A legislative leader on Wednesday asked New Mexico State University’s regents to resign following a vote to limit the administrative powers of the school’s outgoing chancellor.
Democratic Senate President Mary Kay Papen drafted a letter calling out the regents and asked her colleagues to sign it.
The regents voted Monday to require that all top-level personnel changes from now until a new chancellor is hired must be cleared by the board itself.
Papen called the move drastic and questionable, saying the regents were unlawfully shirking their constitutional responsibilities by shifting control over the hiring and firing of top administrators at the university to the board’s chair.
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“The board’s decision to micromanage the senior management of NMSU unnecessarily places a level of uncertainty that can have a detrimental and lasting effect on future administrations,” the letter reads.
Papen went on to write that the regents’ actions do not serve the best interest of the Las Cruces-based university, its employees or students.
Messages left for the regents were not immediately returned Wednesday.
On the Senate floor, fellow lawmakers voiced their concerns about the politicization of regent appointments over the years. Regents are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The developments came after lawmakers last week failed to move forward with a proposal to overhaul the selection process for regents who oversee the state’s public universities and flagship medical center.
Supporters of the effort have argued that the nominating system has long emphasized loyalty to the governor over experience in higher education and accountability to local communities.
There have been several attempts over the years to change the nominating process. In 2010, a similar proposal supported by faculty at three of the state’s largest universities stemmed from the political appointments of then-Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat.
Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who is in the final year of her second term, has had contentious battles with the Senate over regent appointments.
Critics say the appointments amount to plum political assignments that have given governors undue influence over the state’s public colleges and universities.
“We’ve got to get our institutions of higher education back to their mission, which is not a place to find jobs for political friends,” said Sen. Joe Cervantes, a Las Cruces Democrat.
This year’s legislative initiative from Democratic Sen. Jeff Steinborn of Las Cruces and Republican Sen. Mark Moores of Albuquerque had sought to broaden initial searches for qualified candidates to oversee the state’s major public universities. It would have created bipartisan nomination committees to provide a list of candidates for the governor to choose from when nominating regents.
New Mexico’s public university system has been wrestling with declining overall enrollment and the erosion of in-state student scholarships.
“This is the reason kids are not going to New Mexico colleges,” said Democrat Sen. George Munoz of Gallup, suggesting that stability within the state’s higher education system is evaporating.