|23rd President of Texas A&M University|
January 3, 2008 – June 15, 2009
|Preceded by||Ed J. Davis (Acting)|
|Succeeded by||R. Bowen Loftin|
|Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety|
October 2001 – December 1, 2004
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Catherine Woteki|
|Succeeded by||Merle Pierson (Acting)|
Elsa Alina Casales|
August 14, 1959
Miami Dade College|
Florida International University (BS)
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (MS, PhD)
Prior to being elected president in 2008, she served as the vice chancellor and dean of Texas A&M's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences from 2005–07 and as the U.S. Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety from 2001–04. In 2006 she joined the Board of Directors at Hormel Foods, where her 2010 compensation was $192,920.
Early life and education
Murano was born as Elsa Alina Casales in 1959 in Havana, Cuba. She fled Cuba with her family in July 1961, when her parents decided to leave during Fidel Castro's communist uprising. The family fled to Curaçao, and then moved to Colombia, where her father worked for IBM. She later lived in Peru and then El Salvador before moving to Puerto Rico to start kindergarten. Once her parents divorced, she moved with her mother and three siblings into an apartment in Miami, Florida in 1973. Although Murano spoke no English upon her arrival, she enrolled at Miami Coral Park High School. Her mother, who worked as a security guard and a department store clerk, urged the children to graduate high school and attend college. In 1977, Murano graduated from high school, and enrolled at Miami Dade College, a nearby junior college. After two years at Miami-Dade, she transferred to Florida International University, relying on loans and scholarships to handle tuition costs. She received her bachelor's degree in biological sciences from FIU in 1981. Though she planned on attending medical school, she was more interested in research, and decided to expand her educational background. She attended Virginia Tech to receive her master's degree in anaerobic microbiology in 1987, and then her doctorate in food science and technology in 1990.
Professorships and USDA Undersecretaryship
From 1990 to 1995, Murano served as an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Preventative Medicine at Iowa State University. In 1995, she joined Texas A&M as an associate professor in the Department of Animal Science and as the associate director of the Center for Food Safety within the Institute for Food Science and Engineering. She later served as director of the center from 1997 to 2001. During this time, she became a full professor and the holder of the Sadie Hatfield Professorship in Agriculture.
In 2001, U.S. president George W. Bush appointed Murano as the Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the highest ranked food safety U.S. government official. As the under secretary, she oversaw Food Safety and Inspection Service policies, ensuring U.S. meat products are safe, wholesome, and correctly packaged. Over the years in her position, she oversaw dramatic decreases in the number of food recalls. Food recalls, which were rising since the mid-1990s, decreased from 113 in 2002 to less than 50 in 2004. She served as the under secretary before resigning in November 2004 in order to return to Texas A&M.
Return to Texas A&M
Murano returned to Texas A&M in January 2005, becoming the Vice Chancellor of Agricultural and Life Sciences of the Texas A&M University System, the Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the director of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. In December 2007, after controversy regarding the way she was selected, she became the sole finalist for the Texas A&M presidency, previously held by Robert Gates, who vacated the position in 2006 to become the U.S. Secretary of Defense. An acting president, Ed J. Davis, was installed upon his departure. The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents voted 8–1 in support of her — the one opposing vote came from Gene Stallings, who voted for another unspecified candidate. Once Murano had taken full duties as president on January 3, 2008, she became the first female, the first Hispanic-American, and the first person under the age of 50 to serve in the position.
In her first-year evaluation made in February 2009 (available here), Murano received much criticism from A&M System Chancellor Mike McKinney, who conducted the entire assessment. Murano was evaluated on 40 different categories, each rated on a scale of 1 to 5, with a rating of "1" being poor and a "5" meaning "excellent" performance. Murano averaged a 2.7 rating in all 40 categories; she did not receive any 5s. The categories she got a "1" in include "follows through", "acting decisively and timely", "team player". She earned a "2" in "honesty and integrity". On the other hand, she was commended for the new scholarship program implemented for low-income students, her management in dealing with Hurricane Ike, as well as her contributions to the school's academic master plan. Murano wrote out a 30-page rebuttal of the evaluation, indicating that she disagreed with the results. Douglas Slack, a former speaker for the A&M faculty senate, expressed his shock by the nature of the assessment, and noted that the evaluation looked like it was "hastily done" and described it as a contrast to Murano's "well thought-out response".
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Starting with the incoming freshman in the fall of 2008, Murano retroactively eliminated tuition for A&M students whose parents earn less than $60,000 annually. Some have voiced criticism for this action, citing that a student's ability to pay for tuition is not necessarily dependent on the financial situation of his or her parents.
MSC renovation plan
Another criticism of Dr. Murano is the decision to change the Memorial Student Center (MSC) renovation plan. As of 2009, the building continues to be in significant need of structural repairs (regarding safety, compliance, and issues with asbestos) and upgrades to house the ever-growing student body. The project, originally spearheaded by former Vice President of Student Affairs Dean Bresciani, was initially proposed with partial access to the facility during renovation. One year after the project had been voted on by the student body, however, no progress had been made. After the new administration met with the architects and developers it was discovered that the job might require different plans than had been presented to the students a year before by the previous administration. The criticism stems from the fact that Murano changed plans for the renovation without holding another student body vote. A referendum was called for by the students who felt they had been lied to by the previous administration.
