A bipartisan group of top state lawmakers is making a public case for New Mexico State University to keep Chancellor Garrey Carruthers in place – with at least one legislator suggesting politics might be pushing Carruthers out of the job.
Carruthers announced earlier this month that he would retire next summer at the end of his contract; however, he has also signaled a desire to stay longer.
“I have indicated to many people in the last six months that I would be willing to stay on for another two years,” Carruthers, who has been chancellor since 2013, said Thursday in a written statement.
It is unclear whether NMSU regents told him his contract would not be renewed; Carruthers declined to discuss his conversations with regents, according to an NMSU spokesman.
The chairwoman of the NMSU regents, a board appointed by the governor, did not return a Journal message Thursday.
But several New Mexico legislators are weighing in on the matter, saying they would like the regents to consider retaining Carruthers, an NMSU alum and former Republican governor.
Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, this week submitted a guest column to the Journal, touting Carruthers’ accomplishments in the role. A trio of other lawmakers – Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming; Sen. Steven P. Neville, R-Aztec; and Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces – also wrote a letter to the Journal in support of extending his term at NMSU. Smith is chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Neville is a member. Papen is president pro tem of the New Mexico Senate.
Both letters compliment his leadership through what have been trying budgetary times for public institutions and New Mexico as a whole. They also list his various achievements.
“NMSU needs consistency and stability of leadership to come through the current financial challenges it now faces,” Neville, Papen and Smith wrote. “The last thing we need is another administrator who views NMSU as a steppingstone to a bigger job, who has to learn about the university from scratch. We hope the regents would see the wisdom in keeping Chancellor Carruthers – who is extremely capable – at the helm for an additional two years.”
McCamley’s letter also notes Carruthers’ vocal criticism of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez’s decision earlier this year to veto higher education funding amid a dispute with the Democrat-controlled Legislature over the state budget. The money was ultimately restored during a special session, but Carruthers wrote and spoke about the veto’s damaging effects.
McCamley points out that Carruthers was the lead author in a letter from New Mexico university presidents that said Martinez’s veto damaged the universities by creating uncertainty for faculty, staff and students and that cuts would be devastating.
McCamley’s letter also pointed out that Carruthers testified before the Legislature that as a Republican governor he had raised taxes to keep New Mexico education on track.
“This raises the possibility that the decision to end his tenure earlier than he would like is being made because of politics,” McCamley wrote. “If that has even the slightest bearing on the issue, it is wrong. I don’t agree with Carruthers on everything, and as a Democrat in these divisive times, supporting a Republican leader is not easy. But his strong, clear, consistent, and forward thinking leadership has resulted in a string of successes for NMSU in very, very hard time. It cannot be ignored.
“My father always told me to stand up and admit a mistake. If Carruthers is being let go because of political pressure, I encourage NMSU’s decision makers to do the same and keep him.”
The Journal asked the governor’s spokesmen Thursday if her administration had given the NMSU regents direction about Carruthers’ retention.
They did not respond.
McCamley, a 2001 NMSU graduate and one-time president of NMSU Associated Students, said in an interview he had not spoken to the regents and did not know for sure politics were at play.
“All I know is I know that’s a possibility, and if that is the case – and I hope it’s not, frankly – but … if that’s one of the reasons he’s not been extended the contract, I hope that is discussed among the regents. I hope he’s given the chance to have another two years,” McCamley said, adding that an extension would lend some additional stability to a school that has a history of leadership turnover.
Neville, in a Journal interview, said he did not know if politics played a role in Carruthers’ resignation, but “I’m not going to discount that.”
However, he said his desire to see Carruthers stay at NMSU is not a political matter.
He said Carruthers has a “depth of experience” that would be difficult to replace.
“I just know that Gov. Carruthers is a good guy to be running the show down there, and if he’s willing to do that and is capable of doing it, we ought to let him do it as long as it’s feasible,” he said. “That’s purely in the interest of the university.”
Full letter from state senators John Arthur Smith, Steven P. Neville, Mary Kay Papen
NMSU Regents Should Keep Garrey Carruthers at the Helm in Troubled Times
We and other legislators had hoped that the regents of New Mexico State University, in accepting the recently announced retirement of Chancellor Garrey Carruthers’ at the end of his contract next year, nonetheless would ask him to stay on for two more years. Chancellor Carruthers’ record of vision and leading the institution is outstanding, and big challenges lie ahead. The university needs him.
NMSU and all of our public universities in New Mexico today are facing extraordinary, difficult circumstances driven by state budget cuts and unstable state revenues. In his time leading New Mexico State, Chancellor Carruthers has made the hard decisions necessary to maintain this key institution, body and soul. His long, distinguished career demonstrates real commitment to the university, to New Mexico, and to his community.
Garrey Carruthers first set foot on the NMSU campus in 1959 as a student. He later went on to earn two degrees from NMSU and became a professor, dean and vice president. He is the only NMSU graduate ever to have served as the university’s president and chancellor.
