When New Mexico State University's president, J. Michael Orenduff, was fired last month, the university's Board of Regents said it was because he had pushed the school's athletic program $1 million in the red. Now it appears his removal may have been punishment for offending the state's traditional ranching interests.
The story is rooted in media mogul
(and ranch owner) Ted Turner's April comments to NMSU journalism
students. Turner, who runs 1,000 head of buffalo on 200,000 acres
near Truth or Consequences, N.M., called cattle ranching "a foolish
thing to do, a mistake." He added, "Bison don't really belong here
either." The remarks drew heavy criticism from New Mexico's
ranching community, including the president of the university's
Board of Regents, Larry Sheffield, himself a rancher and the
president of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock
Sheffield did not return phone calls, but
Orenduff said that a few days after Turner's speech, Sheffield told
him that the remarks would "cause the university a lot of trouble."
Sheffield sent a letter to his board of regents demanding that the
university repudiate Turner's remarks. Similar letters followed
from ranchers around the state, including the head of the state
Cattle Growers' Association, Bill Humphries, a former member of the
board of regents.
But Orenduff, a Texas native
who grew up around ranching, refused to comply. "Larry was very
upset about the speech and I tried to explain to him about the
University's role as a forum for free speech," Orenduff said. But
the regents voted to put him on administrative leave May 16, and to
fire him on June 3. William Conroy, the university's former
executive vice president, was named to replace him. John Owens,
former dean of the Department of Agriculture and Home Economics,
and a popular figure with ranchers, has taken over Conroy's old
None of the regents returned phone calls,
including Carl Faubion, who is also a
Orenduff, a philosophy professor and
former chancellor of the University of Maine system, does not
specifically blame his firing on ranching interests, but he says
his removal was strange. He called the shortfall in the school's
athletic budget routine, and attributed it to the firing of a
football coach whose contract had to be bought
"The regents never discussed with me any
shortcomings in my performance," Orenduff said in a phone
interview. "I had regular lunches with (Sheffield) as recently as
three weeks before this happened and he was telling me what a good
job I was doing."
Clyde Eastman, a professor of
rural sociology and president of the university's faculty senate,
called the events surrounding Orenduff's removal "bizarre." Asked
about the regents' claims about the athletic department budget,
Eastman said, "No one believes those. From 1954 to 1994, this
institution had three presidents. We have been a bastion of
stability and now we fire our president after two years in town?
That's not the way we do business here." "''"
letter from the head of the New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association,
demanding that Orenduff denounce Turner's remarks.
Everything is happening a
lot faster than we expected. The whole thing with orendorf being
terminated was very sudden. From what the regents told us there was
concern about deficitts that weren't communicated to them. Came up
at regents meeting tat two construction contracts were awarded
without their approval. Estimating cash reserve decline of $9
million-that report came from the vp. "There is a whole style here
of gen. admn that might have something to do with it."
The exec. vp william controy
was promoted to pres, and the dean of our college just made vp.
Jerry Schickedanz-assoc dean
and dir. of ccoper ext service.
I Miley Gonzalez
(least possibility, may go to fed. govt.)
John Owens in new
interim vp. His appt. effective
"Turner made some
statements that made some people angry."
Conroy made interim president
on May 19, and on June 3.
16, May 19 (said stepped aside and on admn leave), and June 3
Regents meetings. All the dirt was mentioned at the June 3 meeting.
Announced ORendorf had stepped aside on May
Turner-Mentioned his own
industry as not being good for the enviornment-called the industry:
called cattle ranching "'a foolish thing to do, a mistake." El Paso
Times. The Gardiner Memorial Lecture Series.
President of NM Farm and
Livestock Bureau (15,000)-John Van Sweden, and a new appointee to
the regents. Call Erik
some weeks afterward said he would accept money form the Turner.
This was in a written question and answer session and he said.
