By Billy Huntsman
New Mexico State University has declined to comment on why former Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences Christa Slaton was reassigned—demoted—to senior administrator, working under Kevin Boberg, vice president for economic development, at Arrowhead Center, saying only it was “a personnel matter.”
The reassignment was announced early Wednesday, February 17, in a brief press release from University Communications.
Confusion is widespread and speculation abounds.
“That there was tension between the provost (Dan Howard) and the dean of arts and sciences was no secret,” Mark Medoff, a senior fellow in the Creative Media Institute in the A&S College, told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
One A&S department head, who requested anonymity, told The Round Up/Oncore Magazine both Slaton and Howard have “big personalities” and that the reassignment was a way of Howard showing Slaton, as well as faculty all over the university, “I’m your boss.”
This sentiment was echoed by a separate A&S department head.
“(The reassignment) sends a message to other deans to fall into line with Hadley Hall (the NMSU administration building),” he/she said to the Sun-News. “I don’t think that the managerial style on display here rises to the level we should expect of a provost. I think it’s incredibly disappointing.”
The department head who spoke to TRU/OM said the fact that both he/she and the department head quoted by the Sun-News requesting anonymity speaks to the “atmosphere” at NMSU, wherein people are “afraid” to say anything negative for fear of repercussions.
“People in academics are like children,” the TRU/OM department head says.
The department head further described the administrative ecosystem at NMSU as “19th century.”
“Some folks really love to become administrators,” he/she says.
Some faculty who become administrators, the department head says, become “addicted to power,” though whether Dean Slaton, Provost Howard, and/or NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers are addicted to power the department head would not comment.
The department head says becoming an administrator is “not very attractive.”
“You deal with a lot of nonsense, a lot of blame, a lot of BS,” he/she says. “And sometimes administrators give up tenure. And when that happens, they can’t say anything about their boss because if they get fired, they have nothing to fall back on.”
Given how “unattractive” becoming an administrator is, why would anyone choose or, in the department head’s case, volunteer for an administrative position?
“The only reason I became department head was I wanted to change this department, which I did through Dean Slaton’s support,” the department head says.
The department head described Slaton as critical to the A&S College’s “stability” over the last six years.
“She knew the value of arts and sciences,” the department head says.
What effect Slaton’s demotion as dean of NMSU’s largest college will have on students and faculty morale in that college, the department head declined to comment.
He/she only spoke to Slaton’s impact on his/her department, which, under Slaton’s deanship, grew 40-45 percent
“She never disapproved any requests I put in,” he/she says.
What effect Slaton’s demotion will have on the department head’s department, he/she was “unsure.” The department head says the interim A&S dean, Enrico Pontelli, promised the department head’s department the same support it was given by Slaton.
“I speak for my whole department when I say Dean Slaton was important,” the department head says.
One faculty member in the department head’s department described Slaton’s demotion as “unprofessional” and “embarrassing” for NMSU.
Slaton had the second-longest running tenure as A&S dean in the last 20 years.. E. Rene Casillas served as dean from 1991 until his retirement in 2002. Before Casillas, the position was held by Thomas Gale from 1971 to 1991.
Since Casillas’ retirement, however, there have now been seven A&S deans: Jeff Brown (interim, 2002-2003), Waded Cruzado (2003-2007), Greg Fant (interim, 2007-2008), Pamela Jansma (2008-2009), Fant again (interim, 2009-2010), Slaton (2010-2016), and now Pontelli (interim).
Why were Casillas and Gale able to hold the position each for more than a decade, yet none of the others could?
TRU/OM attempted to get into contact with Cruzado, president of Montana State University now, and Jansma, current dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Colorado – Denver, to get their comments on why they left, but our inquiries were not answered.
Cruzado’s time at NMSU is well-documented by the New Mexico media. She was hired to the deanship of the A&S College in 2003 and, three years later, was appointed as executive vice president and provost of NMSU.
In an NMSU press release announcing her appointment, Cruzado “passion about and dedication to NMSU and its students” favored her in the search for a replacement provost after William Flores left the position to become deputy secretary of education for the state of New Mexico.
Likely it was these qualities that made Cruzado the favored candidate to replace then-NMSU President Mike Martin.
After Martin’s departure to become chancellor of Louisiana State University, Cruzado was appointed by the NMSU Board of Regents as interim president—the first woman and second Hispanic to helm the university.
A week before a search committee was to begin interviews to find a permanent replacement for the president position, then-Regent and search committee member Laura Conniff held “a champagne brunch” at her house “to celebrate a woman of achievement; not just a woman, but women in general,” Conniff told The Associated Press.
