In a continuation of efforts that began last legislative session, Rep. Jeff Steinborn (D-35 Doña Ana), Sen. Bill Soules (D-37 Doña Ana), and a bipartisan group of legislators have introduced legislation to improve the way New Mexico picks regents to run state universities. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 7 would create a constitutional amendment allowing voters to establish regent Nominating Committees to recommend qualified candidates to the Governor. Currently, regents are not required to have any set qualifications, and are considered political “plum” assignments often given to good supporters of the sitting Governor.
The resolution calls for the creation of bipartisan nominating committees that would recommend to the Governor the best candidates interested in serving as a regent. Under new language in the resolution, the committees would also include members of the faculty, student body, and community where the educational institution resides.
There would be committees set up for each of the schools included in Article 12 of the New Mexico constitution, which includes UNM, NMSU, NMIMT, WNMU, ENMU, NMHU, NMMI, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind.
According to a Michigan State University study comparing higher education regent selection processes and university outcomes, New Mexico ranked 49 out of 50 states.
The study also found that three of the top five performing schools measured have qualification requirements for their regent positions, compared to none for the bottom five performing schools, including New Mexico. Several of these top performing schools have “Nominating Councils” to make recommendations regarding qualified potential regents.
Rep. Jeff Steinborn says reform is long overdue, “Never has it been more critical that we help New Mexico universities be the best they can be to respond to the needs of our state and help create jobs for our next generation. These nominating committees would insure that we pick our best and brightest to run our universities, and we should embrace this positive step forward.”
Sen. Bill Soules added, “This is the type of education reform we can all embrace. We have nominating commissions for judges and interview committees for university presidents. We should follow the lead of the best universities in the country and establish Nominating Committees to help recommend top notch regents. I ask my colleagues to join me this session in getting this important reform done.”
If the resolution passes the legislature, it would go on the General Election ballot in November, giving voters the choice of establishing the Regent nominating committees.