NMSU regents could hire president Monday; heavy pressure on them
Perhaps no government body in the state is under more scrutiny than the regents of New Mexico State University.
They chose badly when they hired a president in 2009, and now are going through another selection process.
The five regents last fall soured on Barbara Couture as NMSU's president, then gave her a $453,000 payout in return for her resignation. She held the NMSU presidency less than three years.
All the secrecy in the regents' dealings with Couture and the expense of removing her drew criticism from taxpayers and state legislators.
This time, the regents have an in-house candidate in former New Mexico governor Garrey Carruthers, dean of NMSU's college of business. Carruthers, 73, right, is viewed by many as the favorite, given his connections and background in politics.
Three of the five finalists have traveled a bumpy road to Las Cruces.
One lasted only 58 days as president of the University of Alabama, his alma mater, then cited his wife’s poor health as the reason for resigning last October.
Two of the other finalists, former presidents of Texas A&M and the
University of Nevada, Las Vegas, lost their jobs in public
confrontations with their chancellors over what they say were political
reasons or micromanagement.
Along with Carruthers, one other finalist has deep ties to NMSU. He is Daniel J. Howard, who was a biology professor and department head during a 20-year career at NMSU. He left in 2008 to become a dean at the University of Colorado at Denver.
Carruthers said he would spend most of his time on fundraising if the regents name him as the president. He is smooth and cagily humble.
“When I was young and bright and agile and had color in my hair, I had
an answer for everything,” said Carruthers, the oldest of the
Here are capsule biographies of the four external candidates who are competing with Carruthers for the presidency.
David Ashley, former president of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and now a professor of civil engineering at UNLV
Ashley led UNLV from 2006-09, a period when the economy sank but he said he excelled at private fundraising and in obtaining legislative allocations that were the envy of other presidents.
He also made an enemy of Jim Rogers, then chancellor of Nevada’s eight colleges and universities. Ashley, right, had a four-year contract as president, but Rogers pushed for his removal a year before it expired.
Rogers declined to be interviewed for this story, but he was outspoken in his criticisms of Ashley three years ago, when Ashley’s job was on the line.
In a public memo, Rogers said he liked Ashley but nonetheless wanted him fired as UNLV’s president. The board of regents soon after voted 11-0 to demote Ashley from president to the faculty.
Rogers criticized Ashley for allegedly failing to connect with important, moneyed people, for living miles from the campus, and for an unwillingness to rein in his wife, Bonnie Ashley. Rogers said she was rude to university employees.
Rogers said Ashley corrected none of his deficiencies, even after being told of them.
“David is very smart. He’s maybe one of this country’s greatest engineers,” Rogers told the Las Vegas Sun in June 2009. “His IQ is probably 70 points above mine, but he absolutely refuses to see how serious this situation is.”
Ashley said in an interview that his relationship with Rogers was “troubled” from the beginning, though he was diligent at his job and in trying to work with Rogers.
One factor was that Rogers had favored another candidate for the UNLV presidency.
“I was not the first choice of the chancellor, and that was one of the ongoing problems,” Ashley said.
Another, he said, was that Rogers was a micromanager. Ashley said he was not a president who easily bowed to his boss’ demands, especially unreasonable ones.
Rogers, he said, wanted him to fire basketball coach Lon Kruger and football coach Mike Sanford. Ashley refused on grounds that Kruger was a terrific coach and Sanford needed time to develop a winner. Neither coach is at UNLV any longer, but Ashley still speaks well of both men.
Another issue, Ashley said, was Rogers’ unhappiness over his successes with the Nevada Legislature in advocating for UNLV’s budget. More money going to UNLV meant less for other campuses.
Ashley said he declined a buyout after the regents terminated his presidency, choosing instead to serve on the faculty. New Mexico State could be a fresh opportunity for him and his surprisingly young family.
Ashley, 62, and wife Bonnie have three adopted children, ages 7, 9 and 11. Even in casual conversation he brims with energy and says he and Bonnie want to raise their kids in a city such as Las Cruces, where he could make a difference at a university.
He said Bonnie was an asset to UNLV and that Rogers’ criticisms of her were unfair.
“She is talented, passionate, compassionate,” Ashley said.
