LAS CRUCES — A divided Board of Regents voted Monday to promote former Republican governor Garrey Carruthers from dean of the College of Business to president of New Mexico State University.
Carruthers received the support of three of the five regents.
Governor of New Mexico from 1987 to 1990, Carruthers has been dean of NMSU’s College of Business since July 2003. He also holds the titles of vice president for economic development and is director of the Domenici Institute, dedicated to preserving the political legacy of former Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M.
Regents’ Chairman Mike Cheney noted Carruthers’ deep roots at the land-grant university, where Carruthers obtained bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture and agriculture economics, respectively, in 1964 and 1965, before beginning a teaching career at NMSU in 1968.
Noting that Carruthers has been an NMSU student, faculty member and governor familiar with Santa Fe politics, Cheney said, “He represents as many stakeholders as we can expect anyone to represent.”
The two regents who did not vote for Carruthers, Javier Gonzales and Isaac Pino, expressed support for a competing candidate, Daniel Howard, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado at Denver since 2008. He was the only other finalist with roots at NMSU, having served as a biology professor and administrator over the course of 20 years.
Carruthers was not present during the regents’ vote, and, after the meeting, Cheney said he will negotiate a contract with Carruthers that regents are expected to approve at their next meeting on Friday.
In considering Carruthers and the goal of stability in the university’s executive office, Cheney said he asked himself: “What can we accomplish and who already has a jump start on that?”
Carruthers, 73, is expected to bring stability to a university system that since 1994 has seen five permanent presidents, none of whom lasted four years on the job, along with several interim presidents.
Gonzales, until recently chairman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and Pino said they believed Howard, 58, a biology professor and administrator at NMSU for more than 20 years, was better suited to lead NMSU into the future.
“During this time in the history of our university, we need an individual who can steady our ship, who can develop a vision for what the modern-day land-grant institution is for our state, and who can help move us forward,” Gonzales said. “… Dr. Howard is someone who we all can believe will continue to grow the university for years to come and reposition it in a place of respect and credibility that it so desperately needs now.”
As permanent president, Carruthers will succeed Barbara Couture, who resigned in October after less than three years in what Cheney described as a “mutually agreeable” separation. Couture’s resignation was controversial because, under an agreement approved by regents, she continued to receive her share of a $392,700 salary until the end of 2012 and also received a lump sum payment of $453,093 in early January. The regents and Couture were prohibited by the separation agreement from publicly criticizing each other.
Carruthers retained the support of locals despite coming under scrutiny recently for a 26 percent, $43,490 pay raise he received in late 2011 while faculty salaries remained flat, and for his chairmanship in the mid-1990s of an anti-regulation group founded by tobacco giant Philip Morris. Carruthers was national chairman of the group, The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, or TASSC, from 1993 to 1998. TASSC was formed by a public relations firm working for Philip Morris to create doubt about scientific studies fueling increasing government regulation, including laws restricting smoking in public places.
Last week, four Democratic state legislators — Jeff Steinborn, Nate Cote, Bill McCamley and Phillip Archuleta — issued a public statement to regents expressing “serious reservations” about Carruthers’ candidacy because of his involvement in TASSC.
“We have strong concerns over the selection of a president who has a clear history of industry involvement in staking out positions opposing now widely held beliefs regarding public health and the environment,” the legislators said.
On Monday, Cheney said he had not talked to Carruthers about his involvement in TASSC and still hoped to speak to several of the legislators about their concerns about Carruthers’ work on behalf of Philip Morris.
“But I’m confident in Garrey’s ability to be a leader for us,” Cheney said. “That’s not something that I think will be detrimental to us. … You know, Garrey is research-based, he’s scientific-based.”
Cheney said he expects Carruthers to “take the baton” from interim president Manuel Pacheco and continue to run with it.
“That’s going to be the direction of the board. I think that’s his natural desire. He’s a passionate, positive leader, and I’m really excited about the opportunities we’re going to have to make some impact in the future and to accentuate those positive things that are happening at NMSU,” Cheney said.
In addition to Cheney, Jordan Banegas and Kari Mitchell voted to select Carruthers as president. All three were appointed to the board by Gov. Susana Martinez. Pino and Gonzales were both appointed by then-Gov. Bill Richardson.
Carruthers will oversee a main campus with roughly 29,000 students, a system that includes a community college and three branch campuses, and an overall budget of $677 million.
In addition to Howard, the finalists for the presidential post were: David B. Ashley, an engineering professor and former president of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas; Guy Bailey, a linguistics professor and former president of the University of Alabama and Texas Tech University; and Elsa Murano, a food science professor and former president of Texas A&M University.