New Mexico university president departs with $450K payout

Barbara Couture
Barbara Couture

LAS CRUCES, NEW MEXICO (HawaiiNewsNow) - New Mexico State University is looking for a new president after the school's Board of Regents accepted Barbara Couture's resignation Monday afternoon, according to television station KOB-TV.

NMSU is the only school that will remain in the Western Athletic Conference for football next year.  The remaining six WAC football teams are going to other leagues in 2013, a move the University of Hawaii made in 2011.

The decision comes a little less than three years since she was inaugurated as president of the school in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Couture's formal resignation comes after NMSU's Board of Regents announced she initiated an abrupt leave of absence last week.

But when asked what the reason was behind the leave of absence, Regent Mike Cheney said, "She did not give me a reason, she just said she was initiating annual leave," KOB-TV reported.

While regents refused to explain in public why she was leaving the university, their remarks indicated they were not happy with her performance.

At an NMSU regents' meeting Monday afternoon, Regent Javier Gonzales said, "We've seen falling enrollment, a decline in our research dollars, unreliable and inconsistent state funding, an athletic program that's in danger of finding itself with no conference to play in, a nursing school that just lost its accreditation and much more."

NMSU is a member of the Western Athletic Conference, known as the WAC.  Last year, the University of Hawaii left the WAC, and its football team now plays in the Mountain West Conference, while all other UH sports are part of the Big West Conference.

Those are among several challenges that regents said a new leader will have to be ready to take on as Couture departs.

Couture has accepted a position as senior adviser for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, the Las Cruces Star-News reported

The NMSU news release said Couture will begin work for the APLU immediately while assisting the university with leadership transition. She will not receive a salary from APLU while on leave.

"We need, as in any leader, you need strong administrative responsibility and abilities, the ability to motivate all those kinds of things you would expect of a leader at this great institution," Cheney said.

When asked if Cheney feels NMSU had that sort of leadership before, with Couture, Cheney replied, "I'm not going to comment on what we did or didn't have, or any strengths or shortcomings, but I will tell you Dr. Couture contributed to this university."

Couture is now on paid administrative leave and will receive her full salary and benefits until December 31, 2012, according to Cheney. She will be paid $450,000 under terms of mutual contract separation, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

An interim president will be named within the next few weeks.

Although not present at the meeting, Couture said in a written statement, "I have great respect for this university and all of the people I have worked with at NMSU. My experience here during the last three years has convinced me of the importance of affecting policy at the national level so that colleges and universities can do a better job of assisting students through scholarship and loan programs. This will be the focus of my work as senior adviser for APLU. NMSU is a wonderful school; with improvements that we have made in faculty and staff wages and increased efficiency during tough times, I believe the university is well positioned to move forward under new leadership. I thank the Regents, my staff, the faculty and the State of New Mexico for the opportunity to serve."

Dr. Wendy K. Wilkins, executive vice president and provost at New Mexico State University, has assumed Couture's administrative duties. Couture's appointments for the next two weeks have been canceled, university officials said.

(Television station KOB-TV and the Las Cruces Sun-News contributed to this report)

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