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Mayors of Las Cruces, Carlsbad, Grants join those supporting NMSU’s Carruthers

August 29, 2017 GMT

What began as a campus controversy in Las Cruces over whether to extend Garrey Carruthers’ contract as chancellor of New Mexico State University has turned into a full-blown political fray reaching various corners of the state and the office of the governor.

In recent weeks, state lawmakers, student leaders and donors at the state’s second-largest university have called on the Board of Regents to keep Carruthers, a former governor of New Mexico who recently revealed that he was being pushed out by regents. Carruthers, who turns 78 on Tuesday, had previously said he was retiring voluntarily when his contract ends in June 2018.

Now the mayor of Las Cruces, Ken Miyagishima, has joined the growing chorus of Carruthers’ supporters intent on keeping the chancellor in office. Miyagishima also is asking other mayors of cities with NMSU branch campuses — Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants — to band together on behalf of Carruthers.

So far, the mayors of Carlsbad and Grants have signed on.

“I have been a big supporter of Garrey Carruthers from back in the days of the Reagan administration, when he served in the Interior Department,” Carlsbad Mayor Dale Janway, a Republican, said Monday in a statement to The New Mexican.

“Governor Carruthers excelled as chief executive of the state of New Mexico and has done an exceptional job as president of New Mexico State University,” Janway wrote. “He brings a great deal of credibility to the university, and we strongly support all efforts to keep him as president.”

Janway said he plans to send a letter to the regents and will be looking for other ways to support Carruthers and keep him at NMSU.

The push to extend Carruthers’ contract has sparked allegations of political maneuvering by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, who faced criticism from Carruthers, also a Republican, after she vetoed the entire higher education budget this year. But the governor’s press secretary has charged that “shameless politicians” are trying to keep Carruthers as chancellor until Martinez leaves office so the next chancellor is chosen by regents appointed by the next governor.

Martinez appointed four of the five sitting university regents, who informed Carruthers during a private meeting Aug. 1 that they did not intend to extend his contract.

Miyagishima said Carruthers, who he considers a mentor and a friend, “set the gold standard” for what a NMSU chancellor should be.

The regents “would be hard-pressed to find anyone close to his qualifications, and if he’s willing to serve a couple more years, I would respectfully ask the regents to please reconsider and somehow tender an offer to him,” said Miyagishima, a Democrat.

The call to retain Carruthers by the mayor of the university’s home city comes two days before the regents intend to consider an “action plan” for the chancellor position. The regents may decide Wednesday whether to begin searching for Carruthers’ replacement or shift gears by extending his contract.

Miyagishima drafted a resolution over the weekend that lists Carruthers’ “tremendous accomplishments” in the four years he’s been at the helm at NMSU. He said the Las Cruces City Council won’t consider the resolution until next week but that he wanted “to make sure [the regents] have the information needed to make an informed decision.”

Miyagishima then asked the mayors of Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants to consider similar resolutions in support of Carruthers.

“I chose those cities because NMSU has a presence in each of those cities … and I want those residents to know what kind of a great job Chancellor Carruthers has done, and if they should know any of the regents, please reach out to them,” he said. “I’m sure the college is very important to them in their respective communities.”

Grants Mayor Martin “Modey” Hicks said he plans to ask his City Council colleagues to consider a similar resolution at their next meeting in September. Hicks, a Democrat, said he suspects the resolution would pass unanimously.

“As far as our branch university here, they’re kicking ass, man, there’s no other way to put it,” Hicks said.

“Unlike our two senators who are cutting our throats, Garrey Curruthers has done well here in Grants,” Hicks added, referring to Democratic U.S. Sens. Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. “He put in a new nursing center, a child development center at our college here. And I worked for the state when he was the governor, and I thought he did a pretty damn good job as a governor, too.”

The mayor of Alamogordo, Richard Boss, did not return a message seeking comment. Miyagishima said Boss was out of town.

Miyagishima said Carruthers’ initial explanation that he was retiring voluntarily was bittersweet.

“I was happy that he was getting ready to retire but sad that he was going to be leaving because I thought he’s done a fantastic job there at the university,” he said.

When Miyagishima learned later that the regents had opted not to extend Carruthers’ contract, even though the chancellor was willing to serve longer, he said he felt compelled to ask the regents to reconsider their decision.

“The university is going through some tough times right now, especially with our growth and unstable financial revenues from the state,” he said. “He can weather that storm. He has the tools to do it, and I don’t see why they need to change captains in such a turbulent time.”

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 505-986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.