Since he took the helm in 2013, NMSU initiated ambitious and successful programs to strengthen the university, including Aggie Development Incorporated in 2014. The corporation allows NMSU to better manage and develop its land, property and water assets. It also allows NMSU to operate more like a business in turning some of its assets into revenue streams for the university.
In 2014, NMSU partnered with the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine to create the state’s newest medical school on the NMSU campus. The public-private partnership benefits the health and well-being of people across New Mexico, and the region, by addressing the severe shortage of primary care physicians, especially among New Mexico’s underserved, rural populations. The Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine is a freestanding, privately funded, separately licensed and independently operated entity. No taxpayer dollars go toward its operation. It admitted its first class in August 2016.
NMSU publicly launched its Ignite Aggie Discovery campaign earlier this year – the most ambitious campaign in NMSU history with a goal of raising more than $125 million in cash and pledges. To date, the campaign is more than 62 percent complete, having raised nearly $78 million. Those funds benefit students across the entire NMSU system, including each of the university’s community colleges. This past year the most successful fundraising year NMSU has had since the beginning of the campaign four years ago. NMSU was also able to raise more in cash and pledges in the past year than at any time in the past decade.
Garrey Carruthers helped establish NMSU’s economic development center, the Arrowhead Center, shortly after becoming dean in 2003. Today, Arrowhead is recognized as a leader in the region for fostering entrepreneurship, business incubation, economic analysis and other economic development activities.
He played a key role in working with retired Sen. Pete Domenici to establish the Domenici Institute at NMSU. The institute hosts an annual public policy conference when some of the best minds in the country meet to discuss important topics, such as national security, the federal budget, mental health and energy policy.
NMSU needs consistency and stability of leadership to come through the current financial challenges it now faces. The last thing we need is another administrator who views NMSU as a steppingstone to a bigger job, who has to learn about the university from scratch. We hope the regents would see the wisdom in keeping Chancellor Carruthers – who is extremely capable – at the helm for an additional two years.
Full Letter from State Rep. Bill McCamley
Carruthers Should Stay At NMSU
In 2013, Garrey Carruthers was named President of New Mexico State University. He was not my first choice, and I expressed my opposition to his hiring publicly.
Boy, was I ever wrong.
Since the beginning of his tenure Carruthers has lead NMSU through extremely tough times. State budget cuts created lower funding levels, and the decision of NMSU’s Regents not to raise tuition led to hard choices. Jobs have been lost, students are uncertain, and morale for many staff and faculty is low. This isn’t his fault, and Carruthers has tried to turn lemons into lemonade by reducing bureaucracy, reorganizing departments, and focussing on students success.
Nationwide data shows that, over the past decades, it has taken students consistently longer to get through school. Credit creep (where more and more classes are required for graduation), complicated class choices, and difficulties transferring from community colleges to main campuses have all contributed to the problem. Carruthers, recognizing that more time in school increases student loan debt while decreasing graduation rates, created a 128 credit hour cap for completion, instituted clear pathways for students to follow, and standardized classes between the NMSU main campus and branches. The last allows students at a two year school wanting to pursue a four year degree to do so seamlessly, getting them to the finish line sooner.
But his accomplishments don’t stop there. He hired a talented president for Dona Ana Community College, and under their leadership a nursing program that lost its accreditation is on the road to recovery. He made sure that campus police won’t be stopping people for immigration purposes, and NMSU now allows students from our neighboring state of Chihuahua to get in-state tuition. His leadership in partnering with the new Burrell Medical College not only gives local students an educational opportunity they’ve never had, but has created jobs and produces more primary care doctors for our local hospitals and clinics.
These choices translate to the following successes:
Freshman enrollment is up 15% this year.
Forbes and US News & World Report continue to rank NMSU as one of the best American values for higher education.
The Brookings Institution recently ranked NMSU as the second best, nationally, for equal access to higher education and improvement of social mobility.
However, he has not been offered a new contract by the NMSU Regents and might therefore retire in 2018 despite recently saying that he might stay on longer if asked. Carruthers was extremely vocal last Spring in pushing back on Susana Martinez’s veto of the entire state higher education budget. As the lead author on a letter signed by all New Mexico University Presidents, he wrote that the veto itself damaged universities by creating uncertainty for faculty, staff, and students, and that cuts would be devastating. He even testified before the legislature that as a Republican Governor he raised taxes when necessary, and in order to keep New Mexico education on track that might be needed now.
This raises the possibility that the decision to end his tenure earlier than he would like is being made because of politics. If that has even the slightest bearing on the issue, it is wrong. I don’t agree with Carruthers on everything, and as a Democrat in these divisive times supporting a Republican leader is not easy. But his strong, clear, consistent, and forward thinking leadership has resulted in a string of successes for NMSU in very, very hard time. It cannot be ignored.
My father always told me to stand up and admit a mistake. If Carruthers is being let go because of political pressure, I encourage NMSU’s decision makers to to do the same and keep him.
The future of this school, and our state, is too important to do otherwise.
NM State Representative, Mesilla and Las Cruces
Associated Students of NMSU President, 2001-2002