AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Texas A&M University said on Thursday it respectfully disagreed with comments U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry made a day earlier when he criticized an election at his alma matter that led to the school's first openly gay student body president.
In an opinion article submitted to the Houston Chronicle's editorial board published on Wednesday, Perry, a former governor of Texas, said the Texas A&M student election may have been rigged to secure a result that projected diversity at a campus known for being conservative.
The comments set off a social media debate in Texas where some questioned why a member of the president's cabinet keeping an eye on the U.S. nuclear arsenal needed to weigh in on a student election. Others applauded him for bringing attention to what they see as a problem at one of the state's flagship schools.
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry
U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry is sworn in before testifying at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on his nomination to be Energy secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
President-elect Donald Trump's Energy Secretary nominee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, arrives for the inauguration ceremonies swearing in Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
New Secretary of Energy Rick Perry embraces his wife Anita during during his swearing in ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
New Secretary of Energy Rick Perry is sworn in by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (R) as his wife Anita holds a bible during a ceremony at the Executive Office in Washington, U.S., March 2, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
U.S. President Donald Trump is surrounded by his cabinet, including Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney (L-R), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Linda McMahon, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ben Carson, Vice President Mike Pence, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, as he signs an executive order entitled "Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch" in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 13, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump's Energy Secretary nominee Rick Perry (2nd R) and his wife Anita speak with Defense Secretary nominee James Mattis (R) before the Inaugural Parade in Washington January 20, 2017. Donald Trump was sworn in as 45th President of the United States. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Rick Perry listens to US Vice President Mike Pence speak as he waits to be sworn in as US Secretary of Energy during a swearing in ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) (L) and incoming US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry wait for a swearing in ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Rick Perry, former governor of Texas and U.S. secretary of energy nominee for President Donald Trump, left, speaks with Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, center right, as Ivanka, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, center left, stands before the start of a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017. Trump will press Congress to carry out his priorities for replacing Obamacare, jump-starting the economy and bolstering the nations defenses in an address eagerly awaited by lawmakers, investors and the public who want greater clarity on his policy agenda. Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28: Energy Department Secretary nominee Rick Perry (L) and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary nominee Ben Carson arrive to a joint session of the U.S. Congress with U.S. President Donald Trump on February 28, 2017 in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Trump's first address to Congress is expected to focus on national security, tax and regulatory reform, the economy, and healthcare. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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"We were surprised that he weighed in on the university student body election and respectfully disagree with his assessment," university spokeswoman Amy Smith said in a statement.
Perry said the Student Government Association (SGA) Election Commission made a mockery of the election when it disqualified the person who secured the most votes for a minor procedural violation.
"At worst, the SGA allowed an election to be stolen outright," he wrote.
Bobby Brooks, who came in second, became student body president after Robert McIntosh was disqualified on a charge he failed to provide receipts for glow sticks used in a campaign video.
"Now, Brooks' presidency is being treated as a victory for 'diversity.' It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for 'diversity' is the real reason the election outcome was overturned," wrote Perry, who as governor helped lead the charge to ban same-sex marriage in Texas.
University spokeswoman Smith said the decision was correct, adding "to suggest that the same decision of disqualification would not have been made if the roles were reversed is to deny the Texas A&M of today where accountability applies to all."
In comments to the student newspaper The Battalion, McIntosh said he did not know of Perry's plans to complain about the election and was appreciative of the support.
Brooks has not spoken to media about the Perry letter but has said he wanted to use his new post to help make the school more inclusive.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)