[BREAKING] NMSU regents reject Carruthers, could Gov. Martinez be the next Chancellor?

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New Mexico State University’s Board of Regents met today and rejected a propsal to extend current Chancellor Garrey Carruthers’ contract past its current termination next year. This was a mid a torrent of intrigue over the last few weeks surrounding his ouster and with much community support for Carruthers.

Besides, multiple NMSU organizations, even the Las Cruces City Council placed a resolution on their agenda for next week’s council meeting that calls on the regents of New Mexico State University to extend current Chancellor Garrey Carruthers’ contract past its current termination next year.

If you’re unfamiliar with what’s happening, here’s the quick lowdown. Carruthers said he’d retire at the end of his contract in 2018, but it turns out he only said that because the school’s regents, who are appointed by the governor, told him they wouldn’t be renewing his contract.

So, what’s next for NMSU’s leadership?

Last week, newspapers and political blogs across the state were alight with various versions of a story about Governor Susana Martinez’ involvement with that contract not being renewed.

The story has many iterations, ranging from one of the financial motivations as spelled out in political blogger Joe Monahan’s most recent offering to being dismissed outright (apparently) by an unnamed spokesperson as quoted in an Albuquerque Journal editorial last week.

From that editorial:

“On Thursday, Journal reporter Dan Boyd asked the governor’s office if there was any truth to that. The response: ‘No, the governor is not interested in being a chancellor or president of any university. The governor remains focused on leading New Mexico and fighting to make our state stronger.'”

But Dr. Earl Nissen, a retired professor from NMSU, has heard differently from his own sources within the University, and there are reasons we should listen. Nissen successfully sued NMSU in 2013 after being fired for alerting students to an impending accreditation issue that would go on to affect hundreds of nursing students attending Dona Ana Community College’s nursing program.

Nissen recently disclosed his concerns at a community meeting in Las Cruces.

“I basically said that she (Martinez) had worked hard to get the regents she wanted in place and with what I’m hearing it sounds like it was to ensure she could count on them to remove Carruthers right as she’ll be getting out of office,” Nissen said.

And to be clear, the resolution from the City of Las Cruces is not the first salvo over this issue.Folks affiliated with NMSU have already been speaking out in support of keeping Carruthers on. NMSU’s Associated Students have taken an official stance in favor of Carruthers, as has State Rep. Bill McCamley, whose district 33 includes NMSU. Other state lawmakers have joined in support of keeping Carruthers as well.

Carruthers himself has spoken out about it:

“In a bid to explain the burgeoning political melodrama, Carruthers issued a statement Wednesday saying that regents declined to renew his contract and that only then did he say he would retire. He also clarified why he decided to tell the whole story behind his announced departure.

‘When you are a public servant, you need to be as open to the public as possible,” Carruthers said. “… While I am grateful for the outpouring of support, I recognize the decision about the extension of my contract belongs to the regents. Should they change their minds, I am willing to serve.’” 

So, what would have to happen for Martinez to step into this position? Like many political moves, it involves a lot of what-ifs.

First, the regents would have to carry out their promise to not extend Carruthers’ contract. Then, they’d likely appoint an interim leader while they set up a search. This would all be happening next summer, right before the 2018 school year started, and while Martinez would be finishing out the last few months of her tenure as governor. Would Martinez step down in her last months as a lame duck to apply for the position? If a Democratic candidate were to take the helm as a governor in 2018, would they try and sweep out Martinez’ appointees before they finished the process?

What would Martinez gain from all these dominoes falling in her favor? She’s already eligible to retire with a pretty nice retirement plan given her age and the over 20 years she’s been a public employee. But given that NMSU’s chancellor is the highest paid position at the institution (Carruthers contract is for $385,000 per year), even at a portion of that, Martinez would stand to boost her overall average income by a significant margin. Even if she were brought on by outgoing Regents and let go by new ones after the regime change, high-level positions like a university chancellor come with golden parachute plans with payouts over a half-million dollars!

Likely there are too many variables to consider anything beyond rumor but one thing is for certain, Martinez’ penchant for playing politics with higher education in the state has gotten her in trouble in the past.

Martinez’ role as Governor has been marred by her involvement with higher education in New Mexico for a while now and so it is not improbable that such whisperings have some level of truth to back them up. Here’s just a brief list of SOME of the issues where Martinez has tried to manipulate state universities to advance her own agenda:

Did you catch that point from Chancellor Carruthers earlier, about being “open to the public?” That’s what’s really at stake here. Whether or not Martinez is vying to become the next chancellor of NMSU, she’s got to start being more open and transparent. New Mexicans deserve to have a leader, even one who’s been voted the worst TWICE, that will be forthcoming about her intentions.