He compared Las Cruces to Merced, Calif., where he helped build a university from scratch.
He was one of the executives who established a University of California
campus in Merced, and that success catapulted him to the UNLV
presidency. Before Merced, Ashley was dean of engineering at Ohio State,
a giant among America’s land-grant universities.
Ashley says his record at UNLV was a good one, but his relationship with one man was bad enough to end his presidency.
Guy Bailey, former president of the University of Alabama and of Texas Tech
Bailey seemed to land his dream job last year, but sweet home Alabama it was not.
His presidency at the University of Alabama ended in less than two months. Faculty and residents of Tuscaloosa say why Bailey quit remains a mystery to them.
He did not respond to email messages requesting an interview.
Bailey, 62, is a native of Montgomery, Ala., and the University of Alabama was where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, attending between 1968 and 1974.
Then Bailey ventured into the world and the travels of higher education, holding administrative or teaching positions at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Texas at San Antonio, the University of Nevada, the University of Memphis, Oklahoma State, Emory University and Texas A&M.
He also served as president of Texas Tech before he landed the Alabama job. Alabama’s search committee interviewed five finalists for the presidency on their home campuses, but Bailey was the only one it brought to Tuscaloosa. Alabama trustees happily chose him, and Bailey seemed even happier.
“I am paying back the University of Alabama for what it did for me, though I will never be able to pay it back fully. This is home,” he said upon his introduction as president.
Bailey began work last Sept. 3 and resigned Oct. 31. He said his wife, Jan, was ill, that she needed him, and that she would try to take on too much responsibility in terms of university life if he continued as president.
The trustees agreed to pay him his first year base salary of $535,000, despite his serving only 58 days as president.
Robert Witt, chancellor of the University of Alabama System, declined
through a spokeswoman to answer questions about whether he tried to
dissuade Bailey from resigning as president. Calls or messages to four
Alabama trustees went unreturned. Another trustee, reached by phone,
declined to comment about Bailey.
Last fall, Bailey told the blog AL.com that his departure as Alabama’s president was his decision, not Witt’s.
"I was not fired. I was not forced out,” Bailey said. “In fact, I think they made every effort to try to convince me to stay.”
Witt said at the time: “Within several weeks of arriving, he told us he simply could not meet the duties of the job and take care of his wife at the same time. We have great respect and empathy for what he did.”
Rona Donahoe, a professor of geological sciences and officer of the faculty senate, said she was surprised that Bailey was a finalist for the NMSU presidency, given his statements last fall about being unable to devote himself to such a job.
Donahoe said Bailey’s resignation was odd because Alabama would have been accommodating with him and his wife in acknowledgement of her fragile health.
“This is the South. No one is more hospitable,” Donahoe said.
Donahoe also pointed out that the current Alabama president, Judy Bonner, does not have a spouse. No one has said a word about Bonner alone attending university events or social functions, Donahoe said.
Bailey was president of Texas Tech for four years before moving to Alabama.
Daniel Nathan, president of the faculty senate at Texas Tech, said he had high regard for Bailey.
“My impression of former president Bailey is quite positive. He is a very intelligent leader who cares about faculty input and shared governance, and he has a sound vision for the future of institutions of higher learning. I viewed his departure from Texas Tech as a loss for our university,” Nathan said.
At Alabama, Bailey received tenure as an English professor upon his hiring as president. But his application for the NMSU presidency indicates that his preference is a return to administrative work, not returning to the classroom.
Daniel J. Howard, dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences, University of Colorado at Denver
Howard left New Mexico State five years ago for a deanship at the
University of Colorado at Denver. Old colleagues say they miss him.
Michele Nishiguchi, a professor of biology, said Howard became a mentor to her when NMSU hired her 14 years ago. He also blossomed into the department leader, overseeing the renovation of its building and making a potentially chaotic circumstance a smooth one.
“I was bummed out when he went to CU-Denver,” said Nishiguchi, one of NMSU’s most decorated professors.
She described him in glowing terms, saying: “He’s very thoughtful. I’ve never gotten a bad piece of advice from him.”
Howard, 58, summarized his work in Colorado as successful despite a marked decline in state funding.
Charles “Brad” Shuster, another former colleague at New Mexico State, said he admired Howard and was excited to see him among the finalists for president.
