University presidents vary in spending

Staff and Wire Reports

ALBUQUERQUE — New Mexico State President Michael Martin says if he’s going to be in the big leagues, he has to play like it. Eastern New Mexico University’s Steven Gamble insists his school is playing a different game.

Martin and New Mexico Tech President Daniel Lopez were the two biggest spenders on airfare, lodging and meals out of six New Mexico university presidents, according to a copyright story in Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal.

The newspaper examined hundreds of expense reports for the presidents for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2004.
Lopez led with a total of $43,378, followed by Martin with $37,183. Gamble ($9,635) and New Mexico Highlands University President Manny Aragon were the most frugal.

Unlike NMHU, ENMU and Western New Mexico University, the presidents of the state’s top universities — Tech, the University of New Mexico and NMSU — have to chase public and private research dollars.

“First of all, (Martin) is at a research institution,” Gamble said. “I am at a primarily teaching institution. In order to support research, Dr. Martin has to go out and solicit substantial amounts of money from corporations and the federal government.

“Quite simply, as a teaching institution, that money is not available to us.”

That means some live larger on the road and often meet with policy-makers or tend to other business. Gamble, meanwhile, could only think of three trips that required him to leave the state — an annual trip to speak with New Mexico’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. and two trips to attend Lone Star Conference and NCAA meetings where presidents are required to attend.

“Their mission is very different from ours,” Gamble said. “They really do have to wine and dine people.”

A review of the records found:

Tech reimbursed Lopez for nine nights’ lodging at an Italy hotel, although records show he was on vacation for four of those nights. Lopez does not do interviews, but said in a fax he would return $1,036 to the university for the nights he was on vacation. While staying in Santa Fe during this year’s legislative session, Lopez received meal allowances while also charging meals and drinks to the school’s private foundation.

Martin has submitted several large, unexplained restaurant receipts. The dinners ranged from a $164 meal at a Santa Fe restaurant to a $333 tab at the Inn of the Mountain Gods in Ruidoso.

Martin said he has learned the rules in New Mexico are different from those in Florida where he had been a senior vice president at the University of Florida. He said he now charts everything.

“At Florida we had this thing: You pay somebody a quarter of a million dollars a year, you trust that they can spend 300,” he said.

UNM President Louis Caldera, who has the largest salary of the six presidents, and WNMU President John Counts receive monthly automobile allowances, then get mileage-based reimbursements if they use the vehicles for school business.

Caldera said the auto allowance is part of his compensation package, not a reimbursement for expenses. UNM pays him an allowance of $800 a month, plus 32 cents a mile while on business. Counts receives a $600-a-month allowance and also was reimbursed 32 cents a mile.
Gamble receives $505 each month to lease a vehicle solely for university business, and the university pays for fuel and maintenance.

Caldera’s meal tab was the largest, with the UNM foundation paying $1,900 for a dinner for 18. Guests included House Speaker Ben Lujan, D-Santa Fe, and prominent Hobbs and Santa Fe businessmen. Caldera said he entertains people who are able to help the university or who are connected to such people.

Gamble said he prefers to be frugal while on the university dime. During a three-night stay in Washington, D.C., the former Air Force officer used a military discount to stay at a military hotel for $195, less than some would pay for one night at other hotels.

“I just honestly try to be as frugal as I can,” Gamble said. “We’re sure not a rich school and every dollar counts. I’d rather have the dollar going toward something that moves the school forward.”

He said his goal is to be last in spending among the presidents.

“I ought to be,” he said. “I can’t imagine anybody else eating all their meals at Subway and staying in Comfort Inns.”
Gamble’s salary is the lowest of the presidents at roughly $164,300.

While some of the expenses incurred by the presidents are covered with tax dollars, other expenses are covered through university foundations.

Martin said New Mexico residents have to trust the judgment of the professionals they bring in to make choices about how private and public money is spent.

“I think the people of this state, through their representatives, including the (university) regents, have to decide if the investment they’re making in any of us is paying off,” Martin said.