Sunday, May 5, 2013

LOCAL OXYMORONS: NMSU EDUCATION, LAS MONTANAS EDUCATION


Officials’ attitudes toward and beliefs about education will soon appear starkly in decisions by the NMSU Board of Regents and the LCPS School Board: whom to pick for NMSU president and whether to re-charter Las Montanas Charter High School (LMCHS).  Officials are resolved to squander resources—money, effort, and time—on losing causes: NMSU’s football team and LCPS’s student storage facility.  Committed to sports entertainment or staff employment, neither NMSU nor LCPS effectively and efficiently marshals their resources to provide an education of merit.

The Regents’ impending appointment of former governor and current NMSU business college dean Garrey Carruthers as the next NMSU president is a foregone conclusion.  The Las Cruces Sun-News has recently run several front-page “puff pieces” on Carruthers.  Just yesterday, in an obvious departure from format and scheduling, its website rushed to publish a letter attacking local elected representatives who have fact-based concerns about him.  (Although the paper published the underlying facts, earlier reported in The Albuquerque Journal, the letter smeared these representatives by alleging that they were Swift-boating Carruthers.  How screwy and sick can it get in Las Cruces?  Don’t you ask, and I won’t tell.)  The former publisher of the Las Cruces Bulletin weighed in with a lightweight piece recommending Carruthers on the basis of his occupying these positions.  We have yet to hear from the donor-led community of distinguished local college and high-school graduates, some of whom benefitted from pre-graduation grade inflation.

The reason for this silence is obvious.  Carruthers is their go-along, get-along guy.  He is known to all, friends to all the powers-that-be, but not friendly to those who dare to ask him pointed questions, most particularly, students (a posture sure to endear him to the NMSU community—not).  His experience assures everyone in the power structure that he knows better than to do anything which would unsettle a failing state or a faltering university by suggesting reforms.  With his business interests and business perspective, he understands the pro-business, for-profit importance of public education in New Mexico.  The Regents’ appointment will confirm that, of all the candidates who spoke at length about raising funds and increasing sales (higher enrollments), he has the best qualifications for operating the university like a business.  He is not the man to put his presidency or his reputation at risk by addressing NMSU’s woeful academics.

Carruthers’s supporters have every reason to believe that the fix is in.  After all, as I noted in my 15 Nov 12 blog http://firstimpressionssecondthoughts.blogspot.com/2012/11/regents-pretend-to-transparency-in-nmsu.html, the Regents perpetrated a fraud in pretending to be transparent about seeking public comment without providing it with requisite information to advise usefully.  It then spent $90,000 on a search team to identify weak candidates making Carruthers the inevitable choice. Supporters are so confident in the Regents’ choice of Carruthers that they offer nothing to suggest that his record as governor or dean promises the kind of leadership which NMSU requires.  I credit them with not trying to misrepresent a career in politics or academe without any notable achievements improving the state or the business college.

But, as Sun-News and Bulletin editorial support suggests, all is not going so smoothly as the powers-that-be would like because some people are questioning Carruthers’s ethical integrity.  Their comfort is that what doubters or critics have learned, they have learned too late: that he put his mouth where others’ money was in his attacks on the science of cancer-causing second-hand smoke and on the science of global warming.  Worse, he took payments from special-interest groups but declared that work as “public service.”  These stains on his record of pro-business, anti-science activities will spread to enduring doubts about the integrity of university work in science and engineering.  The Regents may think or rationalize to themselves that Carruthers can lighten or remove the stain by his ability to raise money from corporations for the university.  However, his background will augment, not allay, the suspicion that corporations will pressure him to influence the work in those departments to support business interests, and thereby cast even good work under a cloud.

The Regents’ selection of Carruthers as NMSU president will reflect the corruption of NMSU governance and the conversion of a land-grant university into a for-profit corporate campus.  Their pro-business orientation shows that the Regents care little about the teaching, research, and service missions of a land-grant university which doubles as a Hispanic-serving institution in an area long suffering from poverty, hunger, disease, and, yes, ignorance.  Carruthers is their man for corporate science and continued academic erosion and educational mediocrity.

