Don’t rock the boat at NMSU

August 25, 2017 GMT

The old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” comes to mind when contemplating the current controversy over the future of New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers.

The former governor has been a strong leader for the Aggies just as higher education in New Mexico is suffering from budget cuts, declining enrollment and fewer dollars to fund lottery scholarships for students. These are tough, uncertain times. Having a leader in charge who was able to negotiate $38 million in budget cuts and reduce staff positions while still managing to keep the university student-focused, is a plus for NMSU. Carruthers has worked long and hard. That he might be ready to retire seemed unfortunate but understandable.

Of course, as is often the case, there’s more to the story of the chancellor’s announcement that he would step down in 2018. He only made that decision after the members of the NMSU Board of Regents made it clear they would not extend his contract when it ran out. The five-person board (four of whom have been appointed by Gov. Susana Martinez) evidently want to go in a different direction. That’s up to them, of course.

However, there is nothing wrong with students, faculty, alumni — and, yes, even legislators — speaking out to protest the move. Carruthers, who is turning 78 this month, obviously cannot remain in charge forever. But his leadership at the school, a steady hand in trying times, has proved invaluable. We could use that stability a bit longer, especially considering that The University of New Mexico also needs a new, permanent president. Carruthers was willing to continue, letting regents know Aug. 1 that he could stay on two more years; they, in turn, let him know he wasn’t wanted.

That’s a shabby way to treat a man who has been an exemplary public servant. We won’t speculate about whether the regents, egged on by the governor, want Carruthers gone because he criticized Martinez’s handling of the higher education budget earlier this year. That veto of funding for colleges and universities was one of the lowest of many low points in her tenure as governor. She is denying, too, rumors that she wants to become the next chancellor.

But it remains in character for Martinez to seek revenge against critics, although through her office, she denies having spoken to the regents about the contract for Carruthers. She told television station KVIA that legislators calling for regents to keep Carruthers are seeking to “subvert the constitution.” That’s a bit much, even for the governor, who went on to tell the TV station that Carruthers should be allowed to “go ahead and resign.”

Trouble is, he did not resign so much as he was forced out — pushed while he was doing an outstanding job and has the backing of many at the school and in the state. There’s no reason for him to be shown the door right now.

Carruthers — also a two-term GOP governor like Martinez — has remained his usual classy self through the storm, saying, “I recognize the decision about the extension of my contract belongs to the regents. Should they change their minds, I am willing to serve. If not, I will honor their decision and work diligently over the course of the next 10 months to continue to advance this great institution and its teaching, research, and service mission.”

Regents can make this storm go away. Extend the contract and show everyone that politics has no place in governing a university.