An obscure bureaucratic entity, buried deep within Texas A&M, is attempting to rewrite the rules for how governmental bodies make information available to the public. If successful, it could have dire implications for citizen oversight.
At issue is a series of requests by the American Accountability Foundation, a non-partisan watchdog group, that attempted to learn more about the role of so-called “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” initiatives at A&M’s medical school. Senate Bill 17, passed by the Texas Legislature last year, forbade these practices as of January 1 2024.
During the December 11 meeting of the A&M “faculty senate,” Senior Associate Vice President for Faculty Affairs Heather Lench claimed that citizen inquiry was “harassing” and “threatening.”Lench furthermore claimed that AAF’s requests were a threat to “academic freedom.”
Lench was reporting on the work of the “Task Force on Academic Freedom and Faculty Protection,” which had been commissioned by TAMU President Mark Welsh. Texas Scorecard has previously reported on Welsh’s long-standing support for DEI initiatives.
In response, AAF has sent a letter to A&M’s General Counsel Ray Bonilla. The letter warns that the faculty senate’s “suggestions include potentially slowing down processing public records requests to “protect[ ] young faculty” in an attempt to chill use of the PIA and discourage legitimate requestors. By making these suggestions, the faculty are aiming to undermine the goals of the PIA and ultimately frustrate the public’s ability to oversee the operations of the University. By chilling the use of the PIA, they are undermining one of the most effective tools journalists and public interest groups have in overseeing government.”
The letter goes on to request that Bonilla “clearly instruct faculty at TAMU of their obligations to comply fully with the PIA, remind them of the consequences of their failure to do so, and exercise increased oversight over the faculty mentioned below to ensure that they are not surreptitiously failing to produce records when tasked as a custodian with collecting records as the part of a PIA request.”
The letter was also sent to Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Adam Cahn, a Texas-based AAF staffer, told Texas Scorecard he’s questioning, “What kind of a ship are they running in Aggieland?!?”
“The Texas Public Information Act is a vital resource for citizen oversight of state government,” added Cahn. “The A&M faculty senate’s attempt to disembowel this essential tool is both alarming and disturbing. If successful, it could have devastating statewide consequences.”
“While I’m sure A&M would prefer to focus on the business as usual of $76 million coaching buyouts, is it too much to ask that they maintain the integrity of statutes passed by the legislature?” said Cahn.
AAF’s full letter to A&M’s general counsel is embedded below.