On a smaller scale, the same squandering of resources and the same commitment to squander more characterizes the seven-year operation and likely re-chartering of Las Montanas Charter High School (LMCHS).  The record is managerially and educationally disgraceful.

In chartering LMCHS, the District failed to institute or monitor administrative practices to ensure accountability of resources during its first four years of operation.  Only then did an audit discover that LMCHS had overstated its capital assets and could not locate or account for over “$83,207 in cash.”  Meanwhile, the school earned a “D” for its academic performance and had a graduation rate twenty-five percentage points below the average for Las Cruces high schools.  Even worse, its first four-year class in 2012 sent 39 graduates to 2-year or 4-year colleges; its second four-year class sent none—that is, not one.  Such is the record.

In 2011, the LCPS District set requirements for reform, but LMCHS has not met them.  No matter: no one in southern New Mexico thinks that past performance, instead of renewed present promises and redoubled expenses, matters in a decision-making process.  Talk about such requirements and standards is just verbal foliage for covering pre-ordained results.  (Another case in point is the recent approval of the DACC nursing program after it spent gobs of money on fewer than two dozen students.  NMBON touted the earlier high NCLEX pass-rate, despite knowing that it was jacked up, not from good instruction over two years, but from a last-term, teach-to-the-NCLEX-test course.)

So the current LCPS School Board, with three members who caved to noisy, special-interest parents protesting adjusted school boundaries for their high school made to accommodate the needs of the new high school, and the School Board president, who caved to them, will re-charter a school for reasons which reflect no credit on anyone.  First, once again, it faces noisy parents and teachers, though fewer in number, advocating re-chartering.  Second, it knows that a decision to refuse re-chartering LMCHS would be an admission of its own failure.  Third, it knows that such a decision would rebuke Superintendent Stan Rounds for poor management, Associate Superintendent Steven Sanchez for poor evaluation, and both for failure to take appropriate action from the start.  For these reasons, the School Board will ignore that, by any standard of accountability, LMCHS is a multi-dimensional failure and an embarrassment to the District, the School Board, and LCPS leadership.

Both decisions—the choice of president and the re-chartering of LMCHS—show power elites exploiting or using institutions to serve private purposes or personal interests, not the public.  For the Regents and the School Board, the quality of the education is not the paramount issue.  From the verbiage expended on the issue, the success of the NMSU football team apparently mattered more to the candidates, as they tried to curry favor with one and all, than did the quality of education at NMSU or their vision for improving it.  They also spoke at greater length about raising money and increasing enrollments.

Likewise, the School Board has no sensible, fact-based reasons for re-chartering LMCHS.  Unquestionably, it is politically impossible to justify segregating some students who present problems to teachers and administrators in the regular high schools.  Apparently, it is impossible to demand that teachers and administrators find ways to solve those problems on the other.  But, if “it is all about the kids,” as Connie Phillips, Maria Flores, Barbara Hall, and Bonnie Votaw like to say, perhaps they should not allow some students to be stashed in Las Montanas Charter High School, which neither educates them nor prepares them for further education.

2 comments:

  1. UPDATE: One of two predictions fulfilled. But Carruthers may not have a free ride: AFTER three of the five regents indicated their support for him, the other two stated their preference for a second candidate.

    The deciding vote was the student regent who is enrolled in Carruthers's Business College; how well he has already learned to please higher powers to advance his interest in New Mexico politics (according to reports, most student opinion was opposed to Carruthers). Does anyone know the last time in recent times that a Republican listened to those whom he or she presumably represents?

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  2. UPDATE: Two of two predictions fulfilled. The School Board does not know the word "no." It made the same decision last year: shape up or ship out. Las Montanas did not shape up, but it did not ship out; it knew that the School Board would not stand by its requirements or standards or whatever meaningless term is full of sound and fury but signifies nothing. The School Board made the same decision this year: shape up or ship out. Get rid of these weaklings who love sob stories and waste resources in response to them for no discernible public benefit.

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