Wednesday, October 3, 2012

NMSU REGENTS DISCLOSE WHAT THEY MEANT TO HIDE

This blog is the substance of my letter to Jim Lawitz on his column in today's Sun-News.

An entirely sensible, indeed commendable, commentary which deserves its front-page placement.  There is a balance between disclosure and privacy, but, in matters of public policy and public expenditure, the public has a greater right to know the basis for decisions than senior officials have a right to privacy.  Senior officials should understand that they do not have the same protections that rank-and-file employees have.

Not the least of reasons is that the lack of transparency provides opportunities for politics to play a role in concealing what might be embarrassing—rule number one for governor appointees like regents: do not embarrass the governor—or worse.

I want to elaborate one point in my latest blog.  Both donors and regents have recently emphasized the importance of the NMSU president’s ability to work with donors.  They—and I want to stress the regents—have it backward—a mistake foreboding the continued mediocrity of the university.  So long as the regents regard the donors as more important than the university president, so long they will handicap the ability of the president to focus on, and thereby move the university toward, the very goals which he or she persuaded the regents were the right ones for the university.

The tail should not wag the dog.  Donors who think that a university president should do their bidding are not trying to advance the public interest so much as trying to advertise themselves.  Donors often have their special interests—engineering, fine arts, athletics, etc.—but their role is to support, not direct or control, the university.  Donors should inform the president about their interests, but it is wrong for them to expect, much less insist, that the university support those interests—or else.  Their proper role is to ask how they can support the university.  Only the regents of a bush-league university would lack the sense and the spine to insist on donors’ proper roles and to enlist donors’ support of university priorities.

The president’s state of the university address should be less devoted to touting the university’s achievements than to setting forth his or her vision of the university, and to indicate progress toward realizing it and the short- and long-term challenges.  Any donor can then understand what the university requires and how he or she can help (and still get a pat on the back and a name on a room or building).  And the regents can work with the president to realize the goals which they defined or accepted as in the university’s interests.  NMSU’s regents have plainly worked against the president.

Until the regents learn their proper roles, the university will lack direction, squander resources, and rotate presidents because the regents’ standards of success will continue to be pleasing the governor and satisfying rich elite, not serving the public.  This is what the regents have done behind closed doors but nevertheless disclosed that they have done in their inadequate public statements.

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