In an unanimous decision Thursday morning, the Western New Mexico University Board of Regents extended the university president’s contract by four years, citing Dr. Joseph Shepard’s seniority among other New Mexico university presidents and his leadership statewide as valuable.
With Regent Chair Dr. Mary Hotvedt, Vice Chair Janice Baca Argabright and Secretary/Treasurer Dr. Lyndon Haviland present but member Dr. Daniel H. Lopez absent from the meeting, which was conducted virtually, the board praised Dr. Joseph Shepard’s efforts to improve the university’s relationship with the town and expand programs since he was hired as WNMU President in 2011.
Dr. Haviland advised she and Dr. Lopez had been tasked with developing the new contract by reviewing background information; which included comprehensive compensation and salary data of all other current and potential presidents of other universities in New Mexico, including the president’s current compensation and his assessment of that in the current environment.
The committee’s compensation and contract recommendations were driven by Dr. Shepard’s ability to attract and retain high-quality staff, Dr. Haviland said. “At the end of the day, Dr. Shepard has been, in our opinion, an incredibly effective leader. We would like to see Dr. Shepard stay.”
Expressing her support for the contract extension, Baca Argabright said, “WNMU is fortunate to have president Dr. Shepard. I’m happy that Dr. Shepard will continue his vision for Western, Silver City and the state.”
Following the unanimous approval of the board’s invitation for him to continue leading WNMU for another four years, Dr. Shepard said, “Absolutely with honor, I accept and enter into this contract. University presidents’ average tenure is five years. When five years came, I remember making a statement that if I’m here for 10 years, that’s probably not a good thing, but this university has turned some major corners. It’s exciting to lead that type of an institution.”
Dr. Shepard credited the support of the board of regents and his fellow employees of WNMU for the university’s progress. “That is the why I’ve been here for 11 years and now am entering into another four-year contract.”
Members also approved the university president’s performance goals and evaluation plan for the coming year. “Our way of evaluating the president’s performance and the university’s performance is through the goals and objectives chosen out of the strategic plan to be emphasized for the coming year,” said Dr. Hotvedt, who was leading the meeting from the university president’s Serna Conference room. “These are hefty and important goals that encompass international efforts and efforts to do vocational training as well.”
“Before you is the evaluation plan,” said Dr. Shepard as a PDF appeared on the screen for board members. “We take a look at things such as cultural success for our students and how are we responding to the community, and that’s what these goals reflect.”
The five objectives of one of the goals listed are: Identify at-risk students and undertake appropriate actions to ensure their success; Implement an integrated university student-retention plan; Expand and assure quality of online and distance education programs; Foster and reward a collegial environment that encourages high morale and excellence in teaching, scholarship/research and service; Evaluate the university’s administrative structure and processes regarding their effectiveness in supporting student success.
The board also unanimously approved the fiscal year 2022-23 first quarter financial certification, which was presented by Vice President for Business Affairs Kelley Riddle. “What’s missing is some of our journal entries for some of our expenses,” she said, “but with the numbers that are presented here, I don’t find any concerns that I need to report to the board at this time. We do not have any budgetary or cash flow issues at this point.”
When it came his turn to provide information to the board, Dr. Shepard said WNMU saw a huge increase in first time freshmen enrollment this fall and is opening up a second enrollment opportunity this October. He also stated his optimism for even higher enrollment in the future: “I have no doubt we will meet our 4,000-student goal by next fall.”
Updating the board on the university’s carbon neutrality goals, Dr. Shepard said newly installed solar panels are now providing electricity for campus and that WNMU is contracting with a company that specializes in sustainability. “They look at how do we as individuals, what is our role in it?”
Dr. Hotvedt added that WNMU received a substantial rebate check from PNM. “The largest rebate check that PNM has ever given anyone in our region went to the university, and it is because of our zero-carbon initiative,” she said.
Continuing his report, Dr. Shepard listed grant awards and faculty endowment funding WNMU recently received from the state, highlighting $13 million in faculty endowments. He also related to the board that the New Mexico Higher Education Department just came up with their list of recommendations. “WNMU is slated $15 million for an early childhood center,” he said. “That is becoming more and more our expertise. We’ve outgrown our current facility. Take our current facility, and I’d like the board to look more at the behavioral health side.”
Mentioning homecoming activities happening this week and into the weekend, Dr. Shepard said, “If you’re in town, we’d love to have you participate.”
Announcing next week’s WNMU Distinguished Speaker Series, he said, “We have Graham Spanier who’s the president emeritus of Penn State and just wrote a book on the whole Sandusky affair. We also have Dr. Sandy Spanier. Dr. Spanier was just featured in the New York Times in reference to Hemingway. She’s the world’s leading expert on Hemingway and her lecture will be outstanding.”
Dr. Shepard informed the board that WNMU will be hosting the International Women’s Forum this week too. “A group of very prominent women in New Mexico and around the world, they’ll be on campus and we are proud to showcase our wonderful community.”
The WNMU Board of Regents will meet next on Thursday, December 8, one day ahead of the fall commencement ceremony.