LAS CRUCES — Daniel Howard is hoping for a kind of homecoming at New Mexico State University.
Howard, hired as an assistant professor of biology at NMSU in 1988, worked his way up to head of the biology department and then interim associate dean before leaving in 2008 to become dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado, Denver.
Howard returned to Las Cruces this week for three days of interviews with faculty, the public and regents as the fifth and last finalist for the presidency of NMSU. Regents are expected to announce the next president on May 10.
Howard said he is not unhappy in the Denver area, but he recalled with fondness the short commute from rural Mesilla, where he and his wife operated a small farm with hundreds of pecan trees on three acres, and horses, pigs and goats on two acres. Having operated a farm, Howard said he is also highly supportive of the land-grant mission of the university, its focus on agriculture and engineering, and the reach of the agricultural extension service into every county in the state.
“We really love the area, we love the institution,” Howard said of himself and his wife, Jennifer, a pediatrician. “We know we can be happy here, because we were happy here.”
Though he currently works at a university without an athletics program, Howard said he understands how important sports teams are in enabling students and alumni to connect with a school. While NMSU faculty members have complained about academic funds being used to subsidize the athletics department, and a football program that has struggled for four decades, Howard said, “Football is integral to the athletic program, and we’ve got to find a way to be successful.”
If selected as president, Howard said his administration would be marked by transparency and shared governance, an emphasis on a “21st century education” that values the cultivation of critical thinking skills as much as course content, and a focus on economic development for the state.
Recognizing that the pool of federal research grants is shrinking, Howard said he would also support the development of research teams to search for alternative funding sources, for instance, from agriculture producers, state government, and even foreign universities, such as partners in China.
Howard also said that NMSU, with three branch campuses and a community college in its system, is well-positioned to be the supplier of “lifelong learning” to the state’s non=traditional students.
“As good as it is, it (NMSU) could be better, and it’s really that opportunity to help it achieve greatness that I’m excited about,” Howard said.