*Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas A&M Health Science Center CEO Brett Giroir knew that a shakeup could be coming with Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young’s arrival. Before Young started, Giroir and all the other vice president-level administrators at A&M were told that Young had leeway to build his own team.
But Giroir, who made national news last year for chairing a state task force on Ebola, wasn’t expecting to be sent packing during what he presumed was a routine Monday morning meeting with Young. That changed as soon as Giroir walked in the room.
“When you walk in the door for a private meeting and you see lawyers sitting around the table, you know it is not going to be good,” he said.
It wasn’t. Giroir said he was told to resign or he’d be terminated “within 30 minutes.” That ended a prominent and at times controversial career at A&M for Giroir. He garnered praise from state and community leaders for his effort to cultivate a biotechnology industry in Bryan-College Station. But he also dealt with suspicion from some faculty, who were wary of his proposed partnerships with private companies and his perceived closeness with former Gov. Rick Perry.
In an interview Monday, Giroir said he was disappointed to be leaving.
“We thought we had made significant progress here in many ways,” he said. “We are just saddened and heartbroken.”
He said Young told him that the school chose to go in a new direction, with the goal of obtaining more research dollars from the National Institutes of Health and becoming more interdisciplinary. That was a surprise, Giroir said, because the A&M Health Science Center’s research funding has grown significantly in his 18 months on the job. In the past year, federal research dollars have grown more than 65 percent, he said.
“Of all the reasons, that is the most difficult to understand,” he said.
A spokesman for the university said Young wouldn’t have any comment. But the new president, who started May 1, praised Giroir in an internal memo announcing the change.
“I appreciate the service of Dr. Brett Giroir, who has resigned from his position as executive vice president and chief executive officer for the Texas A&M Health Science Center,” Young said in a memo. “Dr. Giroir is an internationally renowned physician-scientist whose work has focused on life threatening infectious diseases.”
Last year, Giroir was tapped by Perry to lead a state task force on Ebola after three people were diagnosed with the virus in Dallas. The task force was asked to review the state’s preparedness and response capabilities and recommend changes.
The team eventually called for the establishment of two specialized Ebola treatment centers, as well as new protocols and technologies to track and respond to infectious disease emergencies.
At A&M, Giroir was perhaps better known for his leadership in the effort to turn the Bryan-College Station area into a biotech hub. That effort, strongly supported by Perry, involved A&M spending tens of millions of dollars to build research facilities on campus to attract researchers and biotechnology companies.
That initiative got off to a slow start. Companies weren’t lining up, and faculty members were deeply suspicious. But Giroir’s arrival to the A&M System as vice chancellor for strategic initiatives helped jump-start things.
In 2012, an A&M team led by Giroir won a $285.6 million contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop a new center for developing and manufacturing medicine and vaccines in the case of a pandemic. That project has been touted as potentially transformational for A&M and the Bryan-College Station region.
Giroir moved on to the Health Science Center in 2013, not long after it has been absorbed into the A&M flagship.
He said he’ll miss A&M, which has provided him a lot of opportunities. In a post this morning on Twitter – his account is @TopAggieDoc – he said goodbye.
“Jill and I will always be Aggies in spirit and heart,” he wrote. “We love the entire Aggie family and will miss the remarkable students and faculty.”
In an interview, he added: “A&M is a fabulous place, but it has a lot of room to improve – like all schools do. We thought there were great opportunities to make strides.”
Dr. Paul Ogden will take over Giroir’s job in the interim, according to Young’s memo. Ogden was previously interim dean of the school’s college of medicine and interim vice president for clinical affairs at the school.
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