SAN MARCOS, Texas – Texas State University hired a new adjunct professor to teach a Texas politics class who has strong name ID.
Robert “Beto” Francis O’Rourke, the former congressman who gained national attention during an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 2018, is set to teach at Texas State to a maximum of 25 students in the spring 2021 semester, the university announced on Oct. 16.
Now, emails and records obtained by KSAT reveal for the first time how O’Rourke positioned himself for the role, how much the public university is paying and hints at what O’Rourke’s future holds.
On Oct. 6, 10 days before the public announcement, O’Rourke emailed the university’s political science department chair and professor Ken Grasso and thanked him for exploring the idea of teaching a politics class at Texas State, the emails show. Records do not indicate what precluded that email, and the university and O’Rourke didn’t elaborate in response to requests.
In that initial email, O’Rourke said it would be an honor to share his own experiences in politics and engage directly with students.
“I would look forward to teaching a class on Texas politics that includes the story of the processes and people that produced our institutions and laws; the shape, size and color of the electorate; the impediments to a fully shared franchise and the efforts taken to overcome then; and what the future might hold for what is now clearly the biggest swing state in the union,” O’Rourke wrote.
O’Rourke said he hoped to engage with students during the course while also sharing anecdotes and stories from the campaign trail that may help illustrate “trends and truths” found in the story of Texas politics.
“In 2018, I won more votes than any Democrat in the history of the state of Texas and helped produce the largest turnout in a midterm election since 1970. I’ve won races, I’ve lost races. I’ve held town hall meetings in each of the 254 counties, from Loving to Harris...,” O’Rourke wrote. “In 2017 I crossed the country with my Republican colleague Will Hurd, producing the longest continuously live-streamed bipartisan road trip in world history (that we know of.)”
A few other takeaways from the initial email:
- O’Rourke would be paid $7,500 for teaching the course, but he asked that travel expenses related to teaching the course in person, should that become possible, be covered by the university.
- O’Rourke said he was currently discussing the possibility of teaching a graduate course at the LBJ School of Public Policy at the University of Texas in the spring and asked Texas State officials if that would present a conflict.
- O’Rourke said he was “writing a book on democracy in the U.S. through the lens of Texas,” utilizing research and writing he had completed.
- O’Rourke preferred the course be taught in an online capacity — “because of the risk of COVID-19 transmission” — with the intention of meeting with students outdoors on a monthly basis if health advisories allow.
O’Rourke formally accepted the position in an email to Grasso dated Oct. 9. “This all looks good to me and I enthusiastically accept,” O’Rourke said.
Grasso responded that the former Texas congressman would be teaching PS 4325, Texas Politics, via a remote learning platform — Zoom. His start date is listed as Jan. 16.
Grasso’s email also confirmed that O’Rourke would “team teach” the course with the department’s associate chair, Sherri Mora, who will “assist in the class’s organization and management.”
On Oct. 20, 11 days after he confirmed he would take the position, O’Rourke finished sending university officials the necessary paperwork for the Human Resources division and had a working network identification for the university system, records show.
But what about necessary accreditation for O’Rourke?
Texas State officials said that the school considers lecturers like O’Rourke — who graduated from Columbia University in 1995 but does not possess a master’s degree generally required to teach in higher education— on a case by case basis.
In a statement, university officials told KSAT that they consider other factors when hiring a lecturer without a master’s degree, such as related work experience in the field and other demonstrated competencies and achievement:
“On a case-by-case basis, Texas State will consider these factors, as appropriate, in hiring a lecturer without a master’s degree: related work experiences in the field, professional licensure and certifications, honors and awards, undergraduate degrees, and/or other demonstrated competencies and achievements.
The university implements an employment justification process in these cases.”
Essentially, O’Rourke was considered for the role because of his roles as a U.S. Representative, member of the El Paso City Council, his statewide and national office campaign runs.
Did the coronavirus impact any hiring at Texas State?
Over the course of this year and as the coronavirus pandemic impacted the state, officials were quick to wonder how and if state schools like Texas State would be affected financially.
According to records obtained by KSAT, Texas State implemented a 9.5% budget reduction in the spring as well as a hiring freeze at the same time.
Jayme Blaschke, the university’s senior media relations manager, said the freeze and budget reduction did not affect permanent employees.
“The hiring freeze does allow for exceptions for key positions. Texas State has not laid off or furloughed any permanent employees,” Blaschke said. “I know other state universities have taken similar measures, but we do not have details on those and cannot offer comparisons.”
Additionally, Denise M. Trauth, the university’s president, announced in a presentation in November that Texas State had over $18 million in funds available for general operations.
Texas State issued the following statement to KSAT regarding O’Rourke’s hiring:
“Our goal at Texas State is to provide our students with a well-rounded academic experience. As an adjunct professor, Mr. O’Rourke will be teaching one class in Texas Politics limited to a maximum of 25 students for the spring semester only.
This is an opportunity for our students to learn about current Texas politics from someone who has recent experience at the local, state and national level. Mr. O’Rourke brings first-hand knowledge to the classroom as a former presidential and senate candidate, a U.S. Representative, and a member of the El Paso City Council.
We are fortunate to have many excellent subject matter experts in our Political Science Department, including former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Dr. T. Vance McMahan, who will also teach a class on Texas Politics during the spring 2021 semester.
Dr. McMahan served as Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Strategic Initiatives under former President George W. Bush.
Texas State faculty and instructors are dedicated to providing our students the opportunity to hear a variety of perspectives regarding the current political environment."
O’Rourke declined to comment on the matter personally.
Read Texas State’s communication with O’Rourke in full below: