Working toward solutions: From NMERB to the Legislative Session and our Strategic Planning

February 22, 2019

During the last few days, many of you have contacted me directly or our HR Services or others in the University Administration to ask questions, inquire about solutions, or simply to express your concern and dismay about what happened to Libby Leask. Although I only heard about this case through the newspaper article, just like most of you, allow me to bring you up to speed with what we’ve done during these last few days.

While I was in Santa Fe this week, Assistant Vice President Ricardo Rel, from NMSU’s Office of Government Relations, introduced me to Jan Goodwin, the Executive Director of the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board (NMERB). Jan and I discussed several broad ERB-related issues, including the Leask case. Although I cannot disclose any specifics about personnel matters, I am happy to report that ERB is actively working toward a resolution.

Ricardo and I also met with legislators to discuss several NMSU-related issues, including NMERB, the Leask case, and its implications for our employees. The NMSU community should be interested to know that there is now a bill being drafted for a vote (Senate Bill 664), which will allow “a surviving spouse or domestic partner to be considered a beneficiary if a deceased member of the Educational Retirement Plan has not otherwise designated a beneficiary.” This bill will be reviewed by the Senate Public Affairs Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee before going to the Senate and House for a vote. NMSU together with NMERB support this bill, and if you too are supportive, I encourage you to contact your Senator and Representative and urge them to vote for it.

There are other parts to the NMERB story from this week. Assistant Vice President for Human Resource Services Dr. Gena Jones and Benefit Services Director Armando Molina will soon receive a list of current NMSU employees who do not have complete beneficiary information on record with NMERB. Our Human Resource staff will reach out to every one listed and let them know of their status. Moving forward, we are encouraging NMERB to contact their account holders directly, especially because many former employees keep their NMERB accounts even after leaving NMSU. We commend NMERB for being responsive to NMSU concerns, even though a snow storm shut their offices for a day this week. If you have queries into them, they will respond, although they may have a backlog to work through. We will keep you informed as new developments arise.

The bottom line here is that we heard your concerns and we are responding as quickly as possible. We were fortunate to have the Legislature in session, and therefore we could craft a quick response. We will continue to work with NMERB, and we will reach out to Faculty Senate, the Employee Council, and your Union representation to work toward additional solutions.

It may seem like Chancellor Arvizu and I talk a lot about the importance of the Legislature when it is in session, but it is there that much of the business of the state is conducted. Just this week, the House of Representatives passed a $7 billion budget, which includes the appropriation for higher education institutions throughout the state. Although at this point, Higher Education is not getting its fair share budget-wise, we are working hard to change the outcome before the end of the session. On Wednesday, I testified in favor of House Bill 7, which creates a Center of Excellence in Sustainable Food & Agricultural Systems at New Mexico State University. Small investments in such centers can reap great benefits for New Mexico in this critical industry, and having such a center at NMSU is meaningful for us as a land-grant university.

In additional news, Chancellor Arvizu, Provost Mason, and I have begun presenting NMSU LEADS 2025 to audiences around campus, and more sessions will be scheduled. We have started getting very good feedback, and we want to hear from more people.

One challenge of strategic planning is empowering people: our front-line staff often have the best intelligence on problems and ideas regarding their solutions, but they may hesitate to contribute their ideas. Supervisors, managers, directors, department heads and deans can answer this challenge by listening to faculty and staff and empowering them to be part of the solution.

I look forward to hearing from you (

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