and personnel procedures, based on the university’s organizational chart, would necessitate that any discussion or action regarding the tenure of Aggie Head Football coach Kevin Sumlin would be first initiated by Athletic Director Eric Hyman, and then would be conceivably approved by Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young. But the media is not currently hearing, nor are they asking, questions of either Hyman or Young. That point seems to escape the media and football fans that are making inquiries tonight, fueling the rumor mill following this week’s jettison of both first-call quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray.
Instead all eyes, again, are on John Sharp, so much so that, in fact, the Houston Chronicle posted a story at 10:30 p.m. tonight, noting “Sharp on Friday night described the report (regarding Sharp looking into firing Aggies’ coach, Kevin Sumlin) as a ‘fairy tale’ and ‘completely false’ and perhaps ‘out of the imagination’ of the reporter, and suggested maybe someone, or a couple of people, were even misleading the reporter just to mess with him.”
Erudite comments like “mess with him” are stock in trade and de rigueur for Chancellor Sharp, who, back in September this year, was given an annual salary bump of $400,000 to $900,000 base salary for the coming five years.
“Fairy tale” is just another fine Aggie colloquialism, along the lines of “Got a little story for ya, Ags,” as was standard fare for a one-time agricultural and mechanical college, steeped in wonderful, prized and important traditions that all former students fear will actually one day disappear. But since Texas A&M University has been trying so hard for world-class status, you would think the language used by the primary leadership could be just a tad more erudite or esoteric.
Probably not likely to be the case, since a June 16, 2015, story in the Houston Chronicle noted John Sharp describing Aggie president Michael K. Young:
‘I have got a hooking bull on that A&M campus now and all I have to do is keep him fed,’ Sharp said of Young, the new Texas A&M University president….I sure did have a lot of people saying, ‘How the hell did this happen’?”
The preceding quote was the perception of how did Texas A&M manage to land a president of Dr. Young’s oft-described appeal as a leader of a world-class university when, as multiple online sources show, had he stayed at the University of Washington for just one more year, his contract there called for Young to receive a bonus of at least $1,000,000. Many times, people just need a change of pace, and venue, no matter what the monetary sacrifice they must endure.
More of John Sharp’s “Aggietalk” is endearing to those who support him strongly and it’s a tad irritating and even bigger tad more embarrassing when one would simply not expect the Chancellor of Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, UCLA or USC to liken their presidents to a hooking bull.
That’s the real crisis in higher education at Texas A&M, that people aren’t as deeply concerned about the intellectual acumen of its top leadership, while all they seem to focus on is 8-4, 9-3, 10-2, or an NCAA championship title. Texas A&M football, like the Chicago Cubs baseball team, has the most loyal fan base, bar none, in the world, it is said by many. And that’s wonderful. But the biggest mystery, in the midst of all this, is that the Wizard of Odds (er , Oz), hiding behind the curtain, is betting on the fact that loyal Aggies will be so focused on the football dilemma, that they’ll entirely forget the major failure in Israel, the biggest misstep and faux pas in Aggieland since Ross Margraves led Texas A&M’s Board of Regents.
Just four days ago, on Dec. 14, Texas A&M was front and center in national news in the New York Times, for failure to conclude a plan for a “$200 million campus in the Israeli city of Nazareth, and instead is launching a $6 million marine research center that’s expected to contribute to critical projects Israel is pursuing along the Mediterranean Seas.” The most relevant pullout quote from the story came from John Sharp, to the AP, regarding “A&M changed its plans because elected officials in Nazareth wanted to dictate the direction and aim of the campus.”
Said John Sharp, ‘We’re not going to put our name on something we didn’t have total control over.’” And no one batted an eye.
So, given that the Aggies spent over $400,000,000 dollars to renovate Kyle Field and then, when presented with two blue-chip, five-star celebrity recruits as quarterbacks leaving the same week, before the end of the season, before the big bowl game just 12 days away, clearly something disturbing is going on behind the scenes. Sports media and bloggerworld columnists pepper the air with questions and speculation, focusing directly on Chancellor Sharp, to seek answers, rather than the Aggie Athletic Director or the TAMU President, some two layers below the Chancellor’s level. Until Christmas, media will likely focus strictly on Aggie football team preparation during the Christmas break, as they ready for their bowl game and speculation about football, all day and all night until the next hot rumor or trending topic breaks. Will Sumlin be bought out? Should he be? Will the AD have to pack his bags? Why? Did he disagree with someone who wanted Sumlin gone? So many questions swirling about. And yet, not one question about what happened to Texas A&M at Nazareth–Peace Campus?
In just three hours’ time since beginning this story, Kevin Sumlin is officially the top trending item on Facebook, followed by JPMorgan Chase paying $307 M for failure to disclose conflicts to clients (close but still not as interesting as Aggie football), followed by the Royal Couple at a close third place. Then Nicole Kidman, a lady in San Antonio winning $7.5M from a scratch-off ticket, then John Krasinski’s abs, and some other issues regarding a Christmas Tree and Gillette suing the Dollar Shave folks.
And suddenly no one is asking questions about why the Texas A&M Chancellor and the former Governor of Texas (who sported a yarmulke during the meetings) went to Israel to meet with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron, in October 2013 to announce their vision for establishing their “Texas A&M University at Nazareth —Peace Campus,” per the Oct. 22, 2013, story in Bryan College Station Eagle.
All eyes on Texas A&M are, once again, back on football, and no one cares to even question what happened in the past 700 days with this exceedingly relevant academic decision and international educational initiative. Texas A&M spent $450,000,000+ to renovate Kyle Field. And the $200,000,000 potential investment in Israel was reduced to $6,000,000 to study marine life. Microphone drop. Crickets. Total silence. Not one question is asked by the media about “what happened.” Mission accomplished? Perhaps.
Some two years later, there will be no Aggie Peace Campus in Israel, and, thanks to the welcome (to some) diversion of Aggie football, there will be no peace in Aggieland for some time to come. And to think that just last week, the biggest kerfuffle among the Aggie faithful was the absence of maroon in the Adidas-branded Aggie football uniforms. The more things change, the more they…get worse.
Some traditions should be kept sacred in Aggieland, and it’s really about time that Aggie fans can read their newspapers without seeing terms like “tying him down” and “hooking bull” when used to describe the top echelon of academic leadership in a school ranked 14th nationally in the number of National Merit Scholars, where over half of those are enrolled in engineering.
It was Horace Mann who said, “It is well to think well; it is divine to act well.”