This Saturday's column [below] addresses Establishment's nervousness about the Caruthers appointment. It is a window into the local culture of political corruption and routine dishonesty at the highest levels of NMSU governance under the direction of the Chair of the Board of Regents, Mike Cheney. I am not talking money or lies, respectively; I am talking about the way in which processes are perverted and representations are distorted for economic and political purposes.
Long before anyone sought or selected candidates for the NMSU presidency, I wrote a blog entitled "Regents Pretend to Transparency in NMSU Presidential Search" (http://firstimpressionssecondthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/11/regents-pretend-to-transparency-in-nmsu.html). The pretense to transparency had a precursor in the opaqueness of the firing of the previous president. As Chair, Mike Cheney is the man most responsible for Barbara Couture's firing and giving her nearly half a million dollars in "hush money." Cheney refused any explanation of the regents' action on the need for the confidentiality in personnel matters. His explanation dodged both transparency about the decision and accountability for the expenditure of public funds.
An obvious inference is that the regents had powerful reasons to conceal from the public and spent the public's money to that purpose. For, if they had just cause to terminate Couture, they could have fired her with little or no compensation and could have stated it with little or no fear of consequences. But they did not have just cause. Cheney and the rest of the regents knew that if Couture presented her side of the story, even if he and they presented their side of the story, the public would be in a position to judge the merits of each side and would judge in favor of Couture's story, not theirs. I interpret a Sun-News story discrediting Couture by the bias of its courses as signaling the sleazy motive for Couture's firing: the wounded egos of local donors, and local and state politicos. So, under Cheney's direction, they made a costly deal to cover-up the truth. They paid Couture for her silence ensured by a non-disclosure clause which would shield them from public censure by the disclosure of corrupt and dishonest NMSU governance. Otherwise, there was no need for a nondisclosure clause at all.
However, silence can signify. Although I cannot credit Couture for taking money in return for her silence, I can credit her for not offering up the more-time-with my family or health/medical excuses customary in such situations. Indeed, it does not appear that Couture had anything like such a reason, for nothing of the sort prevented her from relocating across country and continuing her professional career. I respect the fact that she let total silence speak volumes.
The selection of Carruthers is of a piece with this culture of corruption and dishonesty. After all, ignorance of the reasons for Couture's dismissal diminished the public's understanding of major NMSU issues and of the qualifications desirable in the next president. Carruthers's selection was a foregone conclusion because he would not bruise the egos of petty potentates in the state. If there is a silver lining, it is the sliver of a chance that Carruthers will seek to redeem himself. But the dark cloud of habitual political connivance makes more likely his willingness to make a lot of money and retire in contempt of those whom he has deceived and disserved to his personal advantage.
The Establishment Is Nervous about NMSU’s New President
The selection of Garrey Carruthers to be NMSU’s next president has elicited contrasting responses: almost universal silence from almost all those who the regents think do not count, and almost universal appeals for rallying around the regents’ choice from all those who think that they or the regents count. These appeals are necessary because the choice of Carruthers is problematic even for his supporters.
Immediately afterwards, Mike Cheney, Chair of the Board of Regents, denied, most preposterously, that the 3-2 split among regents along party lines was not political. His ridiculous gloss: the regents cast their votes according to “conscience.” His inane implication: political positions and “conscience” cannot coincide. His incriminating insinuation: regents customarily vote their politics, not their “conscience.” Thus, NMSU gets a pre-owned politico like Carruthers.
Two facts about this split vote are ominous. One is that it occurred at all. The norm in such votes is unanimity, with everyone rallying behind the leader even in the process of selecting him or her. Two is that the casting of dissenting votes came after—I repeat: after—the majority had declared itself. The timing is the Democrats’ sharp rebuke to the Republican regents and a clear warning to Caruthers.
The next sign of nervousness came in comments by former FIG—Faith in God or is it Faith in Garrey?—Bulletin publisher and professing Christian David McCollum. He replied to late-emerging critics first by calling them “negative-thinking naysayers and boo-bugs” (LCSN, 7 May) and then by belittling their criticisms as “distractions” (LCB, 10 May). When McCollum descends to calling people names and discounting issues about ethical conduct, he reveals his discomfort with criticisms raised and published late in the selection process by the Albuquerque Journal and the Las Cruces Sun-News. The reports of Carruthers’s paid-for connections between his conscience and his anti-science positions unsettled many people committed to scientific integrity at NMSU. In his later comments, McCollum further indicated his distaste for, and discomfort with, dissent when he declared that it is “time for the critics to join the majority so that we can all support Dr. Carruthers and help begin to move our university forward.” Clearly, McCollum, not one to join a majority on issues not to his liking, is anxious about Carruthers.
Cheney is, too. Thus, he penned a puff-piece vigorously rejecting comments made by the regents’ fair-haired boy in the course of his campaign for the presidency. Speaking directly to students and perhaps indirectly to the faculty, Carruthers said that he would consider the status and the viability of the NMSU football program. So, when Cheney wrote a column “Football, all athletics play important role at NMSU” (LCSN, 12 May) within days of choosing Carruthers and while negotiating his salary and perks, he was giving the NMSU president-select a public warning to shut up about this and other controversial issues now that he was the boss-who-is-to-be (except for the real boss-who-abides).
Cheney has reason to be worried. Despite his cheerleading, all is not well at NMSU. The faculty remains discontented with the transfer of over $4 million from the academic to the athletic budget. To placate them, he asserted a gross absurdity in any context, namely, that NMSU has a faculty “second to none.” Only a fool or a knave would assert such a thing; only a leader isolated from, and ignorant of, the faculty would assume that it was naïve or vain enough to accept his fulsome praise.
This fatuous statement shows that Cheney’s background as banker and political contributor has not prepared him to competently guide a public institution of higher education. He lauds NMSU as “one of the top economic engines for the state of New Mexico”; that is, as an entrepreneurial, not an educational, institution. His concern for NMSU’s “reputation” as a land-grant university and his request that people work to “enhance the image” of “our beloved university” reflects inappropriate priorities. Note: no comment on enhancing its core missions of teaching, research, and service. Only someone thus out-of-touch, ill-equipped, or politically motivated, would not identify NMSU’s challenges, which extend beyond “psychological baggage,” whatever he means and whoever he thinks carries it; and would deplore “those [malcontents] in our midst who choose to emphasize our challenges.”
Cheney’s biggest problem is that Carruthers, if so inclined, can do whatever he wants to burnish his tarnished reputation before he retires. He can disagree that Division I football is justified because a few Aggies went pro; he can demote football and promote academic reforms. Unwittingly, the regents have hired someone who can decide to be his own man and whom they cannot fire. We shall see.
McCollum, Cheney, and, following their lead, the editors of the local papers are calling for everyone to unite behind this political appointment. They and other supporters dislike the idea of debate, much less dissent, about NMSU governance, purposes, priorities, and policies. Plainly, the Establishment is nervous.