Yale Trustee Maurie McInnis has mixed legacy at UT Austin, Stony Brook - Yale Daily News (2024)

Yale Trustee Maurie McInnis has mixed legacy at UT Austin, Stony Brook - Yale Daily News (1)

Maurie McInnis sits on Yale’s Board of Trustees, the University’s highest governing body, which is — among other responsibilities — tasked with selecting Yale’s next president. But some faculty members from other institutions have raised questions about her leadership style.

McInnis GRD ’90 GRD ’96 — who could herself be one of the candidates for the presidency ahead of the Corporation’s Saturday meeting — served as the provost of the University of Texas at Austin from 2016 to 2020 and is the current president of Stony Brook University. Although McInnis has a proven fundraising track record, the News spoke to faculty members at UT Austin who criticized her approaches to faculty hiring, staffing and handling sexual misconduct allegations raised against faculty. At Stony Brook, faculty members criticized McInnis’ record on campus speech and said she was unwilling to engage with faculty concerns.

“Maurie has a kind of tin ear when it comes to discussing issues with faculty,” one Stony Brook professor told the News anonymously. “She doesn’t respond to faculty concerns other than with a kind of public pronouncement that almost comes across as a dismissal.”

Still, several faculty praised her leadership, vision of undergraduate education and skills as a fundraiser, and some challenged criticisms of her leadership style.

Criticism at UT Austin

Five different professors at UT Austin raised concerns about McInnis’s leadership style and lack of consultation with faculty. They also cited her failure to protect faculty on campus. In particular, this professor expressed concern with McInnis’ failure to respond to retaliation against outspoken faculty members within departments.

Of particular concern for faculty at UT were her hiring choices, especially the selection of and supervision of deans, according to one professor, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity.

“She was not seen as exercising good judgment in the selection of some deans,” they told the News. “She was not known for being consultative with faculty or supportive of faculty on some academic freedom issues.”

The same professor also raised questions surrounding her departure from UT. According to them, the perception on campus surrounding her departure was that she did not leave on good terms or entirely voluntarily.

“The belief on campus was that she had lost the confidence of the UT board and the president at the time,” they told the News.

In 2019, McInnis faced protests from students and faculty over the UT administration’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations. Students staged a series of sit-ins outside her office to protest the lack of disciplinary action against two professors accused of sexual misconduct.

A professor who worked closely with McInnis criticized her handling of one of the sexual misconduct allegations. The decision to suspend the faculty member in question led to confusion in their department.

“The people that were under that faculty member’s supervision were left high and dry,” the professor told the News.

McInnis also faced criticism from faculty for efforts to centralize hiring away from individual departments. But a third faculty member who worked closely with McInnis said that then-president Greg Fenves was largely responsible for the decision.

The same professor expressed support for this policy as critical to diversifying the faculty and praised McInnis’ support for the liberal arts. The professor also noted, however, that McInnis often did not communicate effectively with faculty.

“She wasn’t as communicative with faculty as she might have been,” they said.

Andrea Gore, who served as chair of the Faculty Council at the beginning of McInnis’ tenure at UT, also expressed reservations about the centralization of hiring in the president’s and provost’s offices.

A fourth professor, who was on McInnis’ committee to examine the School of Undergraduate Studies, described her leadership style as “authoritative” and said that she did not often consult with people before making important decisions.

“I’ve had the chance to get to know different styles. I think she was much too far in the authoritative and much too far from the consultative, and I think it led to bad decisions,” the professor said. “What happened time and again, is there was a perception that she really didn’t know what she was doing [when making a decision].”

The professor cited McInnis’s decision to cut the budget of Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Services, which they described as being done without consulting with people at the program. LAITS later became a crucial part of UT Austin’s educational response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike many past provosts and presidents of UT, who tend to come from STEM or professional schools, McInnis is trained as an art historian and American Studies scholar.

“She understands the university outside of STEM and professions … [and that] should be really important for a place like Yale,” the third professor told the News.

James Pennebaker, who chaired a committee tasked with reimagining undergraduate education and worked closely with McInnis, also expressed great admiration for her leadership and praised her approach to undergraduate education.

“She’s smart. She’s thoughtful. She’s a fast learner. Her values about undergraduate education were very positive,” he said.

He cited McInnis’ poor working relationship with Fenves as a source of many of the challenges she faced.

Pennebaker also echoed the third professor’s assessment that McInnis’ appointment from outside the university, as is atypical for provosts at UT, made it difficult for her initially to communicate and collaborate with faculty.

“She came in, and it was an overwhelming task for her,” Pennebaker said. “She came in, and she didn’t know the faculty … Bringing in outsiders in the provost’s position is usually not a really smart idea.”

McInnis holds two degrees from Yale but has never held a faculty appointment at the University.

The third professor praised her support for diversity efforts and blamed difficulties with the university’s conservative alumni and board of regents for her departure and that of Fenves, who is now president of Emory University.

Gore also praised McInnis’ leadership but acknowledged that her sudden departure immediately after Fenves’ hindered university administration as the pandemic began.

“University operations were at a virtual standstill, and the entire higher administration was interim,” Gore wrote to the News.