However, the brunch, as well as a 50-student-and-faculty rally calling for Cruzado to be appointed as the permanent president the day before the interviews were to begin, had the effect of scaring off at least three finalists being considered for the position “because they felt it would hurt their current jobs” and “they also were concerned about getting a fair chance,” citing favoritism toward Cruzado on the part of the search committee.
This was in spite of the fact that Cruzado “has come out publicly on record on many occasions to state that, as interim president, she cannot and will not be considered for the permanent position of the 23rd President of NMSU,” wrote State Representative Bill McCamley in a 2008 editorial on NMPolitics.net.
Shortly after the finalists pulled out of consideration, the NMSU Board of Regents voted to call off the search, to begin from scratch in May 2009. Then-Regent Robert Gallagher asked for Cruzado to step down as interim president in June and was replaced with Interim President Manuel T. Pacheco until January 2010, when Barbara Couture became the permanent president.
In October the Board of Regents at Montana State selected Cruzado—who remained NMSU’s provost—the presidency after the retirement of Geoffrey Gamble in March.
Jansma’s time at NMSU is less documented. Coming from the University of Arkansas, she was selected as A&S dean in 2008 after Cruzado’s promotion to provost. She remained at NMSU for a year before moving on to become dean of the College of Science at the University of Texas—Arlington.
“Although I am sorry to see her leave, I understand her reasons and wish her the very best at UT—Arlington,” said Greg Fant, who took over as interim A&S dean, in a press release.
Jansma said she was leaving for “personal” reasons. NMPolitics.net reported that she had been living apart from her husband since moving to New Mexico from Arkansas.
But Heath Haussamen with NMPolitics.net speculated that recent “turmoil” at NMSU might have contributed to Jansma’s leaving.
“Former President Michael Martin left last August. The university botched its first search to replace him. Gov. Bill Richardson replaced three of five regents. And the regents recently moved Interim President Waded Cruzado back to her previous job as provost and restarted the presidential search. That’s a lot of turmoil and instability. Would it surprise anyone that, under such circumstances, some would opt to find employment elsewhere?”
At the time Jansma was one of three deans to leave NMSU.
“The university announced June 2 that Interim Provost Bob Moulton would become director of two colleges of the Higher Colleges of Technology in the United Arab Emirates city of Ras Al-Khaimah,” the Sun-News reported. “Moulton was to return to his position as dean of the College of Education, a position he had held since 2000. And in April, College of Engineering Dean Steve Castillo accepted a position as provost and executive vice president of the Colorado School of Mines, beginning July 1. Castillo joined the NMSU faculty in 1987 and headed the university’s Klipsch School of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 1998 to 2004, when he took his current position.”
The situation today is not too different from how it was then.
NMSU currently has three interim college deans: Enrico Pontelli for A&S, James Libbin for Agriculture, Consumer & Environmental Sciences, and Steven Stochaj for Engineering.
The effect of three interim college deans on students at NMSU is minimal, NMSU Provost Dan Howard told TRU/OM.
“Deans have important roles in setting direction for their colleges, which they determine in consultation with associate deans and department heads,” Howard told TRU/OM via email with University Communications Director of News Darrell J. Pehr. “Deans also manage faculty, staff, and the college. Because of the time commitment associated with deans’ management roles, students and potential students rarely have contact with a dean, especially in a large college.”
Howard says he also anticipates no adverse effect of an interim dean being assigned in the middle of the semester.
“I do not expect the presence of an interim dean to have a noticeable effect on student enrollment or on the (A&S) college’s departments,” he says. “The interim dean (Pontelli) is highly qualified and well-respected by faculty and staff.”
The occasional changing of a dean has little to no impact on a college, Howard says.
“Colleges are generally so well organized that the departure of a dean does not have a negative effect on teaching, which is the aspect of a college that most impacts students and potential students,” Howard says. “However, if the turnover rate of deans within a college becomes too high, a vacuum of leadership can set in that makes it difficult for a college to sustain new initiatives and respond appropriately to the rapidly changing landscape of higher education.”
So does NMSU have difficulty retaining deans?
“Bill Eamon served the Honors College for 19 years, Lowell Catlett in ACES served for nine years, Library Dean Elizabeth Titus has served for 15 years, Engineering Dean Ricardo Jacquez served for five years, Education Dean Michael Morehead served for five years, Business Dean Garrey Carruthers served for 10 years, and Graduate School Dean Linda Lacey served for 11 years,” Howard says. “I do not think NMSU has difficulty retaining deans.”
Do deans at NMSU have difficulty meeting the university’s standards?
“We have high standards for deans and most of our deans easily meet those standards,” Howard says.