In 2013, Garrey Carruthers was named President of New México State University (NMSU). 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 focusing 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 Martínez’s veto of the entire state higher education budget. As the lead author on a letter signed by all New México 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 México 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 do the same and keep him.
The future of this school, and our state, is too important to do otherwise.
Bill McCamley is a Democratic state representative from the 33rd district in Las Cruces. This column was originally published in New Mexico Political Report, nmpoliticalreport.com.