By Matt Grubs, NMiF Producer
A bipartisan group of New Mexico lawmakers wants to reform the process for selecting regents to serve on the boards of New Mexico’s universities and state schools.
The move comes in the form of two proposed amendments to the state Constitution, which are likely to be unpopular with the governor. However, if the measures pass, they go straight past the governor to voters.
State Representative Jeff Steinborn and Senator Bill Soules, both Las Cruces Democrats, say the amendments will bring more transparency to the process and make some regents directly accountable to voters.
The first amendment would require seven regents at UNM and NMSU. Three of those regents would be elected in nonpartisan contests held in each of the state’s three congressional districts. Two more regents would be appointed by the governor after being vetted by a newly-created commission to nominate regents. That panel would then presumably select the remaining two regents, one each from the student and faculty bodies of the school.
The measure would also reduce terms to four years and limit regents to two terms on a board.
The second amendment would create the approval necessary for the Legislature to craft nominating commissions. It would also prevent the governor from appointing regents to state universities and schools such as the New Mexico School for the Deaf unless those appointees had been vetted and recommended by a nominating commission.
University regents often conduct their work with relatively little scrutiny by the public. Every so often, though, a scandal arises such as the departure from NMSU of former president Barbara Couture.
At a press conference Wednesday morning, both Rep. Steinborn and Sen. Soules noted that more accountability to the public could lead to a more equitable departure process for high-profile university employees.
(Two video notes: 1. the fault is mine for the late transition to Sen. Soules as he makes his comments, and 2. Barry Massey of the Associated Press is the voice asking the second question)
While Rep. Steinborn is in favor of depoliticizing, to some extent, the process of selecting regents through nonpartisan elections, it should be noted that current Democratic Party chair Javier Gonzales is a regent at New Mexico State University.
Earlier this year, Javier Gonzales spoke with NMiF about Couture’s departure.