On Monday morning, the Texas Secretary of State posted a notice for a special meeting of the Texas A&M University System on Thursday for the purpose of appointing a deputy chancellor and an interim chancellor. The man for both jobs may be Jay Kimbrough, a former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, sources tell the Tribune.
While nothing is final until the A&M regents vote on the matter, sources tell the Tribune that the deputy job will go to Kimbrough and he is likely to also take over the interim chancellor position until a replacement for outgoing chancellor Mike McKinney, who will step down on July 1, can be found.
"Jay Kimbrough and I have been friends for a long time and I think he’ll do a good job as the interim," said McKinney, who also formerly served as Perry's chief of staff.
Most recently, Kimbrough, known as a go-to guy for troubled agencies, has been overseeing an overhaul of the Texas Department of Transportation. His resume also includes taking over as conservator of the scandal-plagued Texas Youth Commission in 2007. "I’ve never really heard him get into really partisan issues," said state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso. "He’s always just been given a project: clean up this, look at that."
That's one of the reasons Pickett and others recommended Kimbrough for the job at TxDOT. "He’s just very, very direct, holds no punches, calls it like he sees it," Pickett said.
Pickett joked that extra space would have to be cleared out in "the interim chancellor's office" for the noted motorcycle enthusiast's Harley-Davidsons. Kimbrough, a Vietnam War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is also known as a passionate veterans' advocate.
"When I’m on that college campus, I’m thinking about all the young guys who didn’t make it back" from Vietnam, said Kimbrough. "I came back for a reason, and that reason is to serve."
Kimbrough declined to comment on the the A&M positions.
A former county judge in Bee County, Kimbrough previously served as deputy chancellor and general counsel at the A&M System. After his stint in the governor's office, and before heading to TxDOT, Kimbrough returned as an adviser to the system.
It's no secret that Kimbrough has intended to return to Aggieland again. When Gene Powell, the current chairman of the University of Texas System Board of Regents, was looking to hire a special adviser earlier this year, he turned to Kimbrough's former position as a model on which to base the salary. "I have quietly checked with A&M," he wrote to Francie Frederick, the UT regent's general counsel, in February, "and when Jay was there before he was at $260k. He is coming back at over $300k in June."
McKinney was quick to note a difference between the A&M System and some of the troubled organizations Kimbrough has been brought in to oversee in the past. "The difference is that A&M is not broken, and those others were," he said.
Some of the policies implemented at the A&M System in recent years have recently been hot topics of discussion — and the focus of a rebuke from the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of research universities — in the ongoing debate about the future of higher education in the state.
Though, Kimbrough may have the confidence of both sides of that discussion.
Senate Higher Education Chairwoman Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, has been outspoken on the topic and openly criticized Perry's approach to changing higher education. Of Kimbrough, she said, "He’s very capable, very dedicated, very fearless, very understated."
Meanwhile, Catherine Frazier, a Perry spokeswoman said, "Gov. Perry has known Jay Kimbrough for a long time. He's proud of Jay's service not only to our country but also to our state in the many capacities he's served. But ultimately, it's a board decision."