LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University made a surprise decision in 2018 to replace one leader with two, both at substantially higher salaries. Last week, the university made another surprise announcement, saying it would go back to one leader.
In May 2018, the regents hired Dan Arvizu as chancellor and John Floros as president to replace outgoing Garrey Carruthers, whose official title was chancellor and president.
After three-and-a-half years, the two-headed approach came to an abrupt end when Floros on Friday announced he would be stepping down. Arvizu, who will be filling the positions of chancellor and president moving forward, said the decision wasn't as sudden as it may have seemed.
"John and I've been talking about this, literally, every year for the past three-and-a-half years, and about a year ago, we started talking about it more seriously," Arvizu told the Sun-News on Monday. "It's not something that came in kind of overnight, all of a sudden, 'okay, this is what we'll do.' It wasn't that at all. It was more of a 'when the time is right, we'll know.' And I think John agreed with the timing."
In 2018, Arvizu and Floros were both among the top five candidates to replace Carruthers. Arvizu, an NMSU alum. was a former director and chief executive officer of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Floros was dean of the Kansas State University agriculture college and K-State Cooperative Extension when he interviewed.
The two had distinct roles in the beginning of their terms. Arvizu — who said he had little knowledge of the academic side of running a university then — was the top cheerleader for the university, going after funding and recruiting students. Floros, the former dean, was the academic lead, working to strengthen colleges and retain students and faculty.
The university paid big dollars for the visionary and the executor. Carruthers was paid $373,450 in his final year. Arvizu and Floros started with base salaries of $500,000 and $450,000, respectively, plus bonuses and other benefits. The nearly threefold pay increase for the chancellor and president position was controversial.
Arvizu said the two leaders' differing strengths were necessary to write and implement the NMSU LEADS 2025 strategic plan.
"I think it was a good investment," Arvizu said. "In the grand scheme of things, we have a budget of $800 million or so, a couple million dollars of investment in strategic leadership doesn't seem like it's extremely exorbitant. I know it seems like a lot to a lot of people and that we get a lot criticism all the time. But as a practical matter, having people who have the level of expertise, competence and experience that John brought, I think, was extremely valuable. Was it sustainable? That's a different question."
Arvizu was outside, championing the university, Floros was inside, seeing through the vision. But by 2022, Arvizu said his role had morphed into him needing to be more of that inside presence to ensure long-term sustainability.
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Another motivating factor in the change, Arvizu said, was that the regents recently changed their contracts so that Floros would have less direct contact with the governing Board of Regents.
"They changed my contract, they changed John's contract essentially to include the fact that now the president reports to the chancellor, the chancellor is the only one that really reports to the regents," Arvizu said. "That change was made last year, and that began to be the process. Obviously, my role or my approach to this particular job was to have a very close relationship with the regents."
Arvizu said he was the one who ultimately made the decision to consolidate the president and chancellor positions after discussing with Floros.
Because of the tweak to their contracts last year, he didn't need governing board approval, but he said the regents were "well aware of his thought process." In a letter sent Friday to the NMSU community, Arvizu stated the regents supported the decision for Floros to step down. The board did not meet formally to discuss it, he said.
In November 2021, the university faculty and student senates passed resolutions of no confidence in Floros and Provost Carol Parker, each claiming the university was spending too much money on administration and that the administration wasn't listening to their concerns.
Parker was placed on administrative leave soon after the resolutions were passed.
Arvizu said the resolutions had some bearing on his decision, but were just one piece of a much larger puzzle. He said he didn't want to go into the details of the resolutions because of an ongoing audit looking into the allegations. He said the audit results are expected soon.
What's next for NMSU?
During a Zoom address to the university system Monday morning, Arvizu spent most of it highlighting the university's recent accomplishments such as stabilizing student enrollment, increasing graduation rates and the rising percentage of Hispanic students.
Arvizu said these accomplishments are a credit to the NMSU team, not one individual.
Moving forward, there will be changes to the NMSU administration, highlighting a "top box" of three key upper administrators: himself as chancellor/president, Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Ruth Johnston and Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer Renay Scott.
"The intent here is just to streamline organization, and be more responsive to our mission and objectives going forward," Arvizu said during the Zoom address.
There will not be a major hiring in the near future, according to Arvizu.
"We've got key people to fill in the key functions," Arvizu said to the Sun-News. "I don't need to hire anybody else, we've got the people that we need for the functions that we have. And now the system is starting to stabilize a little bit."
Arvizu said he intends to continue a mission of raising enrollment, graduation rates and research expenditures. He said he'll be spending more time meeting with NMSU deans and he intends for more cross-university discussions with less separation between offices.
"It's a highly complex enterprise, and it's important that we not put things in silos," Arvizu said. "There's a lot of differences in terms of what we need to do going forward. But I think we're well equipped."
What's next for Floros?
In 2018, Floros and Arvizu each signed five-year contracts.
Floros stated in his letter on Friday that he would be spending the next 30 days helping the university transition to its new leadership format and then would be taking a year-long sabbatical. This is consistent with the provisions of his contract under termination at the discretion of the chancellor.
According to the contract, Floros will be paid his annual base compensation through the date of his termination, any earned but unpaid incentive compensation, and any unpaid accrued benefits. While on sabbatical for a year, Floros will receive his annual base salary of $450,000 in bimonthly installment payments.
After his sabbatical, Floros plans to return to NMSU as a faculty member.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: NMSU chancellor Dan Arvizu addresses decision to consolidate leadership roles