Jim Winder-Was Southern New
Mexico group chair for SC, and was on executive committee. On board
of trustees for NM chapter of nature
Glad to have Owes out of where he
is. He is industry as usual. NM state known for promoting sq in the
ranching industry. "Need smeone with more more progressive idea of
what ranching is. Ihope that this is an opportunity for the new
dean to realize his contituence goes beyond the ranchers of nm, and
that we need to view our resources in a broader light and to
realize that things like recreation and conservation are legitimate
uses of natural resources'-89,000 acre
"We desparately need
serious research coming out New MExico
"OUr resources are
being used for different things. Now there are a lot of people
using range land and conflicts are arising." -We can vastly imporve
graizing practices. We need science to throw a little water on this
debate and we are no getting it from New MExico state." There is a
"Everyone wants to take their
paycheck and keep their head down." -Went to school at NMSU-We
desparately need some leadership and to sovle these problems not to
just defend the status quo. Ranch in NUtt, hour nw of LC. 36 years.
Politics ad lack of
courageous leadership-these times take a little courage. It's not
enough to justify the sq. You want to sit around and say our
riparian areas are not in terible shape. It takes somebody to call
it as it is."
I never saw any
traces that he was on the progressive side of ranching-'I never saw
any trace of it."
Box-filled gerald thomas cchair for a year, and tried to get some
sustainablility stuff going. Left last year. Tried to take an
Thomas-Conroy and Owens will bring a lot of stability to the
university. I don't think that has anything to do it. This is
strictly and academic decision by the board of regents. The
university has to be open to all kinds of opinions and I think
that's important." former dean of ag at Texas Tech, trained i range
ecology. From ranching family idaho. Grad school at Texas
Was president from 70-84.
Gerald Thomas Chair in Food Production and Natural Resources-they
are trying to balance economic and ecological issues and I think
doing a pretty good job of it. Their attempt is to seek common
ground on some of the issues."
Conroy-at univ. since 85 as exec vp, top academic officer. Servied
ast interim president for year before Orenduff was hired.
John Van Sweden's-Took office on Regent's in january, president of
the stae farm bureau-505-445-3002-PResident of Board of Regents is
one believes those, amontst the faculty and people here in NM...As
to what the factors could be, I have some ideas. It is up to the
regents to indicate what therir regions were. This is a public
institution, not a private business, and the public wants to know
why you do serious things like this. It's up to the regents to make
a clear statement about why they did this." turner's foundation
spends quite a bit of money in this state on enviornmental issues
anad that is what these people don't like."
New Mexico Cattlegrowers
Assoc-Bill Humphries is the president. Lobbyists bombarded the
regents with mail surrounding the turner
Fabion long time cattlemen and farm bureau
raising questions about how these contracts were let-Service
contracts at the Univesrity.
New MExico Cattle
Growers-Humphries letter Eastman is a rural sociologist, dept. of
from 1955-94 had three preseidents. We have been a bastion of
stability during a time of timult in higher education, and now we
fire our president after two years in town and that's not the way
we do business here. There mayb e good reasons for what they did,
and the public deserves to know.
Taylor-Legislator-Mesilla, near Las
first place a lot of us don't know what the hell is going on. Even
if they don't tell, it's going to become obvious pulbically."
Russ Winn-Pol Sci, President
of AAUP chapter 646-2620.
is a public insitution, and by God the public-'Most of the poeple
who work in this college know where their bread is buttered, and
the ranching community has an inordinate amount of influence in the
were no financial impropireties-there was a routine shortfall in
the athletic dcept. For an athletic dept. to be in the red is not
uncommon in higher ed. It "s a routeine matter. The regents have
publically statted that as the reason for asking me to resign. The
last time we had the athletic dept in red before (less than a 10
percent deficit in ath. dept., and the athletic dept. is about 2
percent of aoverall budget.
IN sept. of 1996, the board
renewed my contract and voted unanimously that they had complete
confidence in me. In January, three of the five members of that
board had terms expire. And we got three new baord members, and at
the second meeting of the new board they fired me.
