Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

9-24 NM Tech is Hot


Syndicated Columnist

      SANTA FE -- Imagine a school where going to class is the best part of college.

   Popular Science magazine recently selected New Mexico Tech's Energetic Materials Research and Training Center  as one of five labs in the country that does just that.  But, hey, why wouldn't blowing up stuff in class be a lot of fun?

      Newsweek magazine also has rated New Mexico Tech, at Socorro, as one of the 25 "hottest" schools in the nation, based on interviews with students, administrators and faculty.

   Tech got high marks for minimal admissions red tape, reasonable cost and one of the nation's prime research centers for fighting the War on Terror.

   And why shouldn't fighting the War on Terror be hot? Everyone wants to do it. The federal government has billions of bucks to pour in.

   The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology knows how to play the game. If the feds want to dish out money for fighting terrorism, why not develop programs that do it?

   Tech has been in the explosives business for over 50 years and it has had a president the last 14 who is exceeded by no one in his ability to find money.

   For years, Tech was led by a string of eminent scientists. That may sound logical for a leading research university, but how much do scientists know about running a university and finding money?

   Not much, evidently. In 1993, the school was short of both students and money. That's when it hired Dan Lopez, who wasn't a scientist. Needless to say, it was a controversial decision.

   But Dr. Dan was the perfect fit. As an employee of the Legislative Finance Committee and secretary of the Department of Finance and Administration, he had learned where the money is and how to get it.

   During his tenure, Tech has tripled its number of students, added $120 million of improvements to the campus and brought in dozens of new federally funded programs. The flashiest of those new programs has been purchase of the Phelps Dodge company town of Playas, in the state's boot heel, for use as an anti-terrorism training center.

   No university president in the state and few in the nation can claim the successes of Dr. Lopez. But then few college presidents are as affable, energetic, creative and conscientious as he is.

   Sen. Manny Aragon had many of the same strengths going for him when he was chosen to head New Mexico Highlands University. He knew where the money was and had the contacts.

   Many of us counseled him to follow the course of Dr. Lopez and we asked Lopez to give advice to Aragon. But Manny had other priorities.

   Those of you who have read this column the past 20 years may remember that I have written often about college presidents. My father was president of what is now Western New Mexico University, in Silver City, so I have some background.

   In addition to J. Cloyd Miller and Dan Lopez, I hold University of New Mexico President Tom Popejoy in highest regard. Other presidents of our state universities have been very good and many very bad.

   I was pleased at a recent reception for new UNM President David Schmidly to hear many people say he reminds them of Tom Popejoy. That is a very hopeful sign. Like Miller and Lopez, Popejoy wasn't an academic. He had other people for that.

   Popejoy was a very good administrator, who got things done -- on campus, with alumni and inside the Capitol. He had been a good football player at UNM, who got a job in the business office and then worked his way up.

   People used to chuckle about 'ol Tom, who was just a jock. When he retired they hired a series of academics to replace him. And somehow Popejoy just kept looking smarter and smarter as the years passed.

   We know President Schmidly has the academic background. Let's hope we see a lot of Tom Popejoy in him too.

Mon,  9-24-07


JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505

(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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