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UNM finalists are doers, shakers, colleagues say

Susie Gran

Albuquerque Tribune

January 25, 2007

[Note: This material is copyright by the Albuquerque Tribune, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Albuquerque Tribune.]

In the eyes of their faculties, finalists for the University of New Mexico presidency come with baggage and bragging rights.

Consider these snippets:

Meredith Hay, the vice president for research at the University of Iowa, was sued this month by a lab director she fired in October. But Hay is respected for "making tough decisions," said Sheldon Kurtz, president of the university's Faculty Senate.

President David J. Schmidly at Oklahoma State University is the darling of the sports community, but unpopular with faculty who feel neglected, said OSU Faculty Council Chairman Tom Phillips.

Schmidly and billionaire T. Boone Pickens have been the targets of criticism by property owners who were forced to sell to make room for an OSU athletic village Pickens donated $165 million to build.

Schmidly is the former Texas Tech president who hired legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight in 2001. "That's the sort of thing people notice," Phillips said.

Robert McGrath at Ohio State University had to bring his researchers into compliance with federal regulations for laboratory animal care, a necessary shake-up that strained his relationship with faculty. But faculty leader Allan Silverman says McGrath is "by and large a good guy" who built trust with his colleagues.

"He's all about quality," added Caroline Whitacre, vice dean for research in the OSU College of Medicine. "He led the ship."

McGrath is the third-highest ranking Ohio State official. But he has been abandoned by the top two: OSU's president resigned, and the provost recently announced his departure.

Despite their problems and predicaments, the UNM finalists were characterized by faculty leaders at their respective institutions as doers and shakers who have made significant contributions to their universities.

The UNM Board of Regents on Wednesday named the five finalists. All were characterized as "outstanding" by John Geissman, chairman of the UNM Faculty Committee on Governance.

Geissman said the faculty will prepare a list of questions for the finalists to answer during campus interviews, which regents President Jamie Koch said will be arranged quickly. Regents want to name a new president in March.

In the meantime, Geissman said he hopes UNM faculty with colleagues at the finalists' institutions will gather information about the candidates and scrutinize their performance.

"I just hope a group takes the job by the horns and does it," he said.

The finalists include local favorite Daniel Lopez, president of New Mexico Tech, and Herman D. Lujan, provost and vice president for academic affairs at California State University, Los Angeles.

Officials at New Mexico Tech said they would be sorry to lose Lopez to UNM.

"But we always thought it was a possibility," said Van Romero, vice president for research. "He's a leader. He's done great things for Tech, and he understands New Mexico. That puts him ahead of the other finalists."

Lopez was a candidate, though not a finalist, in UNM's 2003 presidential search that yielded Louis Caldera. Caldera resigned last year.

Faculty members at Cal State, Los Angeles, could not be located to comment for this story.

Besides Lopez, two other finalists have ties to New Mexico: McGrath was on the senior research staff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque from 1984-98; Schmidly has family here.

In his message today to OSU employees, Schmidly said the UNM position "has strong appeal because the school is the state's flagship research university and because of strong personal ties. Our son and his wife live in New Mexico, and we have a second home there."

The finalists and their reputations

On Meredith Hay:

"She's viewed as a competent, effective administrator. You can't help but like her. She's outgoing and quite fun." - Sheldon Kurtz, president of the University of Iowa Faculty Senate.

On Daniel Lopez:

"He's a super president. He'd be good anyplace. We sure would hate to lose him." - Richard Carpenter, president of the New Mexico Tech Board of Regents.

On Robert McGrath:

"I'm a big fan of his. Bob will bring a big research profile, if that's what you are looking for. He's an excellent candidate." - Allan Silverman, chairman of the Ohio State University Faculty Council.

On David J. Schmidly:

"Many faculty are not happy with the president and what's going on. For some on campus, there will be no love lost if he goes. Although he's controversial, he's done a lot for the university." - Tom Phillips, chairman of the Oklahoma State University Faculty Council.

The Tribune could not reach faculty members at California State University, Los Angeles, for comments on Herman D. Lujan, provost and vice president for academic affairs.