VP of Student Affairs situation
An independent student paper, The Anthem, alleged in its March 2009 issue that Dr. Murano lied to the student body and student body president in the replacement of Vice President of Student Affairs, Dean Bresciani, who had served the university since 2004. The article stated that a formal letter offering the position of VP of Student Affairs was sent to Joseph F. Weber, on July 1, 2008, prior to receiving input from "student focus groups." However, in an open letter to the Texas A&M community on March 5, 2009, Murano addressed and attempted to refute the article's claims, stating that though Weber was initially offered a position, it was later rescinded (or "put on hold" according to the July 21 memo) in lieu of concerns by student leaders wishing to have more input. However, members of the university committee questioned the legitimacy of the memorandumo's authenticity. After a meeting between Weber and student leaders, Murano "re-extended the offer"; despite student leaders' written request to hold Weber's appointment and to conduct a national search to include more than one candidate. Furthermore, no documents have been provided to support Murano's claim that she rescinded Weber's appointment, especially a document re-extending Weber's hiring offer after July 21. Murano wrote in the open letter:
As you may have read in "The Battalion" or in other local news reports this week, allegations have been made regarding the hiring of Texas A&M University's Vice President for Student Affairs, Lt. General Joe Weber '72, USMC (Ret.). Specifically, the veracity of my statements in July 2008 has been called into question regarding my desire to honestly seek student input in the filling of this vacancy. I am dismayed by the complete disregard of the value of respect in making such allegations without first providing anyone who was involved in the process, particularly me as President of this great university, the opportunity to state what actually happened during the hiring process.
The facts are irrefutable: On July 1, 2008, I sent the General a letter of offer as a first step in the employment negotiation process, which culminates with the approval by the Chancellor and Board of Regents to hire an individual for this level of position. Following concerns expressed to me by student leaders about their desire to provide more direct input in this process, to include meeting with General Weber, I rescinded the offer, asking him to meet with student leaders. One needs only to ask the General, a decorated military veteran, to confirm the fact that on the week of July 21, 2008, I gave him a document rescinding the initial offer letter, which informed him that I had stopped all actions, including seeking approval by the Board of Regents to appoint him at the July 31-August 1, 2008, meeting. I promptly made arrangements for the General to meet with the student leaders, and then I met with them to get their impressions on his character and abilities. As a result of their direct input, I restarted the process of hiring General Weber as our next Vice President for Student Affairs, and received unanimous approval by the Board of Regents on August 15, 2008.
On June 14, 2009, Dr. Murano resigned her position as president of Texas A&M effective on June 15. In her statement released Sunday June 14 Dr. Murano stated, "This deep and abiding passion for what the university represents, and for the people of the Aggie family, reinforces my duty to do what is best for Texas A&M. For this reason, I will be resigning as President of our beloved university, effective tomorrow, June 15, 2009, to return to the faculty, subject to approval by the Board of Regents".
Earlier in June 2009, the university system released a scathing performance review of Murano's first full year on the job, giving her low marks for leadership and management, including the lowest scores possible for decisiveness and for not being a team player. Texas A&M University System Chancellor Mike McKinney conducted Murano's review, which was handwritten and dated Feb. 9. McKinney previously stated that regents were considering merging the positions of chancellor and president to save money. Such a move could have pushed Murano from her post. Murano disputed McKinney's review in a 10-page typed response sent March 10 to the chancellor and the regents. "Given the complete disconnection between Dr. McKinney's perception of my performance as president and all the evidence to the contrary, I can conclude that this review was not based on facts," Murano wrote.
Murano has complained system officials sometimes have bypassed her in working out agreements with faculty members or private companies to commercialize scientific advances at the expense of basic research. Murano's resignation came at the end of a two-year period during which almost every senior administrator at Texas A&M was replaced.
In a crowded and brief special meeting on June 15, 2009, the A&M System board of regents approved Murano's resignation and replaced her with the chief executive officer of A&M's branch campus in Galveston, R. Bowen Loftin. Murano will return to the faculty under an agreement reached with the university. She will take a year off while collecting her salary of $425,000 and will be paid an additional $295,000. Under the terms of the agreement, she will return as a professor with a starting salary of $260,000.
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- Associated Press (January 3, 2008). "Elsa Murano Becomes First Hispanic to Lead Texas A&M". Dallas Morning News. Retrieved January 3, 2008.
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- "Chancellor gives A&M president poor score".
- "A&M president scores poorly in first evaluation".
- "Murano Gets Poor First Annual Review".
- "Texas A&M expands offer of free tuition, TX".[permanent dead link]
- "Vote 'Yes' on MSC Renovation". Archived from the original on February 21, 2009.
-  Archived December 31, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
- http://aggiehonor.com/images/Open%20Information%20Request%20Packet.pdf[permanent dead link]
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- Murano Performance Evaluation and Response - Official TAMU Correspondence
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- A&M president quits, regents pick temp replacement, AP
| Under Secretary of Agriculture for Food Safety
Ed J. Davis
| President of Texas A&M University
R. Bowen Loftin