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New NMSU president maps out initial challenges

Spring Convocation at New Mexico State University Jan. 12 opened a new chapter for the university, not only in the form of a new semester, but also in the direction provided by new President Barbara Couture.



Speaking before the New Mexico State University campus community during Spring Convocation, NMSU President Couture laid out five areas of focus for the university. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Speaking before the campus community at the Atkinson Recital Hall, and to off-campus faculty, staff and students via the Internet, President Couture laid out five areas of focus for the university:

1. The university's state-aided budget:

"We all have read the initial proposal from the Legislative Finance Committee and our governor's response," Couture said. "To say this is not going to be an easy budget year is to be at risk of understatement. Like nearly every state in our nation, New Mexico is facing state budget shortfalls and it will be a very, very difficult session ahead for the men and women of our legislature."

Couture acknowledged that the university, like every other state agency, will have to trim the budget and demonstrate that it is operating as efficiently and as effectively as possible. Couture emphasized the value of the university system to this state, not only as one of the major employers of the state's workforce, but also as a leading institution of higher education in a system of public universities and community colleges that is the envy of the world. In these highly competitive times, institutions of higher education must maintain their value and role in providing a competitive edge to the state and nation, she said.

"We don't know yet what the impact of the final state budget will be, but we do know now that if the budget as proposed by the LFC stands, we will face major damage to our instructional programs and our primary research areas," she said. "During the 30-day session, I will work with our very accomplished university staff and our friends in the legislature to assure that the interests of our students and the teaching, research and outreach infrastructure of our university are preserved and remain strongly supported."

2. The importance of keeping student enrollment strong

"Key to that success are the relationships between our university campus and each of our system community colleges," Couture said. "Equally important is the work we do with our local and statewide high schools to encourage young people to go to college."

As a land-grant institution, NMSU has the facilities, faculty, staff and locations to reach out to young people, adults, businesses, industries and governments across the state, providing general and specialized educational opportunities.

"Our great challenge is to coordinate these efforts so that all of those who interact with us have meaningful and effective ways to reach their goals," Couture said. She noted that, as of Jan. 1, the four partner presidents of the NMSU community colleges directly report to her office.

"This structure more effectively recognizes their roles as leaders of partner institutions and, through their regular contact with me, we can focus on those critical issues that will make our system stronger," Couture said. The university also will be looking at ways to strengthen its relationships to high schools and high school teachers across the state.

3. Strengthen and expand the academic and research core

"I am eager to learn more from you about where our departments and colleges have been building research and scholarly expertise, how this expertise has translated into academic programs that we are uniquely qualified to deliver, and how our faculty are connecting with the federal, state and foundation sources of funding that can help them continue and expand their work," Couture said.

Following the upcoming session of the New Mexico State Legislature, Couture will hold an open forum on the Las Cruces campus for faculty and staff. The forum will give participants an opportunity to talk with her directly about their concerns, hopes and dreams. In the meantime, Couture will continue to meet with many college and department leaders in committee forums, individual meetings and at campus events, and she plans to reach out to students as well.

"I am eager to hear your thoughts and theirs about what we can do to support the ambitions and plans of our academic community," Couture said. "As part of this process, you can be sure that I will familiarize myself with our faculty's unit plans, with the benchmarks of our 'Living the Vision' plan, and the research, teaching and service strengths of our faculty and staff. These strengths, again, are our greatest assets and I will do my very best to work with you to build upon and protect them."

4. Visit NMSU Extension sites and campuses statewide.

"We serve a wide and varied constituency, from a wide variety of cultural groups to traditional, state-of-the-art, and futuristic industries and research laboratories. All are important to our mission, and as soon as we have completed our important work in Santa Fe, we're going to get to know all of these constituencies better," Couture said.

5. In recognition of the important role private funding plays in supporting public universities, become actively involved in the Doing What Counts Campaign

"Last weekend I attended the pops festival of the Las Cruces Symphony and met many fine community members who have been long-time supporters of the arts programs in this community and in our university," Couture said. "Sprinkled in this crowd were several relative newcomers to Las Cruces, folks who came to this community specifically to enjoy the quality of life that a great land-grant university community provides. I spoke with one couple about the 'great idea' that was the Morrill Act and America's legacy of land-grant universities. We add value to the state and its communities through our forward-looking research, outreach to government and industry, and the arts and humanities programs that add to our quality of life.

"NMSU is now in the midst of a campaign to raise $225 million in support for the university by December of 2010," she said. "I am proud to announce today that of December 31, 2009, the Doing What Counts Campaign exceeded $216 million."

She noted the many alumni, donors and friends of NMSU who have contributed to this success, and recognized the 20 percent of NMSU faculty and staff who have made financial commitments to the mission of NMSU through payroll deductions or one-time gifts to the campaign.

"I wish to take this opportunity to say 'thank you' to each of you for your contributions, for believing in your colleagues, colleges and departments, and for supporting the academic success of our students through scholarships and enhanced educational experiences," Couture said. "Because of your contributions and our ongoing fundraising efforts, more than 1,000 student scholarships have been established, more than 200 colleges and departments now have supplemental operating funds, and more than 70 faculty are honored to hold endowed positions. We can be proud of these accomplishments as we move forward to complete the campaign, and you can be assured that I will be a headliner supporting these efforts."

Hand-in-hand with the fundraising are ongoing projects that contribute to economic development in the area. Couture mentioned the NMSU Arrowhead Center and the opportunities it provides for translating faculty and student research into marketable products and services; the Center for the Arts project; and the potential the university has through its involvement with the Early College High School program to lead nationally with an innovative educational approach that increases access to college for New Mexico students.

"These efforts are in the spirit of our land-grant mission and are indicative of the broad reach NMSU has in developing our surrounding communities," Couture said. "Extending that reach while building on the specific academic research and creative strengths of our university will be a key theme as I interact with you over the coming months. And I welcome your thoughts about our future and the strategic directions we might take to strengthen NMSU's unique contribution to our national system of research and land-grant institutions."