Charles Martinez, the Dean of Education at UT who McInnis hired, had nothing but praise for her leadership. Specifically, he lauded her understanding of the “academic mission” of the university and her commitment to interdisciplinary work.

Martinez also praised her dedication to diversity and inclusion efforts and her “disruptive spirit.”

“I watched her navigate difficult conversations with a lot of care,” Martinez told the News.

Clashes with Stony Brook faculty and students over free speech policies

McInnis has excelled as a fundraiser since taking the helm at Stony Brook in July 2020, landing a historic $500 million donation in June 2023. But internally, her handling of campus protest and free speech policy has sown division among faculty and students.

Over 600 Stony Brook faculty members and students signed an open letter calling for McInnis to revise free speech policies and increase administrative transparency following a March 26 incident in which nine pro-Palestine demonstrators were arrested during a sit-in demonstration at the University’s Administration Building. A group of faculty members held a second sit-in the following day to “draw attention to the criminalization of protest,” an echo of sit-ins McInnis faced during her time at UT.

“The McInnis administration has pursued an intrusive and controlling approach to student protests that requires prior approval of each detail of planned demonstrations, and does not tolerate minor ‘deviation’ from the prescribed plan.” the letter claimed.

At an April 5 University senate meeting, students and faculty members publicly clashed over McInnis’s account of the details that led to the student’s arrest, disputing claims that students were loud and disruptive. As students began to chant “shame on you,” McInnis walked out of the room.

Privately, Stony Brook faculty have expressed frustration with McInnis’s unwillingness to engage with faculty concerns. Two separate professors used the word “polished” to describe her demeanor.

“She’s so polished you feel like you’re dealing with a politician,” one professor said. “And that’s frustrating when you’re dealing with human beings, with matters of students getting arrested and the impact that can have on their academic and professional careers.”

They added that McInnis has failed to respond to emails from various professors who requested in-person meetings to discuss her policies on free speech and that she has generally met faculty concerns with a sense of “intransigence.”

Another professor in the faculty of arts and sciences at SBU called McInnis a “very strong president overall” and praised her ability to “win political battles in support of the University,” including securing the $500 million donation and a $700 million bid to lead the “New York Climate Exchange” on Governors Island.

The professor noted that McInnis brought a “level of scriptedness” that the University had never experienced. They recalled a fundraising-related talk she gave to faculty members and select alumni in October — four days after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — in which she made no mention of the attack. The faculty member later realized that this was because she had been reading off of a teleprompter.

“We’ve never really been that type of University. I feel like she’s very scripted in that regard,” the faculty member said.

McInnis’ response to criticism

McInnis opted not to address the claims made against her and was unwilling to confirm whether or not she would be returning to Stony Brook for the 2024-25 academic year. She did, in her response — through a Yale spokesperson — share contact information for seven faculty members from UT Austin and Stony Brook.

One of the contacts was Steve Hoelscher, former Chair of American Studies and chair of the Faculty Council who also worked with McInnis at the University of Virginia before she moved to UT. He noted his “displeasure” with rules and procedures surrounding sexual misconduct during her tenure, but added that a provost in similar circ*mstances could hardly be expected to handle the issue any differently.

Hoelscher praised McInnis’ scholarship and teaching, saying she understands the importance of the liberal arts. He also praised her direct leadership style, her “data-centered” approach and her ability to learn on the job.

Hoelscher acknowledged frustration among some deans around McInnis’s efforts to centralize hiring and budgeting in the provost’s office but rejected criticism of her leadership style as “unfair” and potentially rooted in sexism.

“I think she did a great job … in a way that not everybody understood,” Hoelscher told the News.

Another contact McInnis offered, Stony Brook Vice President of Student Affairs Rick Gatteau, called McInnis “an excellent communicator and extremely transparent with faculty and students.”

Regarding the nine arrested student protesters, Gatteau backed McInnis’ version of events, saying that the students violated “protest rules” by playing amplified sound throughout the building.

Richard Larson, a professor of Linguistics at Stony Brook, was listed by McInnis as a contact but said he would not have “any helpful views” to contribute.

“Honestly, we’re all a bit in shock to discover that our president, whom we regarded as entirely committed to Stony Brook and its future, is actively seeking a leadership position at another institution, specifically a private one, after many declarations of commitment to public education,” Larson wrote to the News in an email where he copied McInnis.

McInnis has never publicly said that she is looking to be Yale’s next president, and the Yale Corporation has not released a list of candidates. McInnis did not respond to two requests to confirm whether or not she would be remaining at Stony Brook for the 2024-25 academic year.

Saturday’s meeting will be the fourth Yale Corporation meeting of the academic year and the last one before classes end for Yale College. Trustees convene in person and on campus five times a year, with their final meeting of the year scheduled for June 8.

Nathaniel Rosenberg contributed reporting.



Ben Raab covers faculty and academics at Yale and writes about the Yale men's basketball team. Originally from New York City, Ben is a sophom*ore in Pierson college pursuing a double major in history and political science.

Yale Trustee Maurie McInnis has mixed legacy at UT Austin, Stony Brook - Yale Daily News (2024)
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