NMSU's Garrey Carruthers reflects on time as chancellor
By ALI LINAN
May. 16, 2018
LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — It was instilled in Garrey Carruthers at a young age that education was the ticket out of poverty.
Growing up on a small dairy farm in Aztec, Carruthers said he recalls milking cows, mowing hay and hauling the milk to the highway for pickup. His parents, William "Bill" and Frankie Jane Carruthers were products of the Great Depression, landing in New Mexico after his father lost his farm in Colorado, Carruthers said.
"(My parents) indicated that if you want to find yourself in a better position in life you must get a college education," Carruthers said.
The idea became real when Carruthers received a $250 scholarship to attend New Mexico State University, and he's been a proud Aggie since. Carruthers now serves as the 27th chancellor and president of NMSU. He retires July 1.
"I would have never come to New Mexico State, or I would never have had this long and happy lifetime at New Mexico State . if it were not for a $250 scholarship," Carruthers said, sitting in the chancellor's office next to a sign that reads: "New Mexico State is my happy place."
Carruthers came to NMSU in 1957. As a freshman, Carruthers recalled he and other freshmen wore red beanies and had to turn to Tortugas "A'' Mountain and sing the school's fight song when told to by an upperclassman. The hazing ritual ended when the freshman walked up the mountain and painted the A — a tradition that no longer exits. However, students do still paint the A each spring, and Carruthers accompanied the group this year at age 78.
"It was a rite of passage here, then you were a full-fledged member of the (university) community," Carruthers said.
As an undergrad, Carruthers studied dairy science. That path changed when he took an agricultural economics course in his junior year and decided he wanted to study that instead, he said. He said his counselor said it was too late in his college career to do so but agreed to give him agricultural economics courses and encouraged him to take up the study in a graduate program.
So that's exactly what Carruthers did.
Carruthers went on to get a master's from NMSU in science agriculture economics and agriculture business and a Ph.D. in economics from Iowa State.
He would go on to a career in business and politics and would serve as New Mexico's 27th governor. He is the only NMSU graduate to serve either as the university's chancellor or New Mexico's governor.
But it was his time as a student NMSU that Carruthers said makes his job as chancellor of the university so much easier. Carruthers also said his experience in coming to college and changing his career path is something that he can relate to students, as college is a place for exploring.
"I know a lot of people who are Aggies and alums and everything else. I can talk about New Mexico State back to 1957 at the drop of a hat," Carruthers said. "It's really turned out to have been a tremendous benefit to me to have been an Aggie and then have served as a chancellor."
Carruthers was named NMSU chancellor in May 2013, at a time when the university was experiencing dropping enrollment and retention rates and a lack of funding from the state. He has served as dean of the university's College of Business before taking over for Barbara Couture in Hadley Hall.
In fall 2017, the university saw about a 3 percent decline in enrollment, a drop Carruthers said was due to a stagnant population growth in the state. However, the school did see a jump in freshmen enrollment this school year, officials said due to out-of-state recruiting and new marketing tactics.
But with fewer students on campus, Carruthers had to make some tough decisions and launched the Transforming NMSU Project which worked to make the university more efficient by examining and overhauling the way it does business, from its organizational structure to the way it handles purchasing, finance services, information technology and other areas, Carruthers said in his retirement announcement.
In doing so, Provost Dan Howard, who has worked with Carruthers throughout his entire chancellorship, said they have had to cut more than 700 jobs, as well as make changes as to how the university operates, saving a projected $10 million.
"(Carruthers) kept the university whole and kept it moving forward in a period of time with diminishing resources," Howard said. "That's a hard thing to do, and I think he succeeded better than almost anybody else I could possibly imagine."
Howard said Carruthers has good judgment and did not take any decision to cut personnel lightly, working with staff and departments every step of the way. Carruthers always had the mindset of doing what is best for the students and what's best for the institution, Howard said.
"I think we've come out of all of that an institution that is well poised for the future," Howard said.
As part of the transforming project, Carruthers also looked to improve the university's community outlay, adding new buildings on campus, including a new visual arts building that's in construction now and a dormitory that broke ground April 27.
In addition, NMSU raised its admission standards from a 2.5 GPA to a 2.75, and also established a pathway to NMSU main campus from the four branch campuses and through high school programs such as Arrowhead Park Early College High School.
NMSU has also worked to enhance the student life experience though requiring students to live on campus their freshman year starting fall 2017. This would allow for students to be more active on campus and increase university retention rates, university officials said.
Carruthers was also able to use his past legislative experience as governor of New Mexico, as well as other roles, to advocate for the university in funding and regulation.
Carruthers said he considers all of these some of his greatest accomplishments during his tenure.
"So we got into stormy seas when I first took this job and sailed together and now we've broken out into a calm place," Carruthers said.
While Carruthers said he believes he was effective during his time as chancellor to keep the university afloat, he does admit to an inability to accomplish every goal he set out to do, the biggest being to secure a single athletic conference for the school.
Aggie football was part of the Sun Belt Conference, a four-year relationship that ended after the Aggies beat the Utah State Aggies 26-20 in overtime at the Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl in late December. Next season, the football team will be without a conference affiliation.
All other NMSU sports play in the Western Athletic Conference.
Carruthers said finding a permanent conference home for the Aggies will be an immediate challenge for the new chancellor.
"One thing I was never able to resolve was the conference alignment issue when I set out five years," Carruthers said.
However, axing the program all together was never an option, Carruthers said.
"(Having a football program) is good for our community, it's good for our alumni, good for people who want to invest in our university," he said. "And it's just one of our traditions."
Carruthers announced his retirement in August 2017, after the Board of Regents, the governing body of the university, announced that they would not renew his contract after July 1.
As for what the next chancellor will drop into, Carruthers said dealing with enrollment and retention and finding a conference home for the athletic teams are going to be the first big challenges.
Carruthers said he hopes the next chancellor will also focus on rebuilding research, a main vein within the university.
"You're a great university in part because you have a great research base," Carruthers said. "The next chancellor is going to have to devote as much time inspiring research as much as we probably did in getting our student enrollment up."
Carruthers added that he hopes the next chancellor will also work on fundraising. Carruthers said he was able to raise $90 million of his fundraising campaign so far and he hopes the next chancellor will pick that up and continue with another campaign.
Howard reiterated some of Carruthers request for what he hopes the next chancellor will be.
"The chancellor is the face of the university, and I think Garrey Carruthers did that as well as anyone in the institution. I hope whoever comes in will be able to assume that role and be a good face for the university," Howard said.
Carruthers said he will continue to be a part of the university as long as he can and he is welcomed. Come the end of his tenure, Carruthers said he will be moving his office into the Pete V. Domenici Institute office, and will be working on some appointments he's been offered, including reviewing applications and evaluating the federal magistrate court.
Howard said he hopes the university will continue to reach out to Carruthers for his knowledge, guidance and experience.
"I think (Carruthers) led us through some of the most difficult years that NMSU has ever faced very effectively, and we have come out on the end of those difficult years a very strong institution that will continue to get stronger over the years," Howard said.
Information from: Las Cruces Sun-News, http://www.lcsun-news.com