Sweden wrote a letter to the
board of regents, of which he is a member, saying they shold
repudiate Turner's remarks and refuse donations. I was asked by a
faculty member if I would accept a donation and I said If i got a
check form tturner I would put it in the bank before the ink dried.
If money is given with no strings attached, I don't care if the
donor is unpopular or even a scoundrel, as long as no strings
attached. I thought it was a silly nonisuse that we would fight
with Ted Turner over the accepting of his money." It's silly that
we would take money from somebody who is on a certain side of an
issue. I have neber asked him for money and the university never
asked him for any money."
Paso Native: 22,000 students on five campuses, including 15,000 on
main campus. Here two years, and was Chancellor of the University
of Main system. "They never discussed with me any shortcomings in
my performance. I have had no discussion with any board member
concerning my performance since the sept 96 board member." "I had
regular lucnhes with the president of the board, sheffield, as
recently ast 3 weeks before this happened and he was tlelling me
what a good job I was doing." "IT was a bizarre event. I think it
raises important issues about the governance of ap ublic
university, when a small (governing) board can have this kind of
dramatic effect. I'm not sure the governance of this university is
consistent with good public policy. At some point this has to be
looked at , but i'm not sure i have the energy to be catalyst for
The morning of the board meeting,
"Sheffield called me at 6:30am, asked for 8 am meeting, and there
the regent's attorney told me that they had evaluated me in
executive session and had decided to "maie a change at the top'"
Executive session was friday the 16th. I've never heard of a baord
taking this kind of dramatic action in such a short time with no
contact with the president or anybody else." Two weeks before,
knowing his evaluation was up, told Sheffield to talk to students
and faculty about him.
Burns-Resp Fac. member could not get in to talk to
Sam Bradley-Stud editor. Regents would
not speak to him. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org.." Anything beyond
that would be just pure speculation on my part."
"Was three years at West
Texas State where have strong ag and range science program (now
part of Texas A&M;, and before that at Weber COllege in Ogden.
Conroy perceived as more compliant. Been here for a long time. Not
a guy who is going to-his managment style is very steady, excercise
extreme caution, don't take any risk, don't do anything innovative
or new. I think they feel very safe with him....I'm a little more
outspoken, a little more wiling to take new initiatives. I'm a
little nunorthodox, but I thought that'w ashat we needed. We have
had a cetnury of orthodoxy and it was beginning to choke the
Hired in April 95.
Started July 1.-95 Faubion gave him an orientation, tour on
ranching issues. Has spoken, background education. "My father was a
traveling sales man out of el paso, and he sold feed blocks and
salt licks to ranchers in texas and NM. I used to travel with him
as a kid. It never occurred to me that I would have problems
stemming from the ranching issue." -'Im a big supporter of
agricultre. I think it's important that we do it in an ecolog,
economically, and socially acceptable way." -the real issue was why
would I allow tt to come to NMSU and say bad things about manners.
I didn't invite him, but it doesn't matter anyway, because the job
of a university is to defend a wide array of views. I attended Mr.
Turner's talk and I thought he was delightful. Not everybody
aggreed with what he siad, but that is the way it should be...I
know larry was very upset about the speech and I tried to explain
to him about the role of a university as a forum for free speech
and diverse opionons, but he didn't seem to be listening. I saw him
not long after the speech and he told me this was going to be a
huge problem for the unviersity."
"He made no
attempt whatsover to do what a regent should do, which is defend
the role and values of the university."
600,000 debt, he calculated
less than half of that amount, from a 6.5 million budget-less than
10 percent . Athletic dept. ballooned.
the football coach this year, and hired a new one. Had to buy out
the man's contract. Did not pro-rate this cost. Also legal
expenses. Whole university budget is 322
Buscher: In this part of the state we have been seeking common
ground with tradtional users of the land. I think there's progress
being made-workshop a major cooup for us, having put that
Call Barbara Johnson 505 466-4935-Santa