The NMSU Regents have embarked upon a listening tour to obtain the views of interested citizens about the characteristics desired in the next NMSU president. They appear perfectly serious about this undertaking, but they cannot be taken seriously. The sole but conclusive piece of evidence is their payment of nearly half a million dollars in hush money to the previous President, Barbara Couture, who, they claim, resigned on her initiative and from whom the public has heard nothing.
From these facts follow three inferences. One, the Regents have used (and will continue to use) public money for the political purposes of preventing embarrassment from the exposure of unsound or unsavory university policies and practices. Otherwise, they would have invited President Couture’s views of important university issues as the interim President has invited such views from Executive Vice President and Provost, Wendy Wilkins, who did resign on her initiative.
Two, by paying for Couture’s silence, the Regents prevented the public from acquiring a better-informed understanding of the problems—educational, administrative, financial, personnel—which the next president will face, and, thus, of the qualifications which the next president should have to address them. In other words, the Regents are pretending to seek advice the value of which they have diminished by denying the public pertinent information.
Three, by thus diminishing the likelihood of pertinent advice from the public, the Regents have enhanced their opportunities to select someone less prepared to address NMSU problems and more prone to comply with guidance from themselves and the powers-that-be to whom they really listen. Their appearance of openness—the vogue word is “transparency”—is really their cloak for continued secrecy and intrigue in the conduct of the university’s affairs, including the choice of the next NMSU president.
The qualifications which the Regents and their advisors in the senior staff desire in the next NMSU president will be those appropriate to puppets. When new to the job, Couture probably acceded to the advice of Ben Woods and Bruce Kite and even, though unwisely, made Woods her Chief of Staff. Their interests have not been in Couture’s or NMSU’s success, but theirs to wield power in the university and the community. Later, as she attempted to improve NMSU’s performance of its fundamental land-grant missions: teaching, research, and service, Couture increasingly struggled against their efforts to control her. Meanwhile, they betrayed her by encouraging discontent among prima donors and athletic supporters (pun and double entendre intended).
Under the circumstances, we need to look at the NMSU Regents, who, though devoid of educational expertise or commitment, are appointed because they are compliant and complaisant. Their willingness to do the Governor’s bidding and eagerness to please the Governor by avoiding anything controversial, even if meritorious, portends no good for NMSU. So, after sitting through hours of public testimony giving them interesting but inconsistent recommendations across the board, they will have the freedom to decide as they always intended but to justify their decisions by reference to compatible comments.
The Regents know, or should know, what qualifications which NMSU requires in its next president. The question is why they do not state those requisite qualifications and launch a search for suitable candidates. The answer is that they would reveal either their incomprehension of NMSU’s real needs or their concern that an impressively qualified candidate would not tolerate direction by the powers-that-be. Otherwise, they would declare that NMSU needs a president who, unlike recent ones, has the essentials of strong leadership suitable for a major state university.
NMSU’s next president should be (1) a nationally recognized, distinguished scholar who can command the respect of the university community (the Governor and state legislators must learn to appreciate someone of academic distinction, managerial competence, and strength of character and conviction); and have (2) a solid record of commitment to excellence in the missions of land-grant universities, (3) a cogent, compelling, and communicable long-term vision, goals, and objectives suitable to NMSU, (4) a strong record of effective managerial or administrative experience at senior levels in higher education, and (5) fluency in Spanish.
In addition, the next president should understand the need to educate the Regents to their responsibilities in supporting their choice; to encourage intra-college, intra-department, and inter-disciplinary cooperation; and to inform the public about NMSU’s problems, challenges, undertakings, and achievements. He or she should insist on the authority to hire, re-assign, or fire senior administrative and academic personnel on the basis of their performance in support of his or her vision, goals, and objectives for NMSU. He or she should have unqualified support in dealing with donors and ancillary programs like athletics to ensure their support of NMSU’s land-grant missions. Anything else means a repetition of the insiders-rule approach to university governance.
The Regents’ recent performance, now extended to this charade, forebodes their selection of another NMSU president unable to advance, or prevented from advancing, its core missions.