Did ranchers fire a university president?

  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 Bureau.

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 job.

None of the regents returned phone calls, including Carl Faubion, who is also a rancher.

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 out.

"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." "''"

* Peter Chilson,

HCN associate editor


a letter from the head of the New Mexico Cattle Grower's Association, demanding that Orenduff denounce Turner's remarks.

Terry Canup-Ag Communications

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.)

Garry Cunningham

John Owens in new interim vp. His appt. effective wednesday.

"Turner made some statements that made some people angry."

Conroy made interim president on May 19, and on June 3.

May 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 19.g

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 Ness-505-526-5521.

Orendorf 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 conservancy.

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 ranch-

"We desparately need serious research coming out New MExico State'

"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 critical need.

"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."

ON thad Box-filled gerald thomas cchair for a year, and tried to get some sustainablility stuff going. Left last year. Tried to take an honest approach."

Gerald W. 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 AM.

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."

William Conroy-at univ. since 85 as exec vp, top academic officer. Servied ast interim president for year before Orenduff was hired. (94-95)-

Karl Hill-NMSU-Need 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 Larry Sheffield 505-526-7110


"No 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 visit.

Sweden-Big Rancher-Carl Fabion long time cattlemen and farm bureau member.

»renduff was 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 ag economics.

This isntitution 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.

J. Paul Taylor-Legislator-Mesilla, near Las Cruces-505-526-8949.

IN the 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.

This 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 state legislator."


There 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."

El 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 that."

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.

Jack Burns-Resp Fac. member could not get in to talk to regents.

Sam Bradley-Stud editor. Regents would not speak to him. His email: sbradley@aol.com.." 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 place."

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.

I fired 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 million.


Jon 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 on.

Call Barbara Johnson 505 466-4935-Santa Fe