Sen. Pat Woods says system of regent appointments too political in nature

Republican state Sen. Pat Woods of Broadview is supporting proposed constitutional amendments sponsored by Las Cruces Democrats Rep. Jeff Steinborn and Sen. William Soules requiring elections for some university regents now appointed by the governor.

The amendments proposed in House joint resolutions would require elections board of regents members at the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University. It was also require candidates for appointed regent positions to be vetted through a legislative commission.

The bill wouldn't affect Eastern New Mexico University.

Currently, UNM has a seven-member regents board and NMSU has a five-member board. All regents are appointed by the governor with confirmation by the New Mexico Senate.

Three members of each board would be elected in non-partisan elections, and two would be appointed by the governor, according to a statement released by both Democrat lawmakers. Students and faculty would be represented by one member each on both boards. The proposal would also reduce regent terms from six years to four.

House Joint Resolution 8, also sponsored by Steinborn and Soules, calls for "Regent Nominating Commissions" through which the Legislature would interview candidates for non-student regent positions and recommend their choices to the governor, Steinborn's statement said. The governor's appointment would have to be made from candidates recommended by the legislative nominating commission.

"For too long, our university regents have served as the ambassadorships of New Mexico politics," Steinborn's statement said, "often times being given out to big political donors and friends. It's time we take the politics out of our universities, and increase the accountability, public involvement, and quality of them to make them work better for our kids and our future."

Woods said he supports the measure because colleges seem to be failing to produce educators who can teach kids how to read.

If the college leaders "are not designing curriculum that actually prepares teachers to teach our children successfully," Woods said in a statement, "then they need to be thrown out at the next election.

"Why are we having to pay additionally for reading coaches in our elementary schools when our universities should be teaching our students in the department of education how to teach reading in the first place?" Woods asked. "Teaching reading should be their number-one job."

Woods said he also believes state schools should be more responsive to the needs of businesses and the job market.

"We need regents who have a business background, who can use their business expertise to design curriculum to prepare students for jobs in the real world," he said.

Elected regents, Woods said, would be more likely to respond to these needs.

"I truly believe that if you run for the job to be on the board, rather than be appointed by the governor," he said, "you will be obligated to meet the voters' criteria, or they'll vote you out."

Elected regents, Woods said, would also enhance local control of regional colleges and universities.

"Local voters who know what their communities need should do a better job of selecting regents for their universities, " Woods said. "There needs to be more local control over decision making."

Steven Gamble, president of Eastern New Mexico University, said the resolutions Woods is supporting are "trying to fix something that's not broken."

On the ENMU board, Gamble said, no more than three appointees are allowed to be from the same political party. Candidates are thoroughly interviewed and evaluated by the governor's staff and the staff makes recommendations. Further, he said, the governor's appointee is subject to confirmation by the state senate.

All of New Mexico colleges and universities, Gamble said, are also drawing from wider geographic bases than they once did, and regents boards should reflect this reality.

For example, Gamble said, ENMU is drawing students from Albuquerque and even West Texas, although most students are still from the eastern side of the state.

When ENMU was founded in the 1930s, Gamble said, "a trip across the state would have been quite a journey. Now it takes three-and-a-half hours."

Gamble would not comment on Woods' assertion that reading coaches would not be necessary if colleges would teach education students how to teach reading, but he did observe, "Some things look simple, but they're actually quite complicated."

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