Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
In its quest for a new president, the University of New Mexico chose a candidate who has been through fire.
The Board of Regents on Thursday unanimously voted to hire Garnett Stokes – University of Missouri’s provost – as UNM’s 22nd president. She will start March 1, becoming the first female president in the school’s 128-year history.
“This is a transformational time at UNM, and Dr. Stokes brings the experience, skills and vision that UNM needs in a president to drive UNM beyond just its potential,” Regent President Rob Doughty said after the vote.
Stokes has been provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at Missouri’s flagship institution since February 2015, serving during a particularly turbulent time. MU had to cut nearly $60 million from its budget this year because of a drop in enrollment and state funding. Its enrollment has plunged 13 percent since 2015 – something many trace to the racially charged campus protests that made national news in 2015 and led top officials to resign.
Doughty said that Stokes’ experience navigating challenges at large universities was a key factor in her appointment – something considered valuable by both regents and many other UNM stakeholders. He called her “hands down, the consensus candidate.”
“I’m proud of the fact that we did select UNM’s first female president,” Doughty said in an interview. “However, the selection was made on the consensus of the community, her excellent interviews, her career qualifications and proven leadership abilities at other large institutions.”
Before MU, Stokes was Florida State University’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. She also spent some time in the top job at each university: She served as MU’s interim chancellor for a few months earlier this year, and was FSU’s interim president for about half of 2014.
“I am honored to be selected as the University of New Mexico’s new president,” Stokes, 61, said in a statement. “I am enthusiastic about what we can accomplish together to benefit UNM’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”
She did not respond to a Journal interview request.
Stokes holds a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Georgia. She joined the UGA’s faculty in 1985 and stayed until 2011, rising to dean of its Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
Her five-year contract with UNM includes $400,000 in annual base pay, $75,000 in deferred compensation and up to $50,000 in incentive pay. She will get a $12,000 annual automobile allowance and reside in the University House on campus.
Stokes comes to UNM during its own trying time. Enrollment has dropped for five straight years, and the state has cut funding by 8 percent – about $27 million – in the past two years. Athletic department financial management practices have prompted three state agencies to launch investigations or increase oversight.
Meanwhile, leadership turnover has raised questions about stability. Counting interims, Stokes will be the eighth president since 1998. Faculty Senate President Pamela Pyle told regents in August that faculty morale had sunk to an “all-time low.” The Senate asked the regents to postpone the search and instead keep interim President Chaouki Abdallah through mid-2019 for some consistency.
But UNM has also had its successes. It has doubled its four-year graduation rate since 2012, and the Brookings Institution earlier this year dubbed it a “leader” for its contributions promoting both research and students’ social mobility – a distinction bestowed on just 20 percent of the universities Brookings evaluated.
UNM, with more than 26,000 students and a $2.9 billion budget, is also the only school in the state, and one of 115 nationally, with an R1 Carnegie Classification, signifying the highest level of research activity.
Pyle on Thursday said she does not regret the faculty’s pursuit of a search delay but expressed optimism about Stokes and the future.
The faculty Senate, aided by the Advance at UNM team, surveyed faculty about Stokes and the four other presidential finalists after their recent on-campus interviews. Nearly a third of eligible voters took part – about triple the participation rate during the last presidential search, Pyle said – and Stokes emerged as the faculty’s top choice.
“I’m very proud of our community for participating so fully in this process, and I believe the regents were listening carefully,” Pyle said.
Doughty said the regents solicited feedback from a number of UNM constituent groups, and Stokes garnered the most confidence – something he hopes positions her for greater longevity than her predecessors.
“I do think that other presidents have come to this university without the majority of the stakeholders’ support right off the bat, and that’s difficult for a president in that situation,” he said. “This situation is different. We’ve got a president now who has the majority of the stakeholders backing her.”
UNM’s last president, Bob Frank, stepped down at the end of 2016. Abdallah, UNM’s provost, stepped in as interim president in January. Widely praised for his leadership, Abdallah said he did not want the job permanently. He will remain president until Stokes’ arrival, then return to the position of provost, the university’s lead academic official.
Abdallah congratulated Stokes on her new appointment, releasing a statement saying, “I look forward to her leadership and supporting her in this role.”
UNM began its search for a president about a year ago, hiring a professional search firm and convening a local search committee. The committee of about 20 included regents Doughty, Marron Lee and Tom Clifford; faculty and other representatives from around UNM; state legislators and local businesspeople.
The committee produced a list of semifinalists from which the regents last month selected five finalists. In addition to Stokes, the finalists were Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences at University of California, San Diego; Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president for health sciences at New York’s Stony Brook University; Anny Morrobel-Sosa, Ph.D., former provost at Lehman College in New York; and University of Idaho President Charles “Chuck” Staben, Ph.D.
Missouri leaders on Thursday expressed support for Stokes while lamenting her departure.
“Missouri’s loss is @UNM’s gain. Godspeed, Garnett “The Glue that Held It All Together” Stokes!” tweeted Missouri Higher Education Commissioner Zora Mulligan.
MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright called Stokes “an exemplary leader.”
“I am delighted for her personally, but I will miss the opportunity to continue to work with Dr. Stokes so closely,” he said in a statement.