Politicians and N.M. universities

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By Hal Rhodes

Former Gov. Garrey Carruthers is one of five finalists in line to become the next president of New Mexico State University in Las Cruces.
NMSU’s presidency has been something of a revolving door in recent years with one president after another passing through in remarkably rapid succession, leaving onlookers to wonder what if anything had been accomplished during their brief tenures.
Count this reporter among a good many other New Mexicans who has often wondered why the Board of Regents of that university has for so long failed to see the wisdom of putting an end to the turmoil by tapping Carruthers for their institution’s top job.
His Ph.D. in economics is from Iowa State University, but he earned both his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Arts at New Mexico State.
After his four-year term (1987-91) as governor was over, Carruthers spent a few years in the private sector with management and development activities in the health-maintenance field.
But for over a decade now, he has been dean of NMSU’s business college and he is plainly devoted to that institution. Indeed, Carruthers has reportedly told his six grandchildren that he will pay their way through college, “tuition, room, board and books,” with the proviso that they “have to go to New Mexico State.”
Talk about loyalty to one’s alma mater!
Granted, New Mexico has seen some difficult times in recent years when top state political figures have become involved in the internal affairs of the state’s institutions of higher education.
Back in the 1980’s, another former governor, Jerry Apodaca, became president of the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents, whereupon the new UNM president, Tom Farer, got crosswise with the former governor, and before anyone could blink Tom Farer was looking for another job and the university was looking for another president.
A more recent contretemps involving a top level political figure and the presidency of another state university erupted in 2004 when the regents at New Mexico Highlands University tapped the erstwhile state Senate President, Manny Aragon, to be that institution’s president.
After nearly three decades in the Senate, Aragon was perhaps the most powerful state legislator of his era.
Within two years, however, Highlands’ Regents were voting 4-1 to spend $200,000 to buy out his contract as president, and the institution would soon be censured by the American Association of University Professors following questionable firings of faculty members during Aragon’s tenure.
Today Aragon is doing time in federal prison for illegal financial dealings as a state senator, but his failings as a university president derived entirely from his lack of academic credentials and experience.
He was out of his league.
Carruthers, on the other hand, is eminently qualified to head a major university. His academic credentials are undisputed. He is a tenured professor of economics. His long service as dean of the university’s business college has equipped him with experience and skills essential to a successful university administrator.
What more could a Board of Regents at any academic institution, New Mexico State University included, hope for?
On top of all that, Garrey Carruthers knows where the bodies are—at NMSU and in Santa Fe, from whence comes the wherewithal that fuels New Mexico’s state universities.
The political skills that made him a popular and successful governor with admirers on both sides of the aisle would simply be icing on the cake for NMSU.
Concerns have been expressed about his age — 73 years old. And there are grumblings about a hefty raise the last NMSU president gave him.
Still, NMSU regents could do (have done) worse.