The headline is striking: “NMSU President Couture on leave; few details from university.” But it is not surprising, only saddening. Intelligent, attractive, personable, she attempted a job beyond her managerial competence—she lacks the temperament—; under the thumb of the real powers at the university—Ben Woods and Bruce Kite—; and in thrall to the longevity bonus—please them or lose it.
Her record is undistinguished. NMSU remains mired in mediocrity, both academic and athletic, with morale low and faculty leaving. Ever upbeat in her pronouncements, she undertook no meaningful reforms; indeed, the word “reform” has never been part of her vocabulary in her public statements. New programs were essentially ad-hoc, stop-gap efforts to (appear to) make improvements.
She misdirected large sums of money away from the missions of this land grant college: teaching, research, and service; and into a persistently weak football program which has little public support and less hope of improvement. As president of the Western Athletic Conference, she has presided over its decline and apparent demise.
As presiding officer of the NMSU conglomerate of campuses, she paid little attention to the community colleges on the grounds that she trusted her subordinates. Her hands-off approach to management, which also ignored the basic requirements of supervision and accountability, enabled Don Ana Community College to grow like a business but allowed it to lose sight of its clientele. Thus, after years of suspect performance, the nursing program finally lost its accreditation, with damaging effect on the careers of enrolled students, the hopes of would-be students, and sacrifices of family and friends, and the community, whose need for trained health-care personnel will grow as the population, especially the elderly population, grows.
If Couture returns from leave to resume leadership of NMSU, let us hope—I certainly hope—that she commits to do the job for which she was hired and which needs to be done. She will have to resolve to undertake the reforms, mostly academic, which NMSU requires; to resist the pressures to preserve the status quo and protect the interests of the powers-that-be; and thereby to deserve a legacy as the leader who showed NMSU the path to future improvement.