Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

7-26-06 Manny Goes

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Manny's gone. And we finally know why. For awhile it appeared the New Mexico Highlands University Board of Regents would keep quiet about its reasons for ousting the president.
That's the way firings often are settled. Both sides agree to step away from the underlying reason and say nothing. That's what Aragon did. But the regents had a lot of explaining to do about why they were getting rid of a guy with such strong support from students and the community.
After all, regents voted Aragon a $15,000 bonus just last fall. So the logical assumption was that the driving force was external, maybe a meddling governor or a coming indictment.
But then came the big surprise. The problem was the $15,000 bonus. It was coerced. The employee had browbeat his bosses into giving him a performance bonus they felt he didn't deserve.
Aragon won that battle, but in doing so, he destroyed his relationship with his board. Aragon's biggest critic on the board, John Loehr, was the one to reveal the genesis of the split. Regents' chairman, Javier Gonzales, soon confirmed that the relationship started downhill soon after the bonus action.
At the board meeting where the final decision was made on Aragon's employment, regents stood before the public and explained their vote. The development of an incompatible, unhealthy relationship wound through all of the explanations.
For those familiar with Aragon's tumultuous 29 years in the Senate, it was no surprise to learn that he had carried his bullying tactics to his next job. Aragon used them whenever he encountered resistance, and there were few consequences in the Senate because Manny was boss.
But working for five bosses is a different story. Loehr, who had voted for Aragon's original initial employment, said the bonus vote was the final straw. He immediately became a vocal critic. For the others, it was a process of witnessing increasing instances in which Aragon acted as though he had no bosses.
Aragon obviously felt he had good reasons for demanding a performance bonus. He had accomplished many of his objectives. He had instilled a new spirit among students and the community. He spruced up the campus. He listened to students and helped them with their problems. He interacted with the community and brought it a newfound pride in its college.
But those were not the regents' objectives. Sure, the new spirit and pride were important, but when Aragon was selected president, the talk was all about his outside connections that would enable him to bring in money and programs to the university from industries across the nation, with which Aragon had worked during his legislative career.
That may have sounded overly ambitious, but there were role models. The first was Gov. Bill Richardson, who immediately stepped onto the world stage upon his election and began strong-arming companies to invest in New Mexico.
The second was Dan Lopez, president of New Mexico Tech in Socorro. The Tech regents took an even bigger gamble when they hired Dr. Dan than when Highlands hired Manny.
Tech is one of New Mexico's three research institutions. Lopez had no background in science or university administration. He did have a doctorate and very successful experience in public school administration, so Tech took a chance -- and hit it big.
Dan Lopez is a success story of the highest degree. His name was often invoked when Aragon was hired at NMHU. And Lopez was encouraged by many to mentor his old friend Manny.
But Aragon had other ideas. Instead of letting his vice presidents and deans handle academic matters, as Lopez does, Aragon jumped in the middle of faculty politics. -- and the university got burned.
Aragon just never got into the external role that the regents, governor and political observers had envisioned. Maybe the regents didn't make it clear enough.
Or maybe it just wasn't Manny.
WED, 7-26-06

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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