“He and I butted heads on some things, but I don’t think his style of management was confrontational,” said Shuster, an associate professor of biology.
Shuster said Howard stepped up and took the biology department chairmanship at a time when he may not have been interested in getting on an administrative track. But, Shuster said, Howard saw a vacuum at the top of the department and felt obligated to fill the leadership void in the interest of his colleagues.
“The department head job was a very hard job. He took it over knowing there were problems,” Shuster said, adding that much of it was internal bickering because of personality clashes, a frequent occurrence at universities.
Howard’s willingness to chair the biology department came with a personal sacrifice.
He was director of the Institute of Natural Resource Analysis and Management, a statewide organization that focused on biodiversity, hydrology, and forest conservation issues. It included other universities in New Mexico and Los Alamos National Laboratory. But with an NMSU department to run, Howard gave up the directorship.
Nishiguchi said Howard brings a dimension to the competition that faculty members can appreciate, she said.
“He is someone who has been down in the dregs with us,” she said. “He is honest and he has great integrity.”
Elsa Murano, former president of Texas A&M
Murano was a pioneer at Texas A&M, the first woman and the first Hispanic to serve as president. This was a well-publicized stride for a school that began as an all-male military institution and mushroomed into a research university of 48,000 students.
But she held the job for only about 17 months, forced out after a confrontation with the chancellor.
Murano, 53, born in Cuba, was a high-profile president for reasons other than her gender and ethnicity.
One was that she followed a popular president in Robert Gates, who resigned from Texas A&M in 2006 to become U.S. secretary of defense. After a yearlong search, A&M regents hired Murano as president, but with controversy. She was not among the three finalists recommended by a search committee.
Mike Benedik, a biology professor, said Murano became president at a turbulent time marred by politicking.
The man who then was chancellor, Mike McKinney, had been chief of staff to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. McKinney was interested in university reforms inspired by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
One of his initiatives rewarded faculty members with cash if they receiving good evaluations from students.
Murano said in an interview that she was at odds with McKinney on policy and academic issues.
He blistered her with a negative performance evaluation in February 2009. Her evaluation became public four months later, effectively ending her presidency.
In sum, McKinney downgraded Murano for her relationship with him and the regents. He said she bucked the administration she was part of rather than working with it cooperatively. He even questioned her integrity.
At the time, Murano called the evaluation “ludicrous” and anything but factual. Murano said her stands differed with the chancellor’s and he punished her for it.
“When you disagree with your boss, that’s what can happen,” she said in the interview.
Forced out as president, she could have taken a year off with pay. She stayed away only three weeks before returning to the A&M faculty.
By then, faculty members had voted no confidence in McKinney, in part because of his treatment of Murano.
“That was sort of the last straw,” Benedik said, adding that there were other grievances against McKinney.
Murano was one of five finalists in December 2011 for the presidency of the University of New Mexico. UNM is a terrific school, she said, but she believes New Mexico State is the better fit for her.
Murano has her master’s degree in anaerobic microbiology and her Ph.D. in food science and technology from Virginia Tech. She taught at Iowa State. A&M hired her as a faculty member in 1995 and she was dean of its agricultural school before rising to the presidency. All those schools are land-grant institutions, as is New Mexico State.
Her love of the land-grant access mission and the Southwest make NMSU a good possibility for her, she said.
Murano said her management style is the same as when she took over at A&M.
“It’s all about respect — respect of opinions, of others and of their
needing to be included. Being a president means methodically proceeding
on course and getting everyone excited about the future, always
understanding that people are hungry to be heard.”
Age — 62
Current job — Professor of civil engineering, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was UNLV’s president from 2006-09
Age — 62
Last job — President of the University of Alabama. He has experience in the Southwest, having served previously as president of Texas Tech.
Age — 73
Current job — Dean of the College of Business at New Mexico State University. A Republican, Carruthers was governor of New Mexico from 1987-90.
Daniel J. Howard
Age — 58
Current job — Dean of the college of liberal arts and sciences, University of Colorado at Denver. Former NMSU biology professor and department chairman.
Age — 53
Current job — Senior fellow, Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, Texas A&M University. She is a former president